12/02/2008 02:46 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

As Chief Transformation Officer

This is the second installment in a three part series addressing leadership challenges Barack Obama will face in these turbulent times. In addition to Commander-In-Chief, the 44th President will play the roles of CEO, CTO, and most importantly, CLO. These refer to roles of Chief Executive Officer, Chief Transformation Officer and Chief Leadership Officer. Last time, we addressed President as Chief Executive Officer. This time, we will examine his role as Chief Transformation Officer.

A clear vision, sound strategy and high-performance culture are enablers of real change today. The focus must be on moving the Country in a different direction... and on some issues to move it faster and more predictably. This goes to our very survival. If our country is moving ahead and developing its economy to the fullest, we will have the resources to meet our commitments here at home and away. That we achieve this is essential because in the next 10 years the balance of power will move in the world from one direction or another- towards us or away. Here are some of the action implications for this President-Elect:

Transformation Imperatives

* Articulate a vision and a strategy that most people can embrace - The vision must be cannot be implicit.

* Act quickly and decisively to minimize disruption - Uncertainty is often worse than bad news, and it is usually better to be 80 percent correct in time than 100 percent correct too late.

* Organize to gain the power of a big "organization" with the agility of a small one - Strength with speed is the beginning of efficiency and effectiveness.

* Start at the top and challenge every assumption culturally - Show that the transformation effort is serious and inclusive.

* Treat diverse cultures as an asset, not an excuse - Embrace the "best of the best" in both people and practices to make the culture stronger than the sum of its parts.

* Communicate...communicate...communicate - With all constituencies, internal and and abroad.

* Make the process of governing transparent, but the benefits apparent.

* Sharply focus our resources- natural, financial, technological, and human on highest return endeavors.
* Ruthlessly prioritize to ensure our greatest sustaining efforts are employed on the biggest opportunities.

* Build success upon the Country's key strengths.

* Put the power of the entire country behind a few very big initiatives - ones that really count.

Managing the Transformation

1.Redesign Organization Structure-The United States' evolving situation on the world stage defines the challenge... with two wars, market meltdown, financial Armageddon and a myriad of challenges and opportunities. We must simultaneously address those while optimizing the country's many strengths.

Many organizations fail by trying to implement new strategies without changing their old structures. Some structures are inherently more capable of responding rapidly to strategic situations than are others. The organization's core culture also must be consistent with its overall objectives.

Recently, we have heard both parties rail about the excessive government bureaucracy. The bureaucratic morass should be eliminated or, at least, reduced. As Tom Peters and Bob Waterman observed in their landmark book, In Search of Excellence, "left to their own devices, organizational systems evolve to greater and greater levels of complexity, taking on a life of their own. They become more thorough, more detailed, demanding more and more uniformity and controlling more and more of everything. Formal committees with power to grant approvals begin to multiply. Committees drone on. More and more sign-offs are needed to get anything done. Ultimately, these "support" systems inhibit rather than facilitate performance. They consume the very resources they are designed to protect. People often give up on good ideas because the hoops they must jump through to get something done in the system are so numerous and cumulatively restrictive." The incoming administration must obliterate these systems and cut needless government bureaucracy.

In today's zero-lag-time world, courageous leaders ensure that the team focuses on the work that really matters. They wage war on the bureaucracy, realizing that the overly complex systems and procedures invade the real work of innovating, servicing, producing with quality. They work aggressively to overthrow existing systems and structures which do not support their vision. They eliminate (not reduce!) excessive paperwork, redundant or inhibiting support functions, excessive reports, presentations and meetings.

2. Set Higher Standards -
Elevating performance and productivity requires establishing high standards of performance, ethics and evaluation. Unlike a custodial manager, the "transformational leader" must be especially hyper-vigilant and intolerant of ineffective subordinates. Some managers who consider themselves excellent at developing subordinates take pride at attempting to get people to change their behavior radically. Many of these same managers are also quite reluctant to fire or replace an individual, always hoping for performance improvement.

Transformational leaders do not tolerate ineffective subordinates, however friendly, nice, or part of the family they are. They have the courage to "act on people." They clearly and substantively differentiate between outstanding and mediocre performers in their reward systems, and promptly terminate or move aside non-performers and counter-productive politicians.

