Needs a Good Leader

Big changes require direction and leadership. Dictatorial changes are highly unlikely to embed once the power has been removed. So remember that if you are trying to transform your organisation, then presumably you want that to last beyond your tenure.

What leadership skills are significant in all of this? Well the first is that of influence. You need to bring people along to work together and influence is the best way to achieve that. Beyond that, it helps if the leadership is reasonably optimistic.

A leader also needs to be able to handle conflict. In a transformation there can be pressures from a variety of places to divert what is going on or sometimes there’s outright resistance. The leader needs to be able to handle these conflicts without escalating tensions. Finally not least is the ability to give clear direction, yet surprisingly that is often clouded by mixed messages or other factors.

Influencing Skills

If you want to influence the people you interact with then it works better if you have a C.L.U.E.

C onnect to those you are working alongside
L isten effectively
U nderstand what others are saying or doing
E mpower people

Connection involves understanding more about those around you. Focus on them not yourself and act and behave in ways that reinforce that. People engaged in business transformation activity need to feel valued and not to be treated as automata. Humans need to feel loved – even when at work. So a good leader will connect in ways that show empathy. In other words, emotional intelligence has to be high on their agenda.

Effective listening means putting your own agenda to one side and not interrupting. Instead focus on what is being said and occasionally feed back your interpretation to make sure you heard correctly. Even though you might not agree with what is being said, by listening you can start to understand the perceptions of others. That in turn can help you to retune and refine your own communications.

You should also pay attention to the words you are using. Received wisdom was that only 7% of influence was achieved through words, with body language accounting for 55% and tone for a further 38%. However that has been debunked as the original “research” by Professor Albert Mehrabian in 1971 was minimal and was more about how people perceived meaning from three different stimuli in very restricted situations. Actually the content of the message is very important but can be undermined by inappropriate body language or tone.

You cannot hope to influence people if you don’t allow them room to manoeuvre. That would be total control. So empower them to act having been informed about what is needed and why.


Being overly optimistic can lead to problems when leading a business transformation. The effective leader needs to temper their optimism with reality. So how can you tell if you are naturally overly optimistic? Read on to find out.

On the other hand being very pessimistic most of the time isn’t going to inspire confidence in those you are trying to lead. If you make them believe that you don’t expect things to work other than by a fluke then that is sending out a very strong adverse signal.

So how optimistic are you? There are three thinking styles to take into account when trying to understand optimism and how it impacts on leadership.

  •   Always
  •   Everywhere
  •   Me

When thinking for good events:

The optimist thinks they always in every part of their life will succeed and “it’s all due to me”

The pessimist thinks they sometimes in specific circumstances might succeed and “it’s probably a fluke”

When thinking for bad events:

The optimist thinks they sometimes in some circumstances might fare less well and “it may be nothing to do with me”

The pessimist thinks they always in every part of their life will fail in some way and “it’s all my fault”

So, which are you? Probably a combination rather than at either extreme. However don’t just take my word for it, instead analyse some of the events that have happened over the last few days in your life. Include some things that went well and some that did not. Who took the credit? Whose fault was it, if it wasn’t yours? Is this a normal pattern of thinking for you or were they exceptional cases? Overall try and get a handle on just how your native optimism or pessimism may affect your judgement.

An effective leader is moderately optimistic but knows how to act to stack the odds in favour of success, rather than leaving things to chance. That can come from good planning and risk management – ensuring circumstances beyond their direct control don’t cause too much disruption.

Handling Conflict

It’s going to happen – conflict is inevitable at some point but how to handle it? Well the effective leader is likely to use something like DESC (Describe, Express, Specify, Consequences) as their script for handling the situation.

Describe what has happened or is happening that needs to be addressed
Express the way it makes the leader feel or how it appears to make others feel
Specify the desired outcome
Consequences if the offender persists. This may be sanction or disciplinary proceedings. It could be removing them from the scene and quarantining them to prevent them interfering. Any number of options, depending on the scenario.

Giving Direction

There’s a fine line between giving direction and being too directive or a control freak. Leading a business transformation requires good direction but definitely shouldn’t step across that line.

The leader should be pointing the way and communicating adjustments from a strategic viewpoint. That means NOT micro-managing every last little piece. There needs to be a chain of command or communication which allows for interpretation on the ground. It’s something military commanders are trained to do but is less frequently part of management learning. So step back and consider what it is about leadership that requires you to behave differently?

You have to have the confidence of those whom you are leading – so start by building that. Don’t pretend to be invincible but do act decisively and with clarity. That way they will see what you are asking for and why. If everything is hedged around with uncertainty then that is likely to lead to inaction. People won’t want to get it wrong and the option of doing nothing is easier with the opportunity to fall back on claiming it wasn’t clear what was required.

Sponsor, Leader or Both?

In setting up a transformation programme, the first appointment should be the sponsor. The guy who is going to stand fully behind the team to drive things through. The question arises as to whether that person is also leading the transformation.

If the transformation is truly critical then it is likely the sponsor and CEO are one and the same person. However I’ve also come across the situation where the CEO was the sponsor but the person leading the transformation was another director, specially appointed for the purpose. This model works really well since the leader then has another voice of authority to back them up when needed.

Do You Believe That Great Leaders Can Be Trained?

Are your leaders naturally great? What makes you think the way you do? Would it help to validate that against the transformation background in your organisation? Would some training be helpful and if so what and who for?

Assuming that your own or other’s leadership style is going to work in leading a business transformation, without checking it out with experts beforehand is a risky strategy. It’s rather like setting off on a long journey and not having the vehicle checked over before starting. You wouldn’t do that – so why take the risk on something that is so important to you and your organisation?

With decades of experience in leadership and making great things happen we’re happy to share insights and engage. So get in touch for a free consultation. We look forward to helping you get set for your journey.

For more insights click here.

Rob Wherrett can be contacted at

© 2020. All rights reserved