Here's a reality check: most boards, CEOs, and C-level teams want their organizations to be more efficient, innovative, and vibrant. The drive to go from "good" to "great," and from "great" to "greatest" has always been present in successful organizations. But it's a global business world and a more disruptive and potentially turbulent one, too. The stakes are higher and the demand for transformation stronger.
Another reality is that regardless of an organization's transformation goal (such as being more innovative, customer-centric, globally focused, etc.), most business transformations fail. The Boston Consulting Group, PwC, as well as research I conducted for my new book Cultural Transformations estimate the rate of business transformation failure at 75% and higher. Why is that?
First of all, it has nothing to do with the vision being "wrong" or having a strategy that won't work. The main reason transformation efforts fail is because leaders are unwilling or unable to "disrupt" themselves. Transformation simply won't happen without leadership, starting in the C-suite. The CEO and other C-level executives must be open, passionate, and persistent about transforming themselves. That way they are prepared to embrace and lead change and committed to continuous learning. Self-disruption is mandatory for preparing to lead people and teams to true transformation.
My experience as a transformation consultant and senior executive coach has led me to key non-negotiable leading indicators that are essential to igniting and embedding an organization-wide transformational attitude. Specifically, to achieve a successful transformation, all C-level leaders must be open to developing and calibrating both individual and collective capabilities with seven non-negotiable key traits.
- Think different and think big. Thinking different and being unafraid to think big are necessary for any organization to keep pace with change in the twenty-first century, and it has to begin with the CEO. An organization's capability to lead real transformation starts with the CEO having new attitudes, behaviors, and habits. Most organizations trail behind in developing the capabilities that lead to a more interconnected culture, and thriving in the face of change requires an even greater stretch for most. If and only if the CEO and other C-level leaders think different and think big will all leaders and employees be willing to do the same.
- Be willing to be vulnerable. Ask great CEOs what allowed them to break through and achieve leadership greatness, and often the answer is a willingness to be vulnerable. Some leaders make the decision to "put it out there" early in their careers and some do so later. Others never do it at all. It's tough admitting that you're not the best you can be and having the strength to share this realization with board members, peers, employees, and even the outside world. But that's what makes it a breakthrough experience. Once you are willing to admit you're not perfect, you can focus on two incredibly important missions: strengthening your gifts and talents and addressing your shortcomings. If you're not willing to make yourself vulnerable, you can't develop the insights necessary to activate those tasks. Plus, it makes clear to everyone in your world that you're an authentic human being, which itself can be surprisingly powerful.
- Identify strengths and commit to making them better. An astonishing proportion of leaders are uncomfortable receiving positive feedback from others. In some cases, this is a cultural characteristic, but usually it is behavioral. Whichever the case, not accepting and embracing strengths can be just as destructive as not accepting and addressing weaknesses. Part of vulnerability is willingness to accept and take to heart both your talents and your deficiencies. You need to be able to accept both positive and negative feedback gracefully from those who are important to you. Vulnerability opens you up to creating your most powerful future, where you create and carry out the plan that maximizes your gifts and addresses your shortcomings. Unwillingness to accept your own talents can be an enormous obstacle standing between you and the leader you are capable of being.
- Don't just talk a good game, take action. Fearlessness and courage aren't exactly the same thing. Fearlessness is more about attitude in the mind, while genuine courage is a willingness to take action. Courage requires you to step out of your comfort zone, take reasonable risks, and take responsibility for what happens. You would be surprised how many global companies are filled with leaders (and potential leaders) who talk the talk, but fold under pressure when the time arrives to actually do something. Courage, if you think about it, underlies not only taking action, but learning, growing, and personally transforming. Most companies genuinely want a strong culture of accomplishment, but if leaders lack sincere courage, it will never happen.
- Feel privileged for your role in transformation. It's not easy to extend yourself beyond where you feel safe, either as a person or as an organization. In fact, it's one of the hardest things an individual or organization can do. Exceptional transformational leaders, including the 14 CEOs featured in my book, however, feel honored and privileged to be part of something big and to have the opportunity to make a real difference. These leaders don't take anything for granted, and use that "privilege mindset" to counteract the pull of the comfortable and familiar. In fact, many see the comfort zone itself as an inadequate place and find the journey of disruption exhilarating. Outstanding transformational leaders embrace this attitude and deliberately build it into their corporate culture. It has the effect of keeping everyone focused on the present, rather than the past.
- Be watchful and don't underestimate your impact. You can't be blind to what's actually going on around you during the transformation process or else you're ultimately doomed to failure. It means you have to have a level of selflessness and orientation toward others rather than focusing on yourself. Altruism is rarer than it should be among leaders, and that's a shame, because selflessness is key to being aware and avoiding a myopic view of things. Selflessness, like vulnerability, requires that leaders avoid living in either the past or the future, and understand the here and now. The privilege mindset discussed earlier is ultimately about being selfless, present, and realistically assessing what is going on in the transformation process.
- Correct course when necessary. As an executive, course correction has to start from within. You need to have the self-awareness to know when you have gone off track (and how to get back on) if you want to do the same for your organization. The greatest transformational leaders are the ones who can dispassionately read a situation and course correct if necessary--before the transformation process is hindered or derailed. Setting an example of course correcting for other leaders and employees shows agility, which, when you think about it, is indispensable to the transformation process in today's business world.