Taking a Leadership Stand is Necessary for Organizational Transformation

When an organization is undergoing a transformational effort, employees’ commitment to their own transformation is crucial to success, starting with the executives. More good management will not inspire the changes that will be necessary. The changes in an organization’s transformational effort will include process changes, cultural changes, and personal changes in ways of working. The changes needed will move along at an accelerated rate if the executives of the organization are modelling their own commitment to creating and implementing a new way of being a leader of the business. This starts with the executives inventing and executing a new future state for themselves.

Taking a Stand

What we mean by taking a stand is a simple concept, but quite challenging to implement. When you think about it, there is one speech act that creates a possible new future―a declaration.

There are many historical examples that we all recognize as declarations that changed the course of human history:

  • “We hold these truths to be self-evident―that all men are created equal” – Declaration of Independence for the United States of America
  • “Put a man on the moon by the end of the decade” – President John F. Kennedy

When these declarations were made, the current reality of the times did not match what was being said. For example, all men were not created equal in the 18th century when this statement was made. One’s state in life depended on what family you were born into. In early 1961, the U.S. was losing the space race, with no prospects for making any step-changing advances. There are many examples of a leader making a bold declaration that inspired and motivated large numbers of people to take new actions to make this new future occur.

By making a declaration – that is, to speak into existence a possible new future – it’s the first step in creating a new reality that is a break from the current one. But making a declaration is not enough. Committing to that declaration is required. Committing oneself to making the new future occur will begin the generation of new actions that will usher the new future into reality.

So, our definition of “Taking a Stand” is: Making a Declaration, plus Committing to it

Here’s the good news – as human beings, we take stands a lot. When people examine their own lives, they can recall times when  significant changes in the direction of their lives were taken. Frequently, people remember these times as moments when they “decided” on something. Looking back, they can see that they actually envisioned a new and unpredictable future for themselves and started taking new actions to fulfill it. So, when we are working with individuals inside an organization on taking a stand for themselves as a leader, they are able to draw on their own experiences in life.

Taking a Leadership Stand

Creating and implementing a new way of being a leader is taking a leadership stand. The process of creating a leadership stand is shown in this simple graphic.



Imagine that the orange circle represents all of “who you are” currently as a leader. For the most part, executives have far more leadership traits that work well for them. In taking a stand, recognizing some of these traits can be really useful in distinguishing “ways of being” a leader.



Shaded in this illustration are “areas needing improvement”. These areas are usually well known by the executives because of various feedback mechanisms through their careers. Traditionally, people approach their leadership development by taking on these areas needing improvement and converting them to successful changes in their leadership. We have found, and there is a lot of research data showing, that “fixing” elements to improve are not the most successful ways to develop one’s leadership. Fixing something starts with a negative – that is, fixing implies changing something that is currently bad. Taking a leadership stand is not about fixing something, but rather creating and executing something.

The larger bubble in this illustration is a visual on a leadership stand. You will notice that taking a leadership stand is about expanding one’s leadership. There are some key variables to consider when creating this leadership stand.

  • Inspirational
  • Desired
  • The Wow factor
  • Would make a difference to you and to the organization
  • Actionable

Inventing and committing to a new way of being a leader must be inspirational to the person. Without this element, the new way of being a leader will be difficult to execute. The changes required will be hard to make because it becomes a “have to” rather than a “want to”.

The new way of being a leader must be desired by the leader. If the person doesn’t really care if the necessary changes are made, then the new actions and ways of thinking will be difficult to implement.

A leadership stand must be a game changer for the executive to be most effective. This wow factor needs to be a sufficient jolt out of the current box that they are in. The leadership stand needs to be big enough to generate the uncomfortable changes that are necessary.



Since the executives are committed to making a difference in their organizations, the leadership stand must be a significant change that will contribute to the organization as a whole.

Finally, the leadership stand must be actionable. Only describing this new state of being a leader will not give the leader the thoughts about how to make the changes desired in real time. I often ask the person I am working with to do a litmus test. “Imagine a meeting or a recent time when you were involved with a group of people. Notice how you are being and your actions in this situation. Now install in your head this leadership stand. What would you do differently, if anything?” This view allows us to observe significant changes or not. If not, we must keep working on the expression of the leadership stand so that the leader may make changes, moment by moment.

The arrows in this illustration show the new actions the leader can invent and take from the expression of their leadership stand. Declaring a new way of being and committing to it is how a leadership stand is generated. Considering new actions and behaviors is necessary to give the person the best chances of success in their leadership stand.

Ways to Get There

When in the process of creating a powerful leadership stand, there are several things to consider during the process.

  • Someone you are inspired by, that you admire, that you have thought about wanting to be that way as a leader

We all have people in our lives who were role models for us. These people were being certain ways that were inspiring and motivating to us. They may be teachers, coaches, managers, and/or executives that we found to be motivating to us. In fact, they often were instrumental in our advancing into new roles or opportunities.

  • You might have a burning desire to be this new way

Frequently, people we are working with have thought to themselves “I wish I could be that kind of a leader”. These areas that are desired are a good start in inventing a leadership stand that will be very effective for the individual and their organization.

  • Is there a recurring theme in feedback or annual reviews that occur

When there is a recurring theme, or an element in feedback that is mentioned, this can be a starting point to inventing a leadership stand. The outcome from this work will not be about fixing this element. Rather, it can illuminate a direction or approach to an effective leadership stand.

A Few Leadership Stand Examples

Here are a few examples that illustrate what an effective leadership stand could sound like.

  • An effective project manager promoted to a new strategic project whose project members were peers:
    • I am an inspired and inspiring leader

For this project leader, we didn’t want to change the many ways of being and behaviors that were highly successful as a project manager. However, something was clearly missing in the ways the project manager was executing this critical strategic project. After thinking it through together, we came to the realization that the project manager was only focusing on controlling the project. Since the team members were this manager’s peers, this command and control way of being was just not effective. Getting the manager’s attention on their team, in addition to the project management, helped them become a much more effective leader of the project.

  • A highly successful sales person was promoted to national sales executive:
    • I am a centered and thoughtful leader

Some of this leader’s strengths in sales were getting in the way of her being an effective national sales executive. The person’s sense of urgency, decisive and quick responses, and the take charge attitude necessary to be successful in sales were some of the strengths. However, when leading other sales managers, these were undesirable, causing some unwanted turnover and unsuccessful sales efforts. By committing to being centered and thoughtful, the leader was able to adopt new approaches to being a national sales leader. These new approaches were added to the strengths the leader already demonstrated.

  • A soft-spoken scientist in his first leadership role:
    • I am a bold leader, always making a difference

This manager was literally a rocket scientist. Their strengths included a ton of smarts and brilliant project management. But consistent feedback included “being too quiet and withdrawn”. This manager took this leadership stand of being bold, which gave him behaviors that created more expression and “out there” approaches to leading the team.

Execution and transformation require something “exceptional”. Simply being the same-old-same-old ways is unlikely going to be successful.


Any transformational change for an organization will be uncomfortable. Old ways of being and ways of working will be ineffective in realizing this transformational change. Execution and transformation projects move about as fast as the development of the executives who are accountable for them. Executives must step up as role models for all of their employees, showing that they are also committed to making changes in the ways of managing and leading the organization.

When executives take their own leadership stands, and demonstrate their stands in public ways, they will serve as sources of inspiration to others throughout the organization. This includes the opportunity for anyone in the organization to take their own leadership stands out of their commitment to advancing the transformation for the organization. It is essential that the senior executives are fostering this kind of mindset and behavior from everyone in the organization, and that examples of “being a leader” are recognized and appreciated.

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Denial Ain’t Just a River in Egypt: Leadership Team Development

Mark Twain is commonly given credit for this saying, although there is not conclusive proof of his authorship. It does sound like something he would have said, especially if he observed contemporary management meetings.

This saying about denial is a humorous way of describing a situation in which a person or team refuses to see what is obvious to others as a means of avoiding confronting a painful truth. This behavior is seen too often in organizations where the executives live in denial about the competitive position and performance of a business. A classic example of this is the statement: “But our customers love us”, which is said in meetings to discuss declining sales and margins on sales.

Denial is perhaps the most primitive defense mechanism seen in people. If a person thinks that a circumstance will be difficult or painful, the person simply pretends that the circumstance does not exist. In some cases, the person is aware of their pretense, while many others are not. This last category is the most dangerous for an executive, as the executive managers convince themselves that the circumstance and condition simply do not exist. Denial is the polar opposite of accountability.