3. Take charge -
Weak leadership will not work with groups that are splintered, floundering, confused, scared, angry or dispirited as many sources of the media have described the American people. A transformation calls for a leadership stance that inspires confidence in the wisdom of moving in a new direction and in the direction selected. Change creates turmoil, and turmoil cries out for someone to take charge. Just as soldiers more readily close ranks behind a strong commander during combat, teams in transition need a leader who stands tough and has the courage of his convictions.

Tentativeness must not prevail. Transformations proceed most successfully when they're driven hard. When the person in charge takes charge and makes things happen that need to happen.

Transformation effectiveness depends heavily on credibility. Credibility is undermined by those who waffle, wallow, or go whichever way the wind blows (or are perceived to). People will not rally behind a President who is tentative.

4. Set a Clear Agenda-
New priorities should be mapped out. They should be kept pure and simple and tied to a specific timetable. Short-term goals should be set that people can achieve quickly. By all means, adapt the agenda as the situation demands it. But, always keep it clear, and communicate it constantly. Otherwise, your team will wallow and lose precious months trying to find itself.

5. Discipline- The Chief Transformation Officer (CTO) must function, along with the Chief of Staff, as the main disciplinary agent for the team. The CTO sets high standards. Then, defends them valiantly, consistently enforcing expectations. Becoming a transformation leader requires working to be a change agent who is personally dissatisfied with the status quo, creates a vision of excellence, and aligns commitment and support to achieve that vision of excellence. Change and progress occur as a response to dissatisfaction.

The CTO challenges conventional wisdom, pushes the status quo and attacks "sacred cows." Success in the past always becomes enshrined in the present by the over-evaluation of habits, policies and attitudes which accompanied that success. As long as the environment and behavior do not change, these habits contribute to the stability of a system. But, these habits are the main obstruction in the constant struggle to respond to a changing world.

The challenge is to recognize and adapt to change before a crisis. Exceptional people are able to do just that. They have a striking capacity to institutionalize change. They never stand still. Moreover, they seem to recognize that they had internal strengths that could be developed as conditions changed.

Required Skills

The Chief Transformation Officer must effectively utilize a broad array of skills including:

* Architect of Strategy- The transformation leader is the architect of the transformation strategy. As architect the leader requires interpersonal skills, analytical ability, creativity and self-awareness.

* Implementer of Strategy- As Chief Transformation Officer, the President will be an implementer of strategy required to supply, promote, defend and judge the effectiveness of the strategy. An implementer must be tough-minded and have objective orientation, self-confidence, decisiveness, good negotiating and interviewing skills, high standards of evaluation and, most importantly, an impatience to get something done.

* Decision Making -- Transformation leaders must be able to make bold, decisive moves quickly. They make fast decisions on new ideas and are quick to terminate losing or unpromising activities. The accent of the CTO is on action, on bold, decisive moves. The CTO is willing to accept reasonable risk and even occasional failure and, with a minimum of cover-up, to ferret out mistakes early in the game. He focuses on one task of prime importance at a time.

* Teamwork -- Recognizing the importance of teams in realizing executive, legislative and judicial objectives; understanding the appropriate circumstances for the use of teams and people with different perspectives; strong ability to use teams to increase productivity, quality, involvement, and commitment; demonstrating the ability to build and mold teams; foster openness and two-way communication and increase overall team effectiveness; modeling and rewarding teamwork.

* Personal Drive -- Demonstrating a deep-seated need for achievement and excellence; motivated by high internal standards and consistently meeting or exceeding other people's expectations; thriving on challenges and persevering despite obstacles; balancing needs for power with strong needs for personal mastery and accomplishment.

* Personal Leader -- The transformation leader is a personal leader, someone distinctive from all other people in government. The personal traits of the leader must inspire confidence in the ultimate survival and renewal of a troubled country. Not only must the Chief Transformation Officer be self-confident, he must project this fact.

Successful transformation leaders seem to sense which task merits the highest priority, are able to seize the initiative and devote enormous energy to driving the "organization" and themselves to task completion. They consistently are dogged in their pursuit of objectives and the accomplishment of goals, while maintaining the flexibility to change intermediate goals as the situation develops. They are very tenacious.

As the old saying goes...Be careful what you wish for...

Next time, we will examine the challenges President-Elect Obama will face as Chief Leadership Officer.

Michael has spent 25 years helping Fortune 50 companies undergoing massive transformation. Chairmen, CEO's and COO's of such organizations as Merrill Lynch, Motorola and Lockheed have sought his advice in developing strong leadership teams. You can learn more about Michael by visiting his website at

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