We are igniting momentum during COVID-19

The good, the bad and the ugly : 10 things we learnt about transforming leadership


1. Are you lost?

In a bid to stay relevant, businesses continue to adapt, adjust and transform, and somewhere along the road they often lose sight of what it actually is they set out to do, or what they are the best at. Have leaders reconnect with the original purpose of the business and relive what made it a success in the first place. Push them to understand why they evolved away from the original purpose and figure out how to make delivering it relevant again today. Going back to the past can be the best way to create the confidence and innovation spirit needed to reinvent.

2. Why should I care?

It is too easy to assume that leaders will be motivated to change the way they lead just because they are leaders. But they are in reality just people. Like any other colleague, to be truly motivated they will need to find a deep and personal connection between their personal purpose and the future direction of the company - be it the organisation’s purpose, its commercial goals, or its values. Only then will they feel the commitment they will need to drive the business in a new direction.

3. Next, add courage

Once leaders are deeply committed, then the next key ingredient needed to drive the change is courage. Clearly you need brave leaders willing to put their necks out, risk new approaches and dismantle old processes. But courage can take many forms - and sometimes it is wiser (and no less brave) to operate with stealth and tenacity. Recognise courage in all its forms, and leaders will grow in confidence to take the risks required of them.

4. Just enough ego

Ego gets a bad rep - particularly when it comes to senior leaders throwing their weight around. But the truth is that ego plays a critical role in getting things done and pushing things through in large organisations. The trick is to find the sweet spot where leaders are humble about their own need to learn new ways of operating the business AND unafraid to use their judgment and drive to make things happen. Help your leaders find that sweet spot by creating lots of small moments of feedback, allowing them to continuously reflect on their behaviour and adjust.

5. Go with the flow

Sometimes the answer is not to bother trying to shift leaders at all. If senior leaders are not on board with the desired new direction, then harness what they do have passion for and use that to shift the way they are thinking. For example, if the CFO won’t invest in a new initiative due to the severity of cost constraints, then - instead of writing comprehensive business cases to justify why your initiative really is critical, identify where we can cut more cost in order to release the funds needed to move forwards.

6. Prioritisation starts at the top

Everyone knows we have to switch off a host of projects and initiatives in order to invest the time and money needed to drive a new direction. Too often leaders demand better prioritisation from their teams - but fail to role model it themselves. Instead their own decision-making is clouded by the amount of blood, sweat and tears shed to date or the reputational impact ‘failing to deliver’ could have. Leaders must lead by example and feel the pain associated with switching off iconic projects close to them.

7. (Beware) the power of the cult

To ignite change at pace, leaders must foster a culture that generates energy and creates a powerful sense of team. Often this comes through creating a deep connection with purpose and values. When this really works, the result is a movement. But a movement can quickly turn into a cult. And where movements are dynamic, cults are static. Stay vigilant of emerging cult like behaviour - it will result in a disconnection from the external world, and any ability to learn and pivot. The very things we set out to change in the first place.

8. Crisis - the perfect time to invest

When times get tough, it is human nature to hunker down and just try to survive. But we all know that it is in fact the time when leadership is critical.  And when things are being shaken up anyway, it is arguably the best time to uproot old leadership behaviour and create new habits. When crisis looms, move early and make strategic investments in leadership development. Done well, it is a sure-fire way to set you up to weather the short-term, and drive for a bright future.

9. Model it, then scale it

Securing buy in for big bang leadership transformation programmes can be tricky due to an investment of both time and money.  And often the risks associated with new or unchartered territory can leave senior teams nervous of white elephant programmes that deliver little return in terms of business performance. Experiment instead with targeted leadership transformations on a small scale, learn deeply and at pace from them, then scale up once the link to commercial results is proven.

10. Leaders need empathy too

Change programmes that lack empathy are often met with active resistance, scepticism or sabotage.

And yet attempts to shift the way leaders lead can be driven by frustration with the way they currently show up, rather than empathy for the tensions and pressures they face. It is important you flex your empathy muscle and gain insight into how to shift them through emotion as well as logic. Work with leaders to co-create their transformation journey - rather than creating a sheep-dip. And don’t forget to celebrate progress and lessons learnt. Confidence breeds good leadership