Too often managers live in denial rather than having action and commitment based conversations. In public there is a pretense that everything is going smooth and nothing has happened, but in private the managers will admit knowing about the issues. Denial serves to remove personal accountability and avoid the need for action. Denial is a primary means of explaining and justifying the lack of results, e.g., “you do not understand”.

Denial is a “rot that is waiting to invalidate accountability”. Given that it is a primitive mind mechanism, logic often does not work. It usually requires a more compelling and forceful approach which simply says that this level of thinking is not appropriate from an executive or manager in your organization. While that may be difficult at the time, the consequences of not dealing with it will be much worse.

Justification and Rationalization

Justification is an act of providing reasons for complaints and defenses. In business it is the act of trying to defend and is most commonly used to defend lower than expected performance and results.

A humorous example of justification was on a t-shirt worn near Christmas by one of my favorite baristas. The slogan on front of tee shirt was “But Santa, I can explain”. This reflects how justification is often used to explain events and performance which does not meet expectation. Justification used by executives may provide a short term “pass”, but actually works against those executives over time. Employees often can see the actual performance as well as the hollowness of the justification. Instead of justification, Kouzes and Posner (1993) say that when accountable leaders see that mistakes have occurred that it is important that the leader:

  • openly admit the mistake
  • avoid the temptation to deny it or make justifications, and
  • apologize to those who were affected by the mistake.

They add that covering up or denying any wrongdoing actually assures more damage to the leader’s reputation than admitting the mistake in the first place.

Rationalization is another defense mechanism in which one’s true motivation is concealed by offering an explanation which is expected to excuse the behaviors. While rationalizations often appear “logical”, others see through the attempted explanation. Accountability is the enemy of justification and rationalization. Accountability calls for a concise description of what was promised, what happened, and what is next. Being accountable for a result says:

  1. I promised X.
  2. I achieved X, or I did not.
  3. If I achieve Y this is what I am doing to close the gap between X and Y, and how and when I expect the gap to be closed and the missing amount to be made up.
  4. If I see that I can no longer close the gap and make up the missing amount, I revoke my original promise and now make this new promise. (If the new promise reduces a key operating factor like earnings, margin and volume, there is a promise to explore what other results can be increased so as to keep the overall operating commitments and promises.)

Denial in Action Example

I consulted with a company which held monthly performance reviews in corporate headquarters. Each month the executives running the business units would go into a large conference room in which the tables were arranged in a U-shape. At the head of the table were the Chairman/CEO, COO, and CFO. Sitting on each side were a cadre of corporate staff. Each business unit would go in, present their results, and then be interrogated by the C-level executives as well as corporate staff. This practice of revising monthly performance could sound like good management, until you hear the rest of the story.

First, the business units were complex and quite large, so there could be substantial variability in reporting from month to month. This natural variability between months significantly reduced the accuracy of monthly numbers at the time of this meeting, so the attempt to assess performance on a monthly basis was of limited value. Further, the staff executives appeared to view this monthly meeting as their opportunity to appear smart and adding value in front of CEO and COO. As a consequence, when the business unit heads prepared for these meetings they spent more time preparing for “thrust and parry” from the staff groups than understanding the details of the financials. If the expected results were not achieved, the focus was on excruciating details as to why. As I observed this tradition several interesting things emerged:

  1. The conversations were always focused on reasons, not on results.
  2. The quality of the presentation and conversations were based on how well the executives could spin an interesting tale of reasons. Promotions in the company were a reflection of skill in making up reasons, rather than producing results.
  3. The environment was one of blame, excuses and justifications, which produced silly conversations and decisions. Missing was the basic integrity of the results.

Results Matter

If a leadership team uses denial, justification and rationalization, over time the actual business results will seem not to matter. Ironically these conversations will become overly past-based, with attention on “why didn’t you do better”. While understanding gaps in performance is useful, it matters only if this information can benefit future behavior and performance. Keeping the past separate from future and dealing with commitments for actions and results in the future will strengthen a leadership team.

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Building Trust In An Organization

Trust in any organization is a big deal. We have consulted companies around the world, and it is obvious that when trust is present in an organization, performance is far superior than if trust is missing. Trust is an expression of and evidence for a good organizational culture.

There are two key elements to work with when organizations want to elevate levels of trust:

  1. Behaviors and actions of people in the organization = are readily seen (like symptoms of a disease)
  2. The source of those behaviors and actions = are invisible to the organization and consist of deep-rooted mindsets about trust (like the causes of a disease)

Changing Trust in an Organization

In his article in Forbes, David Horsager wrote:

“Trust garners better output, morale, retention, innovation, loyalty, and revenue, while mistrust fosters skepticism, frustration, low productivity, lost sales, and turnover. Trust affects a leader’s impact and the company’s bottom line more than any other single thing.”

If trust is so foundational to the health of a culture, transforming an organization’s trust levels will have a significant impact on the culture. Professors John Kotter and James Heskett performed a Harvard Business School study documenting the significant impact of culture on performance over an 11-year period. The financial performance differences were “staggering”, to use one of Dr Kotter’s descriptions.

“For example, the companies with good cultures achieved 756% growth in net income during the same time period that companies with poor performing cultures saw just 1% net income growth.”

Recently, I heard of a large multinational company that is in the process of generating more trust in its people and operations. From looking at the potential returns, it is understandable why the executives want to improve trust levels in the organization. However, their approach is to drive a change in employee behaviors within the organization through a series of training programs and follow up modules. In our experience, this effort may have some positive outcomes – getting people to learn about trust and how they behave is certainly going to make some difference. However, this approach of focusing only on employee behaviors and actions is just “the tip of the iceberg,” Real transformation will only come when the source of the behaviors is discovered, thought through, and transformed. Once this occurs, people then create changes in behaviors and actions consistent with this new way of thinking about trust and the organization. Both are required for a successful transformation.

Getting to the Source of Trust Issues

A good question to ask yourself :

What might the mindset of an organization be if executives, managers and employees are not trusting each other?

From an organizational perspective, the mindset would come from some learned experiences from the past, generally among positions or groups. Examples of mindsets we have heard before:

  • “Sales doesn’t trust manufacturing”
  • “Marketing doesn’t trust sales operations”
  • “Finance doesn’t trust anyone”
  • “Management can’t be trusted”
  • “Unions can’t be trusted”

These mindsets are very generalized statements that likely began at some point a long time ago. Additionally, these mindsets have little to do with specific people in any of the functions. Clearly, if these are the prevalent mindsets within an organization, no amount of new behavior changes will make a significant difference. Focusing only on behavior changes will lead to checklist activities, no substantive change, and a high degree of cynicism.

Being Trusting and Trustworthy Requires a New Mindset

To be trusting and trustworthy starts with the senior executives of the organization. They must actively engage in understanding and transforming their own mindsets around trust among each other as well as their managers and employees. In transforming their mindsets, they must create new behaviors that they will apply consistently to demonstrate and model the new ways of being trusting and trustworthy with people in the organization.

These new behaviors and actions will start to manifest themselves in profound ways, such as:

  • As an executive, you can own what has happened in the past, and that it happened on your watch; that you recognize the negative impact you may have had on employees in the past, and that you are committed to changing the mindsets, the behaviors and the culture for the benefit of everyone in the company.
  • As an executive, you can acknowledge that trust has been an issue, that you are looking to improve trust, and that you recognize that you will need to change too. That you also need everyone in the company to embrace the change knowing that there may be times that it is not easy to do so, but you ask for their help and efforts.

These are two examples – the key is that whatever the message, executives are being trusting of them and trustworthy for them.

However, for trust to be the norm throughout the organization, relying only on the senior executives will not be enough. All leaders throughout the organization must be engaged in these new mindsets. This include the leaders of the business who have authority and titles, as well as the thought leaders, influencers, and people in the organization who are widely respected. These leaders must also be engaged in this new way of being trusting and trustworthy with new actions invented and taken.

A global manufacturing organization with whom we worked was committed to a transformational growth strategy. Part of the transformation had to start at the top of the organization. The leaders of the business had to transform their mindsets about the unions from “they can’t be trusted” to “they are our partners for growth”. The leaders could see where the old mindsets came from – painful events happened when the company was going through a major downsizing a decade before, resulting in broken trust between the executives and the unions. By recognizing this, they were able to authentically commit themselves to adopting and behaving consistent with the new mindset.

