How Pragmatic Leaders Can Transform Stuck Organizations

Guest post by Samuel B. Bacharach:

A stuck
organization is one that might meet conventional measures of success but it is
not necessarily thriving. It cannot quite reach that next level of innovation.
It just misses the big breakthrough or is too focused on old business models
that it cannot make the leap forward.

There are two primary reasons why organizations get stuck. They sink into
inertia because of their clunky tendencies—often with multiple business models,
competing goals, and conflicting priorities. There is so much going on that
these organizations have a difficult time setting a path and moving forward in
a coherent, organized fashion. Or they become stuck because of their narrow
vision, limited scope, and a belief that yesterday’s business models are well
suited to meet tomorrow’s challenges.

The leadership challenge for pragmatic leaders is to transform organizations
with clunky or myopic tendencies into truly thriving organizations that meet
their potential. Pragmatic leaders have the capacity to engage in robust
discovery and focused delivery.

Robust discovery is to uncover the great ideas that are percolating in the
organization and beyond. Pragmatic leaders have to be explorers. They have to
be aware of their environment and look for signals. They have to have to
confidence to seek out partners—both internal and external to the
organization—to engage in deeper exploration. Pragmatic leaders have to be
innovators. They have to lead the ideation process and support the decision to
follow one idea to prototype.

Focused delivery is to campaign for support for the idea and to sustain
momentum. Once an idea has been fleshed out, it is time to share it with others
in the organizations. Often, the default reaction is resistance. Pragmatic
leaders anticipate the reactions that others may have, and try to develop
arguments and justifications for their idea. Pragmatic leaders understand that
they cannot drop the ball. Once an idea is off the ground, it cannot be
forgotten or passed off to other parties. Pragmatic leaders have a vested
interest in the development of their ideas, and are determined to see them to

In the final analysis, pragmatic leadership is about execution. Pragmatic
leaders understand that the difference between failed or failing organizations
and thriving organizations is the ability of leaders to move ideas, overcome
resistance, and create lasting change. To do this, they need to develop the
micro-skills of discovery and delivery not only to move agendas and create
change—but also to make sure that their organization doesn’t get stuck.

B. Bacharach
is the
McKelvey-Grant Professor at Cornell University’s ILR School

and the co-founder
of the Bacharach Leadership Group. He is the author of Transforming the Clunky
Organization: Pragmatic Leadership Skills to Break Inertia (2018) and The
Agenda Mover: When Your Good Idea Is Not Enough (2016), both published by
Cornell University Press. Bacharach trains high-potential leaders in the skills
of political competence and agenda moving. More information about his writing
is available at: