The Cobbler’s Children Go Barefoot

The Cobbler’s Children Go Barefoot

This proverb, dating back over five hundred years, describes how professionals do not apply their skills to themselves. We see the proverb in different forms, doctors are the worst patients is another example, and it is highly relevant for executive teams that say they want to play at their best. It reminds me of the following situation.

Dominque was motivated for me to meet with her boss, President of European Operations. The company had gone through a time-consuming business integration, leadership teams across Europe were not performing well, customer satisfaction was down due to late delivery of their technology related products and executive leadership was looking for a way to turn their situation around.

After meeting her boss, Richard, and introducing my approach; underlining that change, improvement and growth starts with the executive team, he interrupted me, turned to Dominque, and asked, “You’re not thinking of this approach for our executive team, are you?”

There was an awkward moment of silence, Dominque’s positive composure changed, and she said unevenly, “Well, no, not actually with our senior executive team, but I thought this approach could be helpful for some of country leaders and their teams because many of them are really struggling.”

The meeting continued for another 30 minutes, but it was a struggle, because we were not really at the heart of the issue. Although I attempted to share that improvement and growth initiatives bring significant gains by starting with the executive leadership team, Richard had made up his mind and drawn his line in the sand. The line in the sand said, “We need something, but it’s not going to start with us.”

Like the cobbler, who does not see that only his children do not have shoes, executive leadership teams that fail to put themselves under the critical lens of continuous improvement miss the opportunity to own the transformation they so often ask of others.

Here are the signs of a resistant executive or resistant executive team:

-Blame predecessors for the current state of the business.

-Point to competitors and complain that they are competing unfairly.

-Ignore problem areas in the business (often can be traced back to the leadership team) and point to other successes.

-Speak badly about a part of the business (that is not performing) and not taking ownership for the problems at the executive level.

-Surround themselves with people who support their beliefs and who will not challenge the current state of the business.

-Accuse people of being negative and pessimistic, without really looking for evidence that supports the challenges people are making.

Change, improvement and growth does not start at the bottom, or the middle of your organization, it starts at the top. How do your senior leadership teams set the example for continuous improvement they expect of others?


Image by debibishop @ istock #117146071

Contact Information

Dan Norenberg
Wensauerplatz 11
81245 Munich
Phone: +49 172 862 5123

About Dan Norenberg

Dan Norenberg improves leadership performance and organization results through Executive Ownershift®, his transformational growth process for executive teams. As a trusted advisor, consultant and professional speaker, Dan’s mission is to enable executive teams and their organizations to play at their best.