A great example of this new mindset’s behaviors in action was demonstrated by interactions with one of the former union presidents who was a “known troublemaker” in the company and was very vocal in his distrust of the leadership of the company.

Steeped in this new mindset, the president of the company met with this person along with other informal leaders and had several conversations with them to establish a new baseline of trust. The president’s behaviors demonstrated to these employees that he was committed to the transformation and growth strategy and was being humble and authentic in his new mindset and behaviors. It was only a matter of months and we began to see that the former troublemaker was becoming the biggest advocate of the transformational efforts and growth strategy. During a large town hall, he stood and shared his support in quite an emotional way, influencing many of those in the audience to begin to make changes in their own mindsets and behaviors around trust.

As more formal and informal leaders are transforming their mindsets to being trusting and trustworthy, getting employees engaged will be supported by the formal and informal leaders.


The need for any organization to have high levels of Trust as part of its organizational culture is fundamental and will make a significant difference to the performance and bottom line of the organization. In order to make a transformational and lasting impact on this kind of change, the two elements to consider:

  1. The behaviors and actions that we can see. That is, what the executives, managers and employees are doing and how they are behaving.
  2. The source of these behaviors and actions. That is, what are the mindsets and fundamental beliefs that are driving those behaviors and actions?

A change in behaviors is definitely an outcome that must be seen from any change initiative. However, focusing only on behaviors will likely result in an expensive, time consuming and marginally effective undertaking. Discovering the source of behaviors and actions can be incredibly hard to pin down. That is what we here at KingChapman have been doing with organizations globally for the past 30 years and is one of the great tools that we provide.

It is imperative, possible and doable, and well worth the effort, to transform the source of trust in an organization, creating new behaviors and actions to drive significant value.

Building trust is just one element of transformation, performance and growth. Growing a business is a daunting task for many, if not most, executives. While growth is considered fun, and what executives dream of being engaged in, achieving sustainable growth is another story.

Download our PDF: “Executive Challenges” and learn the Execution of Growth Strategies and Organizational Transformation.

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Premortems: Technique for Improving Strategic Thinking

I recently was looking through blogs from McKinsey Quarterly and ran across one of my favorites. It is entitled Bias busters: Premortems: Being Smart at the StartThe authors advocate the use of Premortems as a tool for identifying biases which can get in the way of good decision making. I agree as I use a similar process with clients who are developing strategies and transforming their organizations.

Reading the blog from McKinsey & Co. also brought back fond memories of a great man who originally taught me about Premortems. Marty Leaf was an accomplished lawyer in New York. He began his career as a trial lawyer and later expanded to handle dispute resolution as well as complex contract negotiations. Marty also provided a great service to humanitarian organizations such as the Buckminster Fuller Institute, Hunger Project and a United Nations NGO. Marty’s clients were typically large, well-known businesses, but also included a diverse group of individuals such as Lhamo Dondrub, the 14th Dalai Lama, John Denver and Werner Erhard.

I met Martin Leaf through a mutual friend, and then got to know him better as we sorted through some knotty corporate legal issues in New York. In addition to being excellent as an attorney and extremely bright and gracious, Marty was also fun to be around. As an example of his humor, when we were in a very tense moment sorting out this legal matter, I turned to Marty and had this exchange:

Me: “Marty, is it better to be dealing with a crook or a fool?”
Marty: “A crook.”
Me: “Why is that?”
Marty: “Because you can go have a nice meal with a crook since you know who you are dealing with, where it is much more difficult to deal with a fool!”

During this process Marty introduced me to his version of a Premortem. He said that at the completion of a trial, one of two things happen:

  1. The winning side goes out to a fabulous restaurant to celebrate. During the meal the client toasts the legal team for their brilliance. After winning a big case, collecting the last of the fees is seldom an issue for the winning attorneys.
  2. The losing side schleps back to the client’s offices, orders sandwiches, and immediately begins a postmortem to analyze what went wrong. Of course, the client’s opening presupposition is that the lawyers screwed up and lost the case. During the postmortem, however, new information often emerges which would have been helpful in the trial.

It was during one of these postmortems that it occurred to Marty that it would be a really good idea to have this conversation before they went to trial. Hence his use of the term Premortem. Marty graciously gave me permission to use the term, so I have for many years.

Marty’s view of a Premortem was designed to:

  • Create strategic thinking from the future
  • Discover information which existed in the company but was for some reason not being communicated upward
  • Explore the blind spots and biases in the company’s thinking about the topic being litigated. It was easy for the legal team to be influenced by this mindset and not see the flaws in their client’s points of view


Create Strategic Thinking from the Future

Premortems are useful tools for vetting business strategies, designing a culture change and organizational transformation, as well as large capital projects. This value comes from creating a conversation regarding the future. One of the biggest challenges in helping executives develop strategies and plan for the execution of those strategies is confronting that the future is not knowable. Ironically for a trial lawyer this is easier, as the company either wins or loses the case. There are two clear and defined futures to consider.

In working with executives though, it is often more complicated since at the beginning they can think only from one place or future. Their thinking about the future is some form of a continuation of the past or present. Getting the executives to think from the future perspective, rather than just a continuation of the same from the past can be challenging since it is not knowable.

The future is not knowable because it has not happened yet. Since the future has not happened yet and is not knowable, it requires thinking strategically. That is, thinking without the comfort of analytical predictions which are based only on the past. Thinking strategically requires thinking from points in the future which are not necessarily a linear progression from the past. Given we naturally think from the past to today and project that forward, thinking from a future that is not necessarily like the past is a challenge. Hence, the value of being able to locate one’s thinking at a point in the future. In other words, providing a place to stand in the future in order to observe and think about big challenges to be faced in execution.

I find it useful to have executive teams think from two scenarios:

#1 Invented Future. Invented Future is created by executives to describe a future in which the intent of the organization is being fulfilled and stakeholders are thrilled. Conversations from the future rather than about the future provide a new and much improved perspective for strategic thinking. This Invented Future can be achieved through:

  • Changes in mindsets
  • Creativity and innovation
  • Breakthroughs in how employees think about the business
  • Improved listening to customers’ needs


#2 Failed Future. This provides opportunity for Premortem. This Premortem begins with a point in the future in which the strategies and execution plans have failed. Often there is a triggering event which led to the overall failure. These triggering events can include:

  • Customers changing preferences for products and services
  • Large customers being acquired or going out of business
  • Digital disruption which radically reshapes the competitive landscape
  • Global competitors entering a market with different financial drivers and product offerings

Discover “New” Information

A major risk to developing and executing strategies is critical information which is known by people in the organization but NOT communicated upward to decision makers in the organization. This dynamic can lead to catastrophic failures and safety issues. An excellent example of this is the case study of the events surrounding the deadly failure of NASA’s Columbia. In that case, managers who were responsible for safety were aware of issues which ultimately caused the disaster but chose not to communicate that information upward to those managing the mission.

Marty said that similar things happen in trials. During the trial the other side introduces facts or information which Marty and his team did not have. Often this new data was important to the outcomes. During the Postmortem, they discover that new facts and information existed within the client company but, for whatever reason, they were not communicated upward. The reasons for not disclosing this important information varied, but the consequences were still final.

A key question in conducting a Premortem is “What important data and information exists within our organization which we are currently not aware of but will be crucial in our strategic deliberations and execution?” I find that at first, there are blank looks on executive’s faces, but as we engage more people, we start to uncover very important information. This is among the reasons I recommend expanding the size of the group when planning execution of strategic projects.

Explore Biases, Blind Spots and Unproductive Mindsets

There is an abundance of evidence that cognitive biases are a major threat to strategic thinking. As an executive group begins to explore opportunities for growth, innovation and performance enhancement, it is useful to review some of the more common cognitive biases that could occur. If the group is candid, they will readily identify examples in which cognitive biases affected previous decisions. When a group can acknowledge the risks they face based on cognitive biases, it greatly expands its capability to think strategically. To illustrate the risks, I may ask the group to start with a future and then imagine how cognitive biases could negatively impact their conversations and deliberations.

I also use the term blind spots to encourage executives to explore dynamics in their thinking. Blind spots are often assumptions held by the group, but they have forgotten they are only assumptions. Challenging blind spots allows the group to uncover assumptions that need to be revisited and assessed. Among the most important set of assumptions to be revisited are those which involve external drivers that have huge impact on a company’s operations, as well as its customers. Examples include financial interest rates, number of housing starts, number of new autos built in a year, oil prices, number of active drilling rigs working on shore, etc.


