What Gets in the Way of Execution?

Execution is a must-have for achieving organizational goals. One of the most important responsibilities of a leader is to collectively work with employees to create a best-place-to-work environment. Great leaders and their direct reports (and certainly anyone taking the time to read this blog) want to execute well.

Leaders must model they same behaviors they expect of those they lead. Potential barriers can get in the way of maximizing performance. These barriers originate at a subconscious level, perhaps stemming from emotions that sit just below the surface. The team might not be aware of these things happening, or if they are, they may not know how to change them.

Let’s look at some common barriers that get in the way of positive change and execution:


We find that organizations without good measurement tools are likely unaware of what’s happening in the organization. In our leadership coaching work, we present results using data and input from the workforce and stakeholder surveys. Senior executive teams are often so surprised by the results that they say the data can’t be right. When teams deny the data, they impede progress toward creating a culture of excellence and improving organizational performance.

When we know there is a problem, it’s up to us to problem solve. If we’re part of an organization, we have a duty to bring solutions to the table.


It’s easy to come up with reasons that something won’t work, can’t work, or will never work. Sometimes we can rationalize so much that not only will our excuses make sense to us; they’ll make sense to other people, too. Our justifications eventually become our reality and part of our nomenclature.

To get away from the reasoning mindset, it is important to relate, not compare. Identify someone who has overcome similar obstacles to what you are facing. Learn from them, harvest best practices, and improve our own skills.


It’s tempting to blame easy targets like the government, difficult students or families, inadequate compensation and benefits, and so on. It’s easier point the finger at these “culprits” for the poor results or inconsistencies we are facing.

Reduce blaming behavior in your culture by finding those in the organization who are succeeding and then intentionally point out what they are doing well.


The definition of leadership does not include the words “to be content” or “to create comfort throughout the organization.” There is a good reason for that. It is uncomfortable to execute a plan that has transparent results. Everyone knows when your results aren’t great, and even when they are, good leaders know to aim for better.

Lack of Skill

Leaders are responsible for developing their own skills while also coaching and supporting their direct reports to enhance their strengths. Commitment to developing leaders is a strong indication of values within the organization. Gallup reported in The State of the American Manager:

50% of American workers have left a job to “get away from their manager at some point in their career.”

It only makes sense that successful companies invest heavily in developing the best leaders, who then apply the same principle with those they lead.

Create a Barriers Team

“We wanted to create a way to break silos to solve problems.” says Dr. Janet Pilcher about about her work with the University of West Georgia, an institution where she coaches leaders to create successful teams. “I heard feedback that processes were broken. So, we decided to create a barriers team… a group of cross-unit people who could solve some of the issues that were at hand.”

Dr. Pilcher stresses the importance of a team that isn’t lead my management. “Employees, not necessarily leaders… are actively engaged in identifying issues, researching solutions, and then following through with the implementation of the improvements.”

It is the front-line workers that have the best chance to find the right solution that doesn’t create a different road block. “We believed that the best solutions would come from the people doing the work, day in and day out,” said Dr. Pilcher.

You can learn more about building a barriers team in the recent Accelerate Your Performance episode 13, That’s the Way It Is.

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