Solution Saturday: Should I Confront the Golden Boys

Dear Dan,

Love your Leadership Freak blog. It’s always a good read with my morning coffee. A subject that I am looking to see is a situation that I am in.


My boss has announced his retirement and is nodding for me to apply for his job. But I am actually trying to leave.

The reason is his leadership on upper management has been good but his lower management skills regarding his employees has deteriorated to employees giving F bombs and low motivation.

The current situation actually makes certain employees are overworked while the elite group, as we call them, the golden boys lounge around.

The issue becomes I know where the skeletons are buried. I know what is right and wrong, but if I try and change the culture, I am in the minority. How can leaders change a culture that is embedded so deeply?

I’m concerned that shining the light into the dark closet can cause lashing out.

Concerned about shining the light

Dear Shining,

Thank you for your kind words. It’s a joy to be of service.

You are right to feel concerned about culture change. The “Golden Boys” will lash out. But organizations do turn around.

I just finished, “Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance: Inside IBM’s Historic Turnaround,” by former CEO Louis Gerstner. The turnaround of IBM is largely a culture change.

His story, along with other turnaround CEOs, demonstrates the focus, challenge, creativity, courage, and grit it takes to succeed when major change is necessary.

Major change causes painful disruption.

Culture change confronts the stable status quo. Rest assured, it’s turbulent and painful.

Decide if you are willing to put yourself on the line for your organization. How committed to your company’s success are you? If you are highly committed, then consider the personal side of taking the leadership role, before you move forward.

How much do you enjoy feeling respected?

What I say next may be unpopular, but I believe the fear of failure is powerful in these situations. The other way to say this is, how strong is your need to succeed?

Another question is, how much authority will you have to make tough decisions? Turnarounds require tough decisions.

Here’s another question, how much do you need to be liked?

Finally, why is the boss nodding in your direction? I would expect him to choose one of the Golden Boys.

You might not want to, but it’s likely that some members of the current team will have to go. You might try to manage them out. But the feeling I have is that some will be led out the door kicking and screaming.

Should you accept this challenge:

  1. Be prepared for sleepless nights. There will be intense pressure to leave things the same.
  2. Seek advice from outsiders.
  3. Practice transparency. Dancing around issues might be pretty, but it doesn’t change them. Say what you see with kind candor.
  4. Generate early wins.
  5. Don’t declare victory too early. Culture change is a lifelong journey.

Jack Welch believed in a culture of candor. He was CEO of General Electric for 20 years. He moved the needle toward candor. But he said, after 20 years, there was a long way to go.

Steve Jobs brought Apple back from the brink of bankruptcy. He made tough decisions like narrowing the product line, cutting expenses, and moving toward online music.

Doug Conant turned Campbell’s Soup around. He worked to create a positive culture. During his tenure he wrote 30,000 handwritten thank you notes. But you should know that much of upper management left in the first two or three years of his tenure.

If you take the leadership role, the golden boys club will be gone. Don’t expect them to change.

My gut:

After reading your email, my gut says you shouldn’t take the job. I’m placing a lot of emphasis on the idea that you are looking to leave. However, if you decide to apply, I have given you some things to think about.

Best wishes,


What suggestions do you have for “Shining the light”?

*I suspend the 300 word limit on Solution Saturday.