Martin N. Leaf died in New York City after a long illness on May 23, 2015. At the time of his death he was surrounded by his family. The acknowledgements of the difference he made in people’s lives poured in. I loved one such acknowledgement which read,

“To Marty Leaf, a man for all seasons. You were a mighty influence in my life and the world”.

That sentiment expresses how many of us who knew Marty felt about him.

I hope this story about Marty has given you a new perspective about the use of Premortems. It is a simple, but highly effective tool in improving strategic thinking through identifying biases and blind spots.

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The Words Leaders Use Can Greatly Impact Performance

In getting their jobs done, executives and managers primarily deal in communications. This includes the spoken and written word, along with the behaviors associated with those words. Words in the English language are full of richness in meaning. Yet for all the richness, we in business tend to bend, borrow and, in some cases, overtly distort the meaning of words to fit our purposes. While this convenient borrowing serves near-term purposes, often the long-term consequences are that the implied meaning of words we use in business are confusing if not compromised. This increases the complication of situations and can lead us astray.

Words are full of meaning and message, and in business are theoretically assumed to describe behavior. When the behaviors of executives and managers are consistent with their words, a powerful dynamic is created. Consider that an operational definition of integrity is behavior that is consistent with words. Doing what we said we would do, or not doing what we said we would not do is an essential part of establishing credibility and integrity as an executive or manager. Conversely, saying one thing and behaving differently is a surefire way to send mixed messages to a group, organization or team. At the end of the day, communication, which is comprised of behavior and words, matters greatly.

The clarity and crispness in the meaning of words is important for executives and managers now more than ever. The challenges and complexities facing businesses continues to grow, which in turn demands accelerated changes, creative strategies, innovative business models, and new models for organizing. Yet many of the words which could be used in accelerating change have been used up. For example, breakthroughs are often what is needed in the business.


In the early days of organizational transformation, our firm piloted the use of language-based breakthrough principles. As an example, using breakthrough principles we contributed to the transformation of Ford Motor company in the 1980’s. Even with this outstanding success, we were very hesitant to use this term since it made many executives uncomfortable. When the word breakthrough was used, it was to delineate and designate an extraordinary accomplishment which would open huge new possibilities for the business. Then the term became widely used to describe products, most of which were anything but a breakthrough. Rather, they were unremarkable if not overtly forgettable. Along the way, a powerful word for use in describing organizational transformation was weakened. The cruel irony is that a word used to describe an important distinction in the transformation of Ford Motor Company was later used to describe a completely forgettable Cadillac product!


It is now widely accepted that an organization’s culture is important. Two leading scholars (James Heskett and John Kotter) from Harvard Business School conducted a study comparing the business outcomes for companies with good cultures and bad cultures. The results were stunning as can be seen in the chart below:

Average Increase for Twelve Firms with Performance-Enhancing Cultures Average Increase for Twenty Firms without Performance-Enhancing Cultures
Revenue Growth 682% 166%
Employment Growth 282% 36%
Stock Price Growth 901% 74%
Net Income Growth 756% 1%


Most of us agree that a good culture promotes change and success, while a bad culture stifles innovation and promotes bureaucracy which, in turn, inhibits growth and performance. While the word culture is widely used in business, its meaning has been compromised to become synonymous with principles and values. The assumption has become that the way to change culture is to change values. This is not accurate and contributes to many failed change projects. While values are one part of culture, they are not the part that drives most behavior and lays the foundation for culture.

Leadership & Management

Perhaps there is no better example of the misuse of terms than the words leadership and management. A quick glance at a good dictionary will demonstrate that the two terms have quite different meanings.

Leadership: “the actions of leading a group of people or an organization” and “the state of being a leader”

Management: “the process of dealing with or controlling things or people”

Both functions and roles are important in business organizations, yet they are different. Leadership is critical for success in creating strategies and implementing change. Yet in many organizations the two terms are used interchangeably. The management team is called a leadership team, yet all the topics and work are concerned with management, not leadership. The people on the leadership team do not possess leadership skills and show little interest in acquiring them. Calling a team of managers ‘our leadership team’ serves only to confuse the organization and reduce the probability that actual leadership will be exhibited, even when it is desperately needed.

Organization Design

Unfortunately, the two terms organizational design and organizational structure have also become synonymous terms. Both terms describe an important element for executives, yet what I consider the most important element of organizational design has by and large lost its meaning. Organizational structure deals with how formal authority is delegated and managed. For example, is the company organized around business units or does it function as one large company organized around functions? Further, the term organizational structure is also used to describe the reporting relationships within the organization. This is the most common use of the word, which translates to boxes and lines on an organizational chart. This structure is important for administering the functions and reporting relationships as well as providing clarity to employees. The structure is commonly thought of as the boxes and lines which depict the organization.

The challenges facing most business continue to increase because of accelerating rates of change, disruptive innovations and technologies, expanding expectations and sophistication of customers, increasing global competitors, regulatory changes, shareholders who want near term results, etc. In order to act on those challenges, executive must rethink how their organization can see and respond to these challenges. The executive must be intentional in designing their organization to increase its capability to explore possibilities, identify opportunities and threats, and ultimately act in extraordinary ways. Organizational design can be described as:

“Change the company’s most fundamental building blocks: how people in the company made decisions, adopted new behaviors, rewarded performance, agreed on commitments, managed information, made sense of that information, allocated responsibility, and connected with one another.”

The issues or problems come when organizational structure is misused by executives thinking about strategic challenges and creating strategic execution. The executives who confront external dynamics and strategic challenges move quickly to questions of how best to structure the organization. At times it appears that when executives are facing tough external challenges and changes in the market, they instead change the organizational structures, or restructure. It often appears that reorganization is chosen because they are not sure what else to do.


Redeployment is a special case for me. I was working on a book with my colleague and good friend, Francis Vidal. We were developing methods that companies could use to mobilize their organizations during times of change. I relocated my family to Paris so Francis and I could work together as consultants and develop our methodologies. We chose the term redeployment to describe our methods since the word redeployment is the same in both English and French. Unfortunately, during the time we were working on the book and building our common practice methods, the term redeployment took on new meaning in the U.S. Companies began using the term ‘redeployed’ to denote downsizing of employees. The term became synonymous with getting fired and outplacement. That simple change in the meaning of the word was the kiss of death to this practice in the U.S. and the usefulness of the book for KingChapman. So, we published the book in France, but not in the US.


Words are a primary tool for those in business. Words are full of meaning and message. Words are the basis for leadership. We use words to create new futures, bring clarity, raise awareness and inspire people. We must, however, remain alert to when our favorite words and terms have taken on additional meanings or lost their value to properly distinguish our intent.

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What Henry Cavendish Can Teach Us About Organizational Culture

Organizational culture is one of the most important and yet misunderstood aspects in business today. Culture has profound impact on a business organization’s performance. For example, a Harvard Business School study documented the significant impact of culture on performance. Heskett and Kotter documented the dramatic differences between companies with good cultures vs those with poor cultures on key performance measures. For example, the companies with good cultures achieved 756% growth in net income during the same time period that companies with poor performing culture saw just 1% net income growth.

Given the importance of culture on performance, one would assume that those of us in business would have an excellent understanding of what culture is. While this seems obvious, it is not the case. Most of us have an incomplete understanding of organizational culture. We assume that culture is:

  • The artifacts which can be seen in the organization. These artifacts include the behaviors which can be seen. It also includes how communication is delivered, the workplace is organized as well as how practices and processes deployed. While declaration is given that those artifacts are the culture, less consideration is given as to why those artifacts occur. Said differently, identifying what the cultural artifacts are is useful, however, meaningful change can occur only after determining why that culture occurs.
  • The values of the organization. It is common practice for executives who seek to change or improve their organization’s culture to use exercises to develop the exact wording for the desired values and principles of the organization. The assumption is that by identifying and claiming these new values that they will now occur in the culture. While this is a popular approach to culture change, it seldom works out for any length of time.

