DO WE NEED GREAT LEADERS TO ACHIEVE TRANSFORMATIONAL CHANGE?
We live in a time where politicians and business leaders talk about the need for ‘transformation’. We are told about the need to now ‘transform’ the economy post Covid-19 , fundamentally changing the way we do business, the way we react to each other, the way we work together.
That’s all easy to say. Typically, we are resistant to major change, unless it is thrust upon us. In a corporate setting, our Boards, Management and Administration struggle with articulating the need for and importance of change. It takes a long time to build our relationships, supply chains, our way of doing things, so they are hard to tear down. We see this in companies that have failed, and companies struggling to deal with the new issues now facing them. Measuring change and the impact of change objectively, is an important part of our Business Evaluation and Safe Harbour processes.
Measuring and reporting on change – as a consultant and advisor – that’s easy. Some businesses have reams of reports on strategy and change but implement none of them. I have recently seen a business with eight different governance and strategy reports, and now considering another. But how do you go about making real change from inside a business? This is a question that in 2020 we will get asked more and more!
WHERE DID ALL THIS TALK COME FROM?
There are as many transformational leadership models as there are leaders and books about the subject.
The term was advanced by leadership expert and presidential biographer James MacGregor Burns in the 1970’s. According to Burns transformational leadership can be seen when “leaders and followers make each other advance to a higher level of morality and motivation” Wow. By 1985, Bernard Bass had defined and developed transformational leadership whereby leaders possessed traits like “idealized influences”, “charisma”, and “inspirational motivation”. In 1996 John Kotter’s international bestseller Leading Change struck a more practical chord. It acknowledged the cynicism, pain, and fear they faced in implementing large-scale change—but also provided an eight-step plan of action.
WHY DO TRANSFORMATION EFFORTS FAIL?
With all the talk about transformation I was reminded about an article in HBR some time ago Leading Change HBR, where Kotter reflected on his eight steps and why they do not succeed:
|Error 1: Not establishing a great enough sense of urgency||
|Error 2: Not creating a powerful enough guiding coalition||
|Error 3: Lacking a vision||
|Error 4: Under-communicating the vision by a factor of ten||
|Error 5: Empower others to act on the vision||
|Error 6: Not systematically planning for, and creating short term wins||
|Error 7: Declaring victory too soon
|Error 8: Not anchoring the change in the Corporation’s culture||
WHAT CAN WE EXPECT?
This article was authored in 1996, but over 25 years it seems not much is different.
The pressures on organisations to change will only increase over the next year. We will see equity, and lenders place increased pressure on companies to ‘transform’ to receive needed capital. Yet the methods leaders have used to strengthen their companies – total quality management, re-engineering, right sizing, restructuring, cultural change, and turnarounds – routinely still fall short because change is hard
In summary, leadership is important, but change requires more than leadership. Often we expect too much from Leaders, and a great speech alone ‘Charge it to my head, and not to my heart“ won’t be enough to “lift the boats stuck at the bottom”
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