Have you got what it takes to Lead a Transformation? Here’s a quick run-down to see how you stack up.

Who is Asking the Question?

It all depends on whether you are questioning your own capabilities on whether you can lead a transformation or whether someone else wants to know if you are up to the job. If it’s the latter, then they clearly have doubts and you should endeavour to find out why.

However let’s start by looking at your own competencies and beliefs. Do these stack up in any way? As we go through this you should also be able to answer the doubters one way or another.


It certainly helps to be single-minded if you are leading a transformation. Think of it this way – somebody needs to really own the vision and, at times, put their foot down to keep things on track. However don’t mistake single-minded with bloody-minded. The latter insists they are right at all cost and that’s not a good idea.

You don’t want to be heading off down a blind alley, rather like the Charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava. History tells us of the carnage that ensued and frequently even business transformations can suffer similar fates if there is a lack of openness and questioning at the very top.

On the other hand being focused on the destination and refusing to be distracted is certainly a very helpful attribute. People often mistakenly believe that not being too directive means allowing other ideas to creep in all over the place. There is a difference between being single-minded and dictatorial. The former is always open to being informed about options and changes in circumstance. The latter insists they know best and refuses to be questioned even when they pretend they are not a dictator. You only have to look at the Trump administration for the perfect example of what I mean. By comparison Franklin Roosevelt was pretty single-minded in his approach to getting things done and keeping the USA on track during a very challenging period of history.

Know All the Answers?

Absolutely not. Knowing who to ask or how to find them is the key. Running the process that gets those answers is the important piece here.

It is a very wise man who knows what he doesn’t know and is prepared to admit it. Even wiser if he then goes about finding out on those occasions when the answers are important. In Belbin terms this is the Resource Investigator. Now leading a transformation often requires this attribute but not necessarily from the leader. Instead they may have a great relationship with a colleague or team member whose role this is and give them the resources to do it. So do you know who is doing this on your behalf if it isn’t your bag?

Do You Delegate Effectively?

Delegation isn’t just a matter of giving someone a job to do. You need to make sure they understand the context and the expected outcomes. Moreover the delegate should have all the skills and resources to do the job or be provided with adequate resource in support. Finally the outcomes need to be measurable and some degree of oversight is probably necessary at interim points to ensure things are going to plan.

On the other hand, failing to delegate is no way to lead a transformation because this needs to be inclusive. You need to bring people along and get their buy-in. How can you do that if they aren’t part of the process of delivery?

Do You Empower or Do You Direct?

This can be a fine balance. At times you need to be capable of both.

In line with delegation the empowerment of a team or teams working on a transformation is hugely important. However they do need to know the scope of what it is they are empowered to do. Think of it like this – could you write a 1-page charter that anyone could understand? This would allow the team(s) to say “look – this is within our remit” or know when they have to seek permission or authority.

How Approachable Are You?

Leading a transformation needs engagement. It is, after all, partly a cultural shift. Indeed sometimes that is virtually everything. Knowing this, you should be aware that others need to be able to discuss things with the leader without feeling threatened. Hence approachability is very important.

Actually the leader whose door is almost always open or, better still, who gets out and among the people, stands a much better chance of having those vital two-way conversations. It will keep your finger on the pulse and, in so doing, will help you head off diversions and anomalies.

This has been described as MBWA (managing by wandering around) and if that’s not your style then how else are you keeping in touch and letting people get to know and trust you?

How Ruthless Are You?

This may sound odd but bear with me on this one. There are times in a transformation when being ruthless is absolutely the right thing to do. However you need to know when those times are and why.

It’s mostly in the governance of delivery that this becomes a key attribute. Particularly when managing the interdependencies of components of the whole. It is remarkable how often individual project managers or team leaders fail to drive things through on time and to an adequate degree of quality.

Frequently they will delay because something isn’t 100% completed whereas delivering 60% in a first draft may be sufficient for the recipient to get their heads around it all and start their own processing. At other times they bring in things they think are useful but weren’t on the original schedule. In both instances the leader has to be ruthless insisting that things move at a reasonable pace and that scope is constrained.

I remember an occasion when a team was insistent that they could just go ahead with some development without going through the agreed approvals process. A very firm refusal (accompanied by an explanation of why that was necessary) completely changed their world-view. Not only did it stop a waste of resources, it also changed mind-sets in a positive way. Being ruthless should be seen as a steel fist in a velvet glove. Be mindful that not everyone will share your insights and a little explanation can go a long way. That doesn’t have to turn into a debate – it merely sets out why you are insisting on things.

Do You Make it Fun?

This may sound very odd but in fact fun has a lot to do with relieving stress. I’m not talking here about a jokey atmosphere but sharing the experiences and getting people close to each other in ways that they find enjoyable. Too much focus on demands and not enough on giving a little back – whether that’s in the shape of little rewards or highlighting some of the comical aspects – makes for a high-pressure environment that is unrelieved.

Yes, pressure can help in keeping things moving. On the other hand if it is unrelenting then something will break. Fun can be a good pressure valve so how does that look in your organisation? What do you do to encourage it?

How Do You Deal With Poor Performance?

In over 40 years I only ever got rid of three people for poor performance (and one of those was for fraudulent behaviour). Yet that wasn’t a case of being soft.

There have been plenty of times where people were not doing the right thing or operating at an adequate standard. Using good performance metrics and a focus on agreed outcomes enables you to identify those early.

Thereafter the win-win is to turn the individual around and get them on track. That encourages others to have trust in you. It also avoids huge waste of resource in having to replace the poor performer. I got a reputation as the best boss to work for because of the engagement and sharing the reasons why we were expecting certain performance. Relating that to the individual’s own hopes, skills and aspirations becomes second-nature.

So how do you stack up on this? Think this one through very carefully. In my view resorting to dismissal should only be a last resort other than in cases of gross misconduct.

What is the Carrot Compared to the Stick?

You have to have some idea of what you can offer as reward for successful work. It’s no good just assuming that delivering the programme is going to be enough. What’s in it for the people who are giving their all to get you there?

Some people are naturally good at finding things that people value and making sure they happen or are delivered at critical moments. Sometimes that’s necessary to defuse tensions. Here’s an example from my own playbook.

A team of developers were working very hard on the launch of an internet bank in Scotland. It was a very stressful time and they were regularly losing patience with a New Zealand girl who was in charge of the software packaging and releases into the test environments. What they failed to understand were her own pressures and that the delays were not within her control but it was essential that she was kept onside. So, one morning, I took an hour out before coming into the office and bought a huge bouquet of flowers. They looked fabulous and were quite exotic – there was even a miniature pineapple in their midst! I just went up to her desk, put it down in front of her and told her it was from the team that had been giving her a hard time. Then I walked away and left her to get on with things.

I then talked to the team and told them what I had done and why – she was going to be thanking them for being nice (when in fact they’d actually done nothing). They got the message and when she did appear they were all very friendly and were happy to apologise for having been difficult to deal with. Thereafter things went like clockwork – humans need to feel loved a little.

How Are You Going To Deal With This?

That’s where we can help. Get in touch and start the conversation. We’ll help you design a template for going forward as part of a free consultation. We look forward to helping you transform in ways that take account of who you are as well as what you do. If you’d like more information, then you can also follow this link.

Rob Wherrett can be contacted at https://robwherrett.com/contact/

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