So, the state of play is that we have strong evidence that culture has significant impact on an organization’s performance, yet we do not have a good understanding of what or why a culture is or how to improve it. This is startling given that we have spent most of our lives in some form of organization, each of which had unique cultures. Think about it, most of us went to kindergarten or preschool before we were age six and have been in various organizations ever since. Each of these organizations had distinct cultures which impacted our experience, yet we do not have a good understanding of organizational cultures. This is because the culture of the organization was established before we arrived in that organization and functioned so much in the background that we could not see it. Chances are we felt the impacts of the culture from time to time, but never were able to see the entire culture nor understand the origins of the culture.

Who Discovered Water?

This reminds me of one of my favorite rhetorical questions that I use in helping others understand culture. The question is “who discovered water?” Think about it. We take water so much for granted that at first the question seems daft or stupid. Yet thinking provides an important clue in understanding organizational culture.

One response to this question that I like is “I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the fish.” This response has an interesting parallel to our experience with cultures. The fish spends all its entire life in water and yet it has no concept of water. The fish begins to experience water only when it is pulled out of the water; that is, when some fundamental change occurs. Often that is how we first begin to encounter culture -when some fundamental changes occur.

The question remains “Who invented water?” This question brings us to the title of this blog: What Henry Cavendish Can Teach Us About Organizational Culture? If you do a search for the question “Who invented water?”, the most common answer is Henry Cavendish. A sample response is:

Henry Cavendish. (1731 – 1810) was a chemist, who discovered the composition of water, when he experimented with hydrogen and oxygen and mixed these elements together to create an explosion (oxyhydrogen effect).

Consequently, Cavendish is generally credited with discovering water. A more thorough description of Cavendish’s is:

A natural philosopher, the greatest experimental and theoretical English chemist and physicist of his age, Henry Cavendish (10 Oct. 1731 – 24 Feb. 1810) was distinguished for great accuracy and precision in researches into the composition of atmospheric air, the properties of different gases, the synthesis of water, the law governing electrical attraction and repulsion, and calculations of the density (and hence the weight) of the Earth.

The story of Henry Cavendish is fascinating. He was born into English aristocracy. His father, Lord Charles Cavendish, was active in politics and science. Henry was painfully shy and had no interest in politics, however, he did share his father’s passion for science. His father introduced Henry to the Royal Society, where he became an active member. He spent his life involved in a wide range of problem solving and research. He was a pioneer in scientific research and discovery. So, what can we learn from Henry Cavendish that helps us understand organizational culture?

Lessons on Organizational Culture from Cavendish

The statement “Cavendish was distinguished for great accuracy and precision in researches” gives us a clue and says much about his approach to problem solving. Cavendish experimented to increase the understanding of complex phenomenon. He was also noted for his great accuracy and precision. Perhaps the first lesson from Cavendish for us about culture is experimentation. I frequently encounter executives who think they know culture and consequently have closed off inquiry and thinking strategically about culture. I use this expression know culture to describe a mindset which I frequently encounter that executives have:

  • Read articles about culture
  • Been involved in processes to identify the organization’s values
  • Can talk convincingly about the importance of culture to performance of business

Unfortunately, this is based on surface level understanding of culture which in turn provides little access to action. What most of us miss is that there is a third level of culture which determines how the organization functions.

The Third Level of Culture

Edgar Schein first identified this third level which he called Basic or Tacit Assumptions. This third level is based on the shared learning of the group which is used in orienting new people to the organization and has over time become so taken for granted that it is no longer visible to participants in the organization. It becomes the context for that organization.

To deepen our understanding of culture, let’s think about how this context based on tacit assumptions is formed. An organization’s culture begins forming as soon as people come together as a group to address a common opportunity or problem. The culture begins being shaped by the attitudes, decisions and learning of this group. Cultures are built on shared learning by the group as to what works and what produces success and/or avoids failure. Each culture is unique since it is shaped by the nationalities of people involved, personalities of early leaders, professional backgrounds, technologies with which working, etc. Over time there is additional experiences and shared learning by the group which modify and refine the culture. Once we understand how culture is created, we realize that every organization’s culture is unique and so complex that it is virtually impossible to completely know or understand. The most we can hope to achieve is learning enough about how a culture functions that we can develop possible interventions.

Edgar Schein uses the concept of human personality as an analogy to demonstrate that culture is way too complex to understand. He says, “Culture in that sense is like personality or character for an individual, once you’ve learned to be a certain kind of person that is you in all aspects of your functioning and you don’t want to be any different. Which is why culture is hard to change.

Schein advocates identifying a specific problem or issue that needs to be addressed, and then begins inquiring into the nature of that problem. The assertion is that the presenting problem will likely reflect deeper issues in the organization which can only be identified and addressed through this inquiry. This is where Henry Cavendish can teach us about great accuracy and precision. Cavendish discovered water by identifying the component parts and seeing how these parts interact with each other. As we start to examine a particular problem or opportunity to identify how the culture is influencing it, we want to avoid introducing our favorite explanations or theories. Instead we want to use “great accuracy and precision” which was the hallmark of Cavendish’s career. We want to examine and observe based on what presents itself, rather than our opinions about what is being seen.


At KingChapman we assist clients to develop strategies to change their culture and transform their organization. This intervention begins with identifying the Default Future of their organization. The Default Future is what is going to happen if nothing dramatically changes. That is, if the organization continues on auto pilot what will probably occur. This Default Future is based on the current context and is business as usual. Once the Default Future is identified, the question is “Do you want it?” If the answer is yes, then no further changes are needed.

If the answer is a rousing no (often expressed as “Hell No!”), then the next step is to design a new future which is more attractive and robust for the organization. The next step is to create a new future in which dramatic cultural change and performance improvements occurs. We call this the Invented Future since it is created or literally made up. The Invented Future provides a platform from which clients can see the existing culture as well as design changes in the culture which will enable the organization to make dramatic improvements.

In order to determine areas of the culture which need to be changed, we at KingChapman use our Breakdown Methods. We say that a breakdown is an interruption of a commitment. That is, a group of people are committed to something and for whatever reason that commitment is not kept. This lack of keeping a commitment provides a view for our clients to inquire into the bedrock of their culture, which is the tacit assumptions. Using the Breakdown Methods as a tool, clients are able to separate the observable facts from the opinions and stories which invariably accompany any perceived problem. This separating of observable facts from opinions allows our clients to clearly see a specific part of their culture that is causing problems and interfering with improvements. And with this clear vision of it, clients can see and address the underlying implicit assumptions to implement changes which will improve organizational performance.

What our clients find when they declare a breakdown and begin inquiring into the breakdown is that an unexpected element of the culture has shown itself and caused unexpected behavior by people in the organization. Something surprising occurs. When our methodology is used to identify and inquire into problems which are a reflection of commitments being kept, our clients see specific examples of how a culture is impacting performance. With these insights, our clients can create new ways of thinking and approaching understanding the culture and ultimately making the desired changes.


Who discovered water? Henry Cavendish. What can he teach us about organizational culture? To inquire and observe using great accuracy and precision about how the context and tacit assumptions shape how an organizational culture perceives situations and elicits specific actions. Through great accuracy and precision, we are able to discover the third level of culture which will allow us to be successful in making  changes in organizational culture.

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How Hollywood Might Depict Changing Organizational Culture

Most of us love movies and TV shows because it allows us to look in on characters and situations to see how things play out. Recently there has been fascinating news coverage and social media chatter about the unexpected ending to Game of Thrones. Many people are outraged at the treatment of their favorite characters. In a similar time frame, the long running TV sitcom Big Bang Theory also completed its story. While there was not as much angst and upset as with Game of Thrones, there still were plenty of points of view on how it should have ended.

This recent news got me thinking how Hollywood writers would develop a script about executives involved in changing organizational culture. What would the story line be and who would be the main characters? How might this story play out?

If we assume the screen writers looked on the internet for guidance and used the prevailing mindset about changing organizational culture, then we could expect a hero or two who were inspiring. This inspiration would be geared toward helping groups of people find new values, which in turn changed the values in the organization.

  • Given that, what movies come to mind which are inspiring?
  • What would be your list of top 10?
  • Would you include any of the following?
  • If asked to name movies which depict how you think about changing a culture, which movies would you pick?
  • Would you think of movies which you found inspiring?

Top 10 Most Inspirational Movies

  1. Forrest Gump
  2. The Shawshank Redemption
  3. The Pursuit of Happiness
  4. The Blind Side
  5. 3 Idiots
  6. Rocky
  7. Braveheart
  8. Remember the Titans
  9. 127 Hours
  10. It’s a Wonderful Life

This list is from a blog entitled Top Ten Most Inspirational Movies of All Time. We think that changing organizational culture should look heroic and inspiring. In most movies, we can see who or what the obstacle is and what is needed to overcome. With that insight we can imagine how the story should play out.

