Every Leader Is Leading a Transformation

Every leader is leading a transformation, even if you haven’t thought of it in these terms. You are a steward of the future, making you responsible for that future and the people in your charge. The idea that you are leading a transformation provides you with a helpful way of thinking about your role and your responsibility. There are two imperatives in a transformation, the first of which is change; the second is execution.

From Here to There

A leader is responsible for navigating the path from here to there, from the current state, be it good or bad, to the future state, one that is better. If what you are doing now would produce the future you are trying to create, you would have already created it. Because you don’t have the result you want, something has to change, and change means transformation.

As the person responsible for the better future state, you have to assess what it is that needs to change, how it needs to change, and how you are going to execute it. Naturally, that is easier in theory than it is in practice, especially when you consider the variables you might need to change. Is your primary problem strategy, tactics, unequipped team members, a lack of empowerment, morale? Is it that the people in your charge have a culture that lacks accountability, or a general lack of leadership?

The starting point for transformation is to decide what you need to change to go from here to there, something that almost always requires changing more than one of the short—and challenging—list of places to look for what must change. One way to think about this work is that you decide what has to be removed and replaced. Maybe you need to swap an outdated strategy that is inadequate to today’s challenges with something better or providing people with the resources they lack. Perhaps you need to empower them to act inside a culture of accountability and leadership.

Leading transformation requires that you lead change. So, what do you need to change?

From This to That

When you look at great teams, you don’t often see a “why,” some compelling reason that drives them. What you see more often is a “who,” some form of identity that suggests there is a high standard to be one of us and not one of them. You see a set of shared cultural values imposed by the leader until it is true. In a mediocre performing team, you also see identity, one that is quite the opposite of great teams. Transformation requires going from this to that.

A transformational leader acts on the idea that “this is whom we must become” to go from here to there, helping everyone on their team become the person they need be to produce a better future state. We make a fundamental mistake in hiring people when we believe that they are already fully equipped to do their job, something that is rarely true, and the primary reason that leaders who develop their people outperform their peers. Inside every person, there is a better version of them waiting for a leader to recognize it and help them to free it from its confines.

Leading the growth of a company means driving the growth of individuals and teams. A successful transformation is going to require that people change, growing, gaining new competencies, taking on new tasks, and acquiring a new identity, one capable of producing different and better results.

Execution as Transformation

There are plenty of leaders who know where they would like to go. They have a clear vision of the future they intend to create. There are far fewer who recognize what is necessary to go from “this to that,” transforming the identity of the organization, as well as the individuals that make up their teams, without which, true transformation is unlikely. But where leaders are clear on their future and know they have to change their organization, the most common point of failure is the lack of execution.

Your compelling vision may be clear and convincing, but without execution, it is no more than a dream. The new identity you want to build is what transformation requires of you and every member of your team, but you only bring it to life through execution.

The only way to execute your transformation is to remove what you have now and replace it with what comes next. Execution means eliminating what used to what was good and right and true and replacing it with what is necessary to your vision and identity. Where most struggle in execution is removing all the things that were once correct, eliminating them, and imposing a new standard. It can be difficult for people to believe something that they have done for a long time is now incorrect and inadequate, something that can feel threatening to their identity. It can also feel invalidating.

Execution requires accountability for doing all the things necessary to build the future. Where there is no accountability, there is no execution. Transformation means making real and lasting change, something that requires you to take new actions consistently long enough to deliver your future state. Where you are likely to fail is in taking new actions, holding people accountable to the new standard. It takes time, effort, repetition, and demanding execution of what is necessary, refusing to allow anyone to wait you out.

Success in Leading Transformation

You have to see the future with clarity that allows others to see what you see. You must also make that future something worth pursuing by describing what it means to you, your company, the people in your charge, and all those you serve.

You also have to recognize how you and everyone on your team needs to grow to be able to bring that future forward in time. Leading growth means leading the individuals on your team in their growth, providing them with the capacity to be more and do more.

You also have to execute from day to day and week to week, always advancing your transformation, and insisting on the new beliefs, new actions, and new results you are pursuing consistently.

The only reason someone puts you in a leadership role is it produce something better than what exists now, which makes you a transformation leader by default.

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