4Strategic InfluenceHow to Give Words of Life

For some years, I've worked with a manufacturing company in the southwestern United States. The company founder and CEO's middle daughter, Sally, took over as CEO when her father died a few years ago. Her two sisters had no interest in working at the company. Sally's dad epitomized the high-control type of leader. He made every decision from large capital expenditures to what type of coffee they drank in the break room.

Sally knew a lot about running manufacturing operations but she did not know the whole enterprise. When she took over, the first two years were stay the course—almost a grieving period. She made minimal changes and didn't even occupy her father's office. It stayed vacant almost like a memorial to him. Everyone wondered if she would ever put her own imprint on the company or simply try to continue to operate within the lines her father had drawn.

Sally worried that the changes she was contemplating might actually harm the company and that people wouldn't shift their allegiance to an untested new family member as CEO. She asked me to be an independent sounding board for the changes she wanted to make.

The business had been very successful, but it had also grown to the point where one person could not effectively control the company via force of personality as her father had done. The advent of ecommerce and internal management complexities required major rethinking of how to run the business. She also felt that some ...

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