Executive sponsorship vs grass-root leadership …

Which one you think matters most in context of change initiatives? This is where I am – Executive sponsorship is hygiene! it is essential but not sufficient.. Without grass-root leadership, you can not execute successful change..

I am aware that I am questioning many established beliefs in change/ project management models but I am convinced that grass-root leadership matters more than executive sponsorship. Here are my reasons

  • A typical executive sponsor, oversees multiple initiatives while managing the BAU activities
  • As an executive sponsor, change recipients expect you to say the right things and do the right things. This means that many a times what you are saying/ doing is viewed with a certain amount of scepticism. In short, your words/actions are discounted before they really reach the audience
  • You can only do the talk and may be little bit of the walk. You are away and most of the times distant from the real recipients of change. If you are typical of an executive sponsor, you are not aware of all the minor details that can actually dictate the success or failure of an initiative
  • With all the right intentions in your mind, you can’t still be a total advocate for the change recipients on the ground. You have other pressures which might distract you from advocacy of change recipients.
  • Many a times as an executive sponsor, you are more interested in seeing the change work and you push people towards success of the change. It should be the other way round. Change should work for people and not the other way round.
  • Finally you have vested interested; unless you are one of those authentic leaders you will always be part of ‘them’ and never part of ‘us’

Lets look at the grass-root leadership

  • Unless it is explicitly driven by project, grass-root leadership has better chance of coming across as authentic as there are usually no vested interests
  • Grass-root leaders are usually change recipients so they do feel the pain and are in the best position to show empathy
  • For very self-fish reasons, grass-root leaders tend to be the best at fighting the battles for the change recipients
  • Grass-root leaders usually have a focus on the specific things that are being changed and are aware of the small things that can make big impact
  • Grass-root leaders can lead by example without having the burden of scepticism

I am not saying that we do away with executive sponsorship, I still think it matters. It is symbolic and tells the recipients that these are the things that matter. I am saying that it is not enough. That will not take you to the end goal. The end goal I assume is the change in behaviours and culture leading to business benefits. To achieve that, you need authentic grass-root leadership that can drive the recipients from within. In my mind, the role of executive sponsors is to cultivate this leadership while continuing the symbolic things. I think the role of an executive sponsor need to be re-examined in the context of what matters and what will make the most impact on the final goal !! – change in behaviours and culture resulting in business benefits




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