Misunderstandings About Organizational Culture

At this point in time there is little doubt that the quality of an organizational culture has profound impact on the performance of an organization. Given the magnitude of the impact of culture on performance, one would think that those of us in business would be very knowledgeable about what culture is and how to improve it. Nothing could be further from the case. Most of us have an incomplete and superficial view of what constitutes organizational culture and how culture can be changed. The “prevailing wisdom” is that culture is the values and principles of an organization. We assume that what is needed to change culture is to articulate some lofty and inspiring principles and values. Culture change will be based on inspiration and look like the first list of films. We assume that if we articulate inspiring principles and values that surely people in the organization will adopt them and the culture will change. Oh, were it that easy.

While values and principles are an important element in culture there is much more to the story. Culture is comprised of:

  • Artifacts of behavior, processes and structures. These are the things that are visible to people in the organization. Most employees see these artifacts as indicating what the “real culture is”.
  • Values and principles. Unfortunately, in many organizations the artifacts which people can feel and see are disconnected from the values and principles.
  • Tacit assumptions. These assumptions are developed over time through shared learning by groups of people in the organizations. These tacit assumptions are passed on to new employees joining the company as how to fit in and succeed in this organization. In most organizations these tacit assumptions are so taken for granted as to be invisible to most people in the organization yet form the context for the organization.

Changing or improving organizational culture requires digging in to understand this third level of tacit assumptions. It is tedious and tense work … which I think Hollywood would depict in very different ways if the screenwriters actually understood what’s required to change culture. That’s why I have a different list of movies that I think best describe organizational culture change.

Movies That Describe Organizational Culture

  1. The Abyss
  2. Armageddon
  3. Lethal Weapon 3
  4. Blown Away
  5. Juggernaut
  6. Fight Club
  7. The Shadow
  8. Die Hard with A Vengeance
  9. MacGruber
  10. The Rock

When you look at that list, what comes to mind? If I told you those were the Top Ten movies on a list, what do you think is the criteria for being on that list?

This list is from a blog entitled, Top 10 Wire-Cutting Bomb Moments in Film. You are likely thinking of wire cutting to defuse a bomb as a curious choice to depict what changing organizational culture looks like. Yet it is, so read on.

Think about watching movies when a bomb squad specialist in working to defuse a bomb. What did you see? Painstaking actions to understand how the bomb was built as well as how it can be deconstructed. Each move is calculated based on understanding the unique attributes of the bomb rather than assuming that all bombs are made the same. The actions are calculated and focused to take each step, which will lead to the next step. Hurry and shortcuts are not a formula for success in deconstructing bombs… nor is a good formula for deconstructing cultures in order to see a path to making changes in the culture.

The similarities of wire-cutting bomb movies and organizational culture is this: we have a vague understanding of how either works. The difference is we know that we know very little about defusing bombs, while most of us think we know much more about how organizational culture works than we actually do.

Organizational culture is the shared learning by groups of people in the organization. This shared learning involves what produces success and survival of the organization. As an organization matures these “shared learnings” are passed on to new people who join the organization. At some point these shared learnings become so imbedded in the organization that it “disappears” into the background and can no longer be seen by those in the organization. While it is “invisible” to members of the organization, this imbedded share learning has significant impact on how things are perceived and acted on.

Organizational cultures are much more complex that we realize. In fact, cultures are so complex that is hard to comprehend how the culture developed over time or how the culture shapes behaviors and performance of the organization. Edgar Schein is the preeminent authority on organizational culture. He has consulted with and studied cultures for over fifty years. He has also written the definitive text on organizational cultures and leadershipSchein says that cultures are so complex and large that it is impossible to comprehend and study. He uses an analogy of human personality. He says imagine that you have decided that you want to change all of your personality. How would that work? It would not. Personality is too well established to be amenable to wholesale changes. Schein says that the best you can do is identify an aspect of your personality which is causing problems, e.g., over eating or too much drinking. It is possible to work on that specific problem related to one’s personality … albeit a huge challenge.

The Great Irony

Think how ironic it is that we know so little about the culture of organization. How is that possible given we have had a lifetime of experience in organizations with distinct and unique cultures and yet work with a superficial understanding?

We all have grown up in complex organizations with clear cultures, called schools. We started in elementary school which had a distinct culture. We then moved on to middle school and then high school. Then many of us went on to universities, which also have clear cultures which are quite unique from high school. After our university experiences we took our first job with a company, whose organizational culture was probably very unique from our educational experiences. Many of us have had several to many different jobs in different organizations. Each time we enter a new organization we sense the uniqueness of the cultures, and our capacity to see this uniqueness fades as we come to feel at home in this organization.

With all this experience in entering and adapting to unique cultures, it would seem like we would be experts at understanding how cultures work. Yet we are not. That is because the nature of cultures is so pervasive that it is very hard to see except when first entering the organization. After a relatively short time we become part of the culture and can no longer see the particular distinctiveness of our new organization. We come to function within the culture without being able to see it per se. This is because a primary role of culture is to show new people to the organization how to fit in and behave in the organization.


Organizational culture has a significant impact on organizational culture performance, yet most of us in organizations have an incomplete understanding of what constitutes culture. If we are to improve organizational performance by changing the organization’s culture, we will need to look past the superficial concept that simply changing the values will change the culture. The best approach is to carefully understand how the specific culture you are dealing with developed over time and then identify specific problems which can serve as the “wires to cut” in defusing the complexity that every culture has.

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Appreciating I.M. Pei and Architecture for Transformation

A remarkable man died at the age of 102 on May 16th, 2019. I.M Pei lead the design of some of the most unique buildings, which blended daring visual effect with practicality. Among his most notable projects were Boston’s John F Kennedy Library and Museum, Bank of China tower in Hong Kong, Japan’s Miho Museum, Suzhou Museum in China and Dallas City Hall with fellow architect Theodore J Musho. Remarkably, Pei was in his eighties when he designed the spectacular Islamic Museum of Art in Qatar.

I came to appreciate I.M. Pei for his work on Louvre Museum in Paris. This project was for me a masterful example of architecture for transformation of a building. I have adopted some of the lessons I observed from the Louvre project to my work with clients as an architect for organizational transformation. Let me explain.

A crucial aspect of organizational transformation is developing the architecture. That is, the use of design principles to uniquely visualize and plan for implementing transformative changes in an organization. Unless you have been involved in designing and initiating the transformation of an organization, you may be unfamiliar with the term architecture for transformation. This term came into use in the 1980’s and continues to be used. The basis for architecture for transformation:

  • Translating the executives’ vision for the future of the organization into words. “Painting a word picture” of the commitments and intent of the executives with the future of the organization is the crucial first step. This involves identifying what the future is likely going to look like, called the Default Future. With the Default Future articulated, the next step is for the executives to create a new future that if achieved would fulfill the needs and wants of key stakeholders of the organization. This Invented Future is one which becomes the basis for developing an architecture for transformation.
  • Combining the core elements which have proven to be important for achieving success in other transformations. McKinsey refers to these as “transformational tactics”. These core elements or tactics include changing mindsets, inclusion of groups in planning and implementing the specific projects and etc.
  • Execution or implementation plans which establish urgency for undertaking the transformation as well as creating tangible results in the business. The challenge is to create action and momentum without overstraining the capabilities and resources of the organization.


Lessons Learned from I.M. Pei & the Louvre Project

Challenging Design

In redesigning a building or transforming an organization, the first step is to assess the level of complexity. The Louvre was an exceptional example of complexity. The first structures were built in the 12th century as a fortress on the banks of the Seine River. The building slowly evolved into a royal residence. Successive Kings built increasingly elaborate galleries, halls and residences. Architects of different eras had been asked to develop plans for construction of a new component or structure in the Louvre. Because the Louvre was the palace of the Kings, it played a prominent role in the French Revolution. The buildings were first opened to the public in 1793. This was during the French Revolution and came shortly after the executions of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. After the Revolution, different buildings were used as governmental administrative offices and residences. Eventually it became a museum.

