Burning Down the House
by Tony DiLeonardi
Recently, an experienced, hard-working CEO shared with me his
concerns for his business. The urgent issue at hand was stressed
bank covenants due to a perfect storm of events, partially
anticipated, that keyed around a long-standing top customers
drastic drop in business due to it being acquired by private
The writing was on the wall, it was real and it spelled
potential doom. As we talked, he understandably focused, as he had
for years, on new sales efforts and finding that next big deal. As
I challenged him that this is not a sales problem but rather an
organizational health issue, he recoiled.
We debated about other areas in the organization that perhaps
had stress fractures that needed repair now, that if continued to
go unchecked, could be catastrophic.
I flippantly piled on with, "Jim, sales are like grout, they
cover a lot of blemishes and cracks in the tiles. If you don't fix
the structural flaws today, while still flying this aircraft at
34,000 feet, you eventually will crash and burn - ending a great
run for you and your employees." That philosophy didn't seem
to help him.
It caused me to ponder a personal devastating experience - a
large lake house that succumbed to fire and was destroyed.
Fortunately no one was harmed and we had insurance. After
extensive reports from the fire marshal, the insurance company and
a special engineering company brought in by the insurance company,
it was determined that no one could clearly state the cause of the
However, all three admitted to me that they were convinced it
was a flaw in the framing of the firebox that over time, under
pressure of heat, failed. That "small" failure brought down a
5700 square foot cabin in less than eight hours.
If we do not tend to small things, they quickly can become
devastating. If we do not take the time to technically and
honestly assess any potential breakdowns in our organization's
health, devastating outcomes are only hidden behind a bit of
drywall and paint.
This story emphasis three critical questions leaders need to ask
in order to move on during change and difficulties and get
different and better outcomes.
1. How did this happen?
2. What do we do now?
3. What flaws do we have that we have not yet seen?
And according to Patrick Lencioni of The Table Group
and author of many best-selling books, a healthy organization makes
all the difference in success vs. failure. A healthy organization
can help answer those questions.
Patrick says, organizational health is essentially about making
a company function effectively by building a cohesive leadership
team, establishing real clarity among those leaders, communicating
that clarity to everyone within the organization, and putting in
place just enough structure to reinforce that clarity going
Simply put, an organization is healthy when it is whole,
consistent and complete, when its management, operations and
culture are unified. Healthy organizations outperform their
counterparts, are free of politics and confusion and provide an
environment where star performers never want to leave.
So evidence supports honest debate about what might be wrong in
your organization can lead to "fixing" it before it becomes a
problem. Are you looking for problems, even those not easily
spotted? We know, challenges left unaddressed fester into bigger
issues. Furthermore, evidence supports a healthy organization
performs better than an organization that does not create a healthy
culture. And finally, experience tells us that little things left
undone, unsaid or unresolved can have a devastating impact on
outcomes over time.
As a leader, ask yourself tough questions, look at where things
are broken today and may be broken but unseen. Go ahead and
sweat the small stuff that can, if ignored, burn down your