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Getting the board on board

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers

When Jan Carlzon, former CEO of Scandinavian Airlines, wanted to give customer service representatives more autonomy, he feared the board of directors would balk.

Even if the board initially approved it, the changes were so major—giving employees discretion to improve service by refunding or rebooking bumped customers—Carlzon knew that board members might reverse course when faced with any backlash.

According to Carlzon in his book, Moments of Truth, the CEO held meetings with the board. He asked them to imagine how much pressure they would face to undermine the plan.

As Carlzon predicted, many senior managers opposed his redistribution of power. When they approached the board to badmouth Carlzon’s idea, however, the board didn’t withdraw its support. Board members were primed to expect the backlash.

— Adapted from The Practice of Adaptive Leadership, Ronald Heifetz, Alexander Grashow and Marty Linsky, Harvard Business Press.

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