Sacred cow

Blog & Resources/

turquoise waves

Addressing the ‘Sacred Cow’ in your leadership team 

Sharn Rayner

7 March, 2024

Blog & Resources

In our journey towards business excellence, we often encounter various challenges that test our leadership and strategic vision. One such challenge is the presence of ‘sacred cows’ within our Senior Leadership Teams (SLTs). But what exactly does this term mean in the context of our businesses?

A ‘sacred cow’ in the workplace is typically a person or practice that remains unchallenged or uncriticised due to their status, history, or relationships within the company. This could be a family member, a co-founder, or a long-standing employee whose performance or attitude is overlooked despite not aligning with the company’s growth or values.

During initial meetings with business leaders, I delve into understanding their goals, leadership impact, and growth appetite. Then, I pose a critical question: “Are there any sacred cows on your Senior Leadership Team that I need to know about?” More often than not, the response is a confident ‘no’. However, as we peel back the layers, it becomes apparent that not everyone is pulling their weight equally.

In Patrick Lencioni’s ‘The Five Dysfunctions of a Team,’ he outlines essential team challenges: absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability, and inattention to results. These elements are vital in the context of ‘sacred cows’ within leadership teams.

Untouchable members erode trust, leading to a culture where conflict is avoided, and commitment wanes. This lack of accountability affects the entire team’s focus on results. Lencioni’s insights suggest that for peak effectiveness, all team members must be equally accountable, fostering a transparent, committed, and results-driven environment.

The ‘sacred cows’ often exhibit behaviours such as failing to meet KPIs, shirking responsibilities, and deflecting criticism onto others. They may be well-liked or influential but ultimately undermine the CEO and the company’s objectives. Despite this, they remain untouchable, often due to personal connections or past contributions.

The reluctance to address these issues can have profound impacts:

  • Negative cultural shifts within the company
  • Hindered strategic progress, affecting growth
  • The perpetuation of poor behaviour as others follow suit
  • The departure of high-performing employees
  • The CEO’s leadership being called into question

Conversely, addressing the issue of ‘sacred cows’ can lead to significant benefits:

  • Enhanced business performance and culture
  • Opportunities for genuine high performers to excel
  • A more aligned and committed leadership team

The presence of ‘sacred cows’ can be a delicate issue, but it’s one that requires attention for the health and growth of your business. It’s about fairness, accountability, and ensuring that every member of your team is contributing positively towards your collective goals.

So, I pose this question to you: Are there ‘sacred cows’ within your business? If so, what impact are they having on your team, your culture, and your growth?

Remember, addressing this issue is not just about removing a problematic individual; it’s about setting your business up for success and creating an environment where everyone is aligned with your vision and values.

While it may be uncomfortable, confronting the reality of ‘sacred cows’ in your leadership team is a step towards ensuring your business’s integrity, performance, and future success. As leaders, it’s our responsibility to ensure that our teams are composed of individuals who are not only talented but also fully committed to our business’s values and growth objectives.

Wondering how to remove your ‘sacred cow’

Let’s have a conversation about this, and how it is impacting your business success. Contact our team today to start the conversation.