A New CEO Sets Fire to His Old Playbook to Drive Results


Being outpaced in innovation and achievement from competition is never a comfortable place for leadership to be. It can cause the C-Level to function reactively instead of proactively because uncertainty, welling up underneath mounting anxiety, starts to drive behavior. For one of our clients, a small appliance manufacturer, the situation became toxic when blame and finger-pointing between leaders set in.

As a new CEO entered the scene, he was able to shift his team out of The Blame Game, and call out performance issues directly. Leadership began to take accountability, and progress in performance was made during his first year as leadership adopted a new strategy. However, as we see time and time again, strategy only gets an organization so far. Performance plateaued.

Something deeper had to be addressed in the culture. The new CEO was no longer new, and he had set very ambitious financial results.

The results set for the next year would mean a stronger draw on resources and rapid development of new internal processes. This CEO saw that his leaders would not be able to deliver these results with their teams without a radical shift in the beliefs driving behaviors and actions that would inhibit growth.


Sometimes the CEO needs to start by looking within to shift the experiences they create and model for their organization. This isn’t easy. It can be tough, psychologically, to acknowledge that one is part of the problem. It was especially difficult for this CEO, who had come into the situation and improved the situation. However, he found that the confrontational style that had woken the C-Suite up to accountability was not sustainable. He needed to cut the swagger and put down the bullhorn: he was talking more than listening. And he needed to listen, now, to others and foster true collaboration.

It was a process of vulnerability and honesty with his team. He opened up to feedback, and what he heard about himself was that they respected his acumen as a strategist, but too often felt shut down or left out of strategic decisions they needed to help shape in order to be invested in accomplishing financial results.

This CEO needed to set fire to his own playbook and shift his style.

He had to convince his team, and, frankly, himself, that his rallying cry of collaboration was not just lip service. He began to do this by:

  • Building regular team input into management meetings
  • Seeking and creating feedback conversations with other leaders
  • Modeling functional team identity within the organization at large: hosting regular leadership lunches in the company cafeteria—sharing a meal together with all employees—something that never would have happened in the past
  • Changing management meeting seating arrangement: the CEO never sitting again at the head of the room, conference-style, but at a table together with no visible hierarchy


The beliefs created by these experiences began to take root: 

We work together. 

We share feedback. 

We enjoy each others’ company as humans and we listen to each other.

This CEO became more deeply aware and accountable for modeling true collaboration. The collaborative and feedback-oriented experiences now woven into the culture transformed the culture, through and through. “We work as a team” became not just a slogan, but a belief derived from a lived and daily experience, creating authentic functionality.

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