Deloitte CFO Insights: Navigating Difficult Work Environments

Occasionally, but not too infrequently, in Deloitte transition labs, discussions focus on executives who confront vexing relationships. Their environment and relationship issues often sap their energy and lead them to question if they made the wrong choice by joining a particular C-suite.

The difficulties frequently arise from how the CEO of the company chooses to operate, how peer executives behave or a combination of both. After committing to a new C-suite role, these new executives often struggle with reconciling their recent choices to commit to an organization with framing their next course of action in response to difficult situations.

Leaders outside your area who prevent you from building the team you want undermine your success. Careful due diligence ahead of accepting a C-suite position can be helpful in avoiding these difficult situations

Following are some potential difficult and dysfunctional situations and four responses every executive can consider.

Some Challenging Relationship Situations

A number of different factors can drive difficult situations. Sometimes it is the CEOs and how they create or enable organizational dysfunction. At other times, it is the behaviors of peer executives.

While there are many pathways to and types of difficult situations that occur in companies, the situations below are among the more common challenges I encounter in transition labs. While these situations are difficult to predict ahead of time, careful due diligence ahead of accepting a C-suite position can be helpful in avoiding them.

The Controlling CEO With Unrealistic Expectations. A CEO with unrealistic performance expectations can be vexing. This is particularly difficult when the CEO centralizes decision rights, while not listening to or giving executives adequate permissions to deliver performance.

This situation often leads to a high turnover of executives in the C-suite who fail to meet expectations and depart. The challenges are doubled if the CEO’s management style is passive-aggressive. Then the executives receive very little feedback before the CEO suddenly blows up or turns on them.

The Conflict-Avoiding CEO. Conflict avoidance can also leave in its wake dysfunction in the organization. Conflict avoiders can enable silo and clique behaviors across their leadership by not demanding team behaviors and collective performance.

This can let leadership teams fracture into competing groups that don’t share information and resources and create very political environments that drain efforts and executive energy.

From excluding an incoming executive in key meetings to put downs and back stabbing behaviors by peer executives, usually a conflict-avoiding or narcissistic CEO is a key enabler of these behaviors.

The Narcissist CEO. Similar to the conflict-avoiding CEO, a narcissist CEO can also leave a trail of dysfunction. Typically, they surround themselves with a group of sycophants who are unwilling to challenge them and foster mediocrity over meritocracy.

Legacy Leaders Protecting Staff or Initiatives. Another vexing challenge for incoming executives is to find their desired personnel moves blocked by the CEO or other peer leaders who may have previously held their role.

Let us imagine an incoming CFO finds his controller is not capable of handling the needs of a growing company. However, replacing the controller is blocked because he is a favorite of the CEO and the COO (who was previously the CFO).

Leaders outside your area who prevent you from building the team you want undermine your success.

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