By the early 1980’s it was painfully clear that a major remodeling of the Louvre was required. The architectural challenge was to honor the magnificent history, protect the unique beauty and to remake the various buildings into an efficient, modern museum. The buildings were in need of renovation, core infrastructure was missing, and the gallery space was very inefficient. The building was “constructed as a royal palace and was fundamentally ill-suited to serve as a museum.” In addition, there was a problem with the entrance. It was too small to accommodate ever increasing numbers of guests. The Louvre Project was to change all of that, as well as add 650,000 square feet of much needed support space.

I’ve been involved in organizational transformations for over thirty years. Each one has had a plethora of surprises and unique dynamics. Each requires creative thinking about these unique challenges of the business and personalities of key stakeholders.

Diverse Stakeholders

If you have spent any time in France, you know that the French are very passionate about the beauty of their splendid country. This beauty is both natural and man-made. There are many magnificent buildings, of which the French are very proud, and certainly the Louvre is one of those buildings.

Excitement built as the initial plans for remodeling the Louvre were discussed in the early 1980’s. As you probably know, the French LOVE to hotly debate items of French life. During this time the Parisian cafes were filled with animated conversations about how the remodeling should be done, and of course everyone had their own unique views. That is, until the French government announced that it had hired I.M. Pei as the architect who would oversee a complete redesign of the Louvre. The first shock was that the government had not hired a Frenchman. A second shock came with the realization that the architect to whom this precious French treasure had been entrusted was not a European! Then there was a moment of stunned silence followed by outrage. What set the ‘tongues wagging’ in the cafes, restaurants, and homes was that the French government had awarded this most prestigious assignment to a Chinese born American! An AMERICAN!?!?!

Needless to say, there are many strongly held opinions about consultants in every organization. In developing the architecture for transformation, it is essential that each group of stakeholders are able to express their commitments and concerns. The willingness of consultants and executives to listen to the various stakeholders is a crucial first step. The second step is to consider how to address what stakeholders have said in developing the design for the transformation. Of course, not every point of view can be completely satisfied… but some elements can be included.

Disruptive Approaches

Organizational transformation requires disruption in approaches to communication, employee mindsets and ways of conducting the business. These disruptions are to interrupt the status quo so that new ways to working and thinking can be implemented. While this is completely logical, nonetheless it is upsetting to people when it is happening. This was clearly the case for Pei’s design for the Louvre. The focal point would become the plaza of the Louvre with the construction of a series of glass pyramids and fountains. For many onlookers, the construction of pyramids made of glass and steel was too modern and seemed completely out of line with the architecture of the existing buildings.

Sustaining Momentum During Execution

Given that meaningful transformation of an organization takes three plus years, the architecture must include plans for sustaining the commitment and engagement over that length of time. A building construction such as the Louvre clearly faces the same challenges. The Louvre project took six years to complete. During those long years there continued to be hot debate about the decision to hire an American and the radical changes this “rogue American” was proposing. While there were construction barriers, the citizens could see the beginning of the frames for the glass pyramids that became a focal point of the changes. The furor over hiring an American was compounded by the inevitable traffic jams that were created by renovation activities in the heart of Paris. Of course, the traffic jams were inevitable regardless of the nationality of the architect, but that was not the conversation among frustrated drivers at the time. I had the pleasure to briefly live in Paris during this time and was frequently in the Tuileries with my young children. Given my kids were playing at the boat pond and in the gardens, I often spoke with other parents and tourists. I found it interesting how often I was asked about what I thought about an American being hired as the architect for the Louvre…. given that my accent makes it clear that I am an American. That was one of those questions for which there was not a good answer.

Stunning Accomplishments

Transformation of organizations produces achievements and results which were previously thought impossible. Further, there are major changes in the organizational culture. There is an enthusiasm about the activities in the organization as well as what the future holds. So too was the time just before the grand opening for the renovations brought about by Pei’s design. For all the initial criticism and uproar, the Louvre project was a stunning success. I.M. Pei cemented his place in history as a great architect with this project. The architecture enabled remaking the Louvre from a very old palace into a modern museum. One part of the design was to shift the feel of the Louvre from being a series of long linear buildings into a coherent U-shaped configuration with multiple views of the courtyard or plaza. The courtyard now serves as the focal point for the Louvre. Highlighting the focal point of the courtyard or plaza are the pyramids.

Dennis Sharp says:

“Of all the Grand Projects in Paris, none created such a stir as the Pei Pyramids in the courtyard of the famous Louvre Museum. Spectacular in concept and form, they provide a startling reminder of the audacious ability of modern architects to invigorate and re-circulate traditional architectural forms”


He was a quiet, soft spoken person whose influence is enormous. I.M. Pei’s unique style and vision can be seen in buildings all over the world. Each is a unique expression of the location and intent for the building. His mastery of architecture and design can also be appreciated by those of us who engage in developing architecture for organizational transformation. Pei’s contributions during his 102 years of life were enormous. He serves as a model for creativity and innovation for the rest of us.

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Spotting Leaders to Promote Growth and Innovation


Firms that want significant growth and innovation will find that organizational transformation is an essential element in executing their strategies. Without this large scale change the factors which have been limiting growth and innovation will persist. Acting to promote growth and innovation without organizational transformation is the embodiment of the popular definition of insanity:

Insanity is doing the same things over and over while expecting a different result.

Organizational transformation is required to alter the organizational context and culture. To better understand the word context, think of it as assumptions, beliefs, and experiences which, while in the background, actively shape how a person perceives events and phenomenon as they occur. While we are largely unaware of our contexts, these contexts shape our experiences, perceptions and thinking. As an example, if you are in a business conversation, the term leadership will be shaped by your experiences in business as well as how the organizations with which you are engaged use the word leadership.

Context occurs in language. The context in which words are used clearly shapes the meaning of that word as well as the sentence in which it is used. Consider, for example, how the word beauty takes on very different meanings given the specific context. “Beauty” can be used to describe an attractive woman as well as “beauty products”. However, the same word (beauty) can be used to describe a physical injury to the eye (as expressed by “that shiner’s a real beauty”), and many physical objects such as an auto, classic sailboat, etc. Same word, but very different meanings given the context in which the word is used.

Growth and Innovation are two words with intense meaning in business. Growth is directly related to value creation, which is why businesses exist. Shareholders punish and reward executive and management teams based on growth achieved and sustained. Some management’s attempt to achieve short term growth through a combination of acquisitions, cost cutting and financial engineering. However, for long term sustained growth the organization must demonstrate organic growth, which is based in part on innovation. Organic growth and innovation require organizational transformation. Organizational transformation requires leaders throughout the organization.

Leadership in Growth & Transformation

A business exists to create value and the only sustainable way to create value is to continually expand the business’s capacity to grow, innovate and achieve results. Growth and expansion of capacity for results does not happen by accident, it is caused! The cause is leaders working intensely to engage others in making this happen. In most cases the actions required to achieve the growth and sustainable capacity occur because of the capability, good will and hard work of front-line workers throughout the organization. Leaders engage people and people in turn enable the business to achieve outstanding results while changing to meet the needs of customers and demands of competitive markets.

Leaders are the starting point. Leaders create clarity of purpose, appreciation of shared values, and an articulation of the future that engages everyone in the organization. The leaders enable employees to take actions that will lead to results. Leaders create clarity of purpose based on the results that are needed and promised for the organization. Leaders get their own being from their Foundational Commitments as well as the commitments that they have made in regard to the business. The shared values that are articulated and come to be appreciated by the people in the business come from the leader’s commitments as well. The values say what we believe in as an organization, what is important to us, and what we can be counted on. Values for leaders will always have a couple of elements. One is doing what we say we will do. The second is results, or as one leader told me “Results, Results, Results”. It is not that leaders are not compassionate people who don’t care about their employee’s safety and well-being. Most do care quite deeply. In addition, they appreciate that employees’ safety and well-being is intimately related to achieving excellent business results.

Leadership is the reason organizations achieve results that were otherwise not going to happen. If the desired level of results could be accomplished through doing nothing out of the ordinary or maintaining the status quo, there is not a need for leadership. Leadership is required when the needed results will not occur absent some intervention. The intervention that produces the results is the role of the leader, and the evidence that a leader was there. If the results are not being accomplished, then the leader is not getting the job done. While that statement may seem harsh or judgmental, I invite you to think along with me as to what that statement makes available and possible to a person who is committed to be a leader. It puts in stark relief the reason for the being of a leader and a measure that is most valuable.

“Being a leader requires being a leader.”

