Ambitious Leaders Must Overcome the “Frozen Middle”
Conceptualizing a new idea is the easy part of leadership. Actually getting buy-in on ambitious business concepts may pose a challenge for even the most committed and competent leaders. In a recent Globe and Mail column, Jennifer Reynolds, President and CEO of Women in Capital Markets, highlighted one particular issue preventing innovation: the “frozen middle”, or those employees who are resistant to change. (May 2, Reynolds)
The frozen middle tends to be made up of middle-management personnel. Their current roles are based on progress up the ranks and major operational changes seem to put them at risk. Conformity with corporate practices can become badge of honor in these ranks, which puts ambitious new initiatives at risk, as well as efforts to bring in fresh and diverse talent. CEOs that want to shake things up must find ways around this impediment to progress.
Reynolds noted that engaging the frozen middle requires making new initiatives part of the company’s recognition and compensation structures. Playing it safe means hewing to policies as written, so when CEOs rewrite those policies to support innovation and diversity, managers get implicit approval to pursue those policies and assurance that it will help, not hurt, their own career progress.
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