This simple statement goes to the heart of what is required for success in implementing a transformation. Those who are accountable for strategic execution must be leaders. That is, on a moment to moment basis the person in charge is called on to be a leader. Notice that this statement speaks to being. Being a leader is not the same as sitting in the office thinking about what should be done. It does not necessarily involve getting a group of people together to discuss what should be done next. Simply convening a group of people does not necessarily imply the presence of leadership. When a group of people are inspired and taking actions that will produce unprecedented and unexpected levels of results, that is the evidence that leadership is present.

Let’s look at some of the behaviors that you will want to look for in identifying real leaders.

Personally Involved

It is essential that the leaders are personally involved and demonstrating personal commitment to the employees and the business. Employees are inspired by seeing their leaders personally involved and committed. At MacMillan Bloedel, Tom Stephens met directly with the various union leaders to challenge them to get involved in transforming the company. Some of the leaders cooperated while others did not. However, to the employees it was clear that Tom was stepping out and personally getting involved in taking on the hard issues related to the transformation. Tom also had meetings with environmentalists from Greenpeace and other environmental constituents as well as governmental leaders to chart a path by which MB could be successful. In all of the situations, the employees could see that the leader was making a personal commitment to the employees and the future success of the business.

Committing to a Desirable Future

Leaders think from a future that will be created for the business and the employees. Further, leaders look for other leaders who are already committed to a bright future for the business. Ironically, those who will be the most effective leaders may be quite different than you. They may not articulate it like you do, but their commitment is authentic and intense. You are not looking for people who need PowerPoint slide decks to be able to talk about the future and their commitments. You want those who are so authentic and genuine that they are their commitments. When they talk, people listen. They do not need props. They speak from their commitments and their heart. These leaders are so respected that when they speak about the future, employees feel like they can trust and they can listen. I heard a description for a leader like this. The statement was “If he tells you it is Christmas; you can go hang your stocking”. That is the kind of credibility that you are looking for.

In addition to credibility, you are looking for leaders who can commit to a future without knowing all the details of how that future will be achieved. This person is able to communicate a future that will be the basis for communication and engagement of others.

Completed the Past

Leaders are focused on the future, not the past. Ironically, the leaders you are looking for have often had difficult experiences with this organization, or a similar organization in the past. The knowledge of the prior difficulties makes these leaders more credible with some groups of employees. What makes these leaders powerful is that they are able to complete experiences from the past. The leaders you are looking for have completed the events of the past. They are not influenced or shaped by events of the past. They do not hold a grudge or are seeking retribution for events from the past. People who do hold a grudge and/or seeking retribution are not trusted by their colleagues and will not be effective as leaders.

The kind of leaders you want will acknowledge mistakes of the past. This acknowledgement does not require involvement of these past events. Rather, this person works from the business future in responsible ways, whether they happened to be individually involved or not. This willingness to be responsible is essential for credibility and effective communication.

If the leaders were involved in past mistakes, that needs to be addressed clearly and forthrightly. I am often surprised by how many people are unwilling to admit that they made a mistake, or that mistakes were made “on their watch”. People will pay an enormous price to maintain the “illusion of infallibility”. What is sad about this is that it is an illusion, and not a well-hidden illusion at that. Usually it is widely known that the incident or situation occurred, and yet much energy is spent in maintaining the illusion. It is like the old story of the king who is walking around naked, and yet the loyal subjects complement him on his beautiful suit of clothes.

Leaders often find that they also have to deal with events and perceptions from the past for which they were neither involved nor responsible. You can imagine how much resistance I receive from people about this point. It is common for managers to blame the employees and the union for the problems of the past. Of course, the employees sit around in the lunchroom and the union halls and blame the managers for the same problems.

The task is to get whatever happened in the past resolved for those involved. The term I use for this is completed. Completed means that whatever needs to be said and done to complete the past is done. If there is misbehavior from the past, it needs to be acknowledged and addressed. In most cases an authentic apology is appropriate. In some cases, there is action that needs to be taken as well. The leaders should take whatever actions are appropriate to be able to resolve matters from the past and get them complete. Getting matters resolved is essential so that these topics do not continue to come up in discussions. The leaders want for all to have matters from the past left in the past, and not injected into conversations and deliberation of the future.

For example, at MacMillan Bloedel Ltd., at the time Canada’s largest forest products company, one aspect of Tom Stephen’s leadership was that he discussed openly that the past failures in business was not the fault of the employees. In the first meeting with employees and union leaders, the executive running the business unit made a plea for involvement of the unions in a Co-Design™ project. After the executive spoke, a union leader gave a well-documented treatise on the prior failings of management in dealing with the employees and running the mill. In the midst of the treatise, Tom interrupted the speech with a very colorful and direct acknowledgement that prior management had thoroughly messed things up. The union leader was shocked at the candor of the acknowledgement and speech, and a possibility for transformation was established.

The closed mills and mediocre performance was attributed to management, and Tom was open that he was accepting the shortcomings of the past so that the employees and management could move forward to achieve better results. What Tom was doing was role modeling the desired mind-set of taking responsibility for what had happened in the past, even though he was not part of the company at the time. However, when he became CEO he “inherited the good and bad of the past” and thereby could take responsibility for what had happened in the past. By accepting responsibility himself, he was able to avoid the blame and finger pointing that otherwise was predictable and move on to transforming the situation and creating a future that was not possible prior to his intervention.

Walking the Talk

You want to spot leaders who “walk the talk”. If you are considering someone as a possible leader and they do not walk the talk, take them off your list of candidates. You have neither the required energy nor time to rehabilitate people’s reputations. Employees are very savvy about who walks the talk and who does not. You cannot “spin” or smooth talk credibility for those who have lost it on their own. You want people who are known to walk the talk because other employees will challenge everything in the transformation, including well established practices and processes. The leaders must be credible and willing to engage in the same challenging thoughts and discussions. If the leaders are not credible they will not get candor and openness from employees, and there is little chance that the employees will engage and participate.

Willing to Make Personal Changes

Leadership of a business in transformation requires personal change. A transformation requires dramatic change by the people in the organization to learn to work in a different way, to alter processes and most of all, to raise the level of performance. Most employees will experience some discomfort with giving up old ways of working and having to learn new ways. Leaders are not immune from this change, and in fact need to be out front in making the personal changes. Employees are aware of many of the changes that their leaders will need to make if the transformation is to be successful, and often keep a close eye on the leader to see what happens. The leader’s actions speak much more powerfully that their words.

Being leaders will require personal change and leaders often experience this change as uncomfortable. I must admit that I am still amazed at how frequently leaders are unwilling to face their own discomfort with changes and dig their heels in rather than make the needed changes. Needless to say, change efforts led by those who are unwilling to make personal changes are severely hampered if not doomed. Gandhi’s famous quote is:

“If we are to change, first we must change”
– Gandhi

Committed to Communication

Leaders are the communication. They are the future and the transformation that will be required for the business to achieve that future. Their communication reflects their being committed to the organization, the people and executing the strategy. The leaders you are looking for may not be eloquent speakers. You might not select them for a debate team. You would however want them “in the trenches with you”.

Communication translates the leadership messages to the employees and helps them see the future, how the strategy being executed will deliver that future, how each employee fits into that future, and what is wanted from them. Effective communication speaks to where employees are, not where you wish they were. Let me share an example.

Tom Stephens is among the most effective communicators I have ever seen. It is not that he is unusually eloquent, but rather he speaks to the heart of the matter and connects with employees around their concerns. He then effectively builds a bridge from the employees’ concerns to what is important for the business. While he was in Canada as CEO of MacMillan Bloedel Ltd, he asked the employees to work with him to make MB the safest and the most respected company in their industry. He went on to ask that they also work with him to make the company outrageously successful. What made this message dramatic to the employees was that at the time MB had at best a mediocre safety record and little apparent concern for the employees’ well-being. Further, there was a history of acrimony with the towns in which the company did business as well as with the unions. More notable was that the company had been the target of numerous pickets by Greenpeace and other environmental groups for its practices of clear cutting the forest and harvesting old growth rainforest trees. For Tom to say, “Help me make us the most respected company in our industry” was shocking, and yet was clear that he was committed to making a transformation with the help of the employees. Each employee came to see that their role was to be responsible for their own safety, and the safety of others. That made the transformation meaningful for each person, and was the platform on which the other aspects of the transformation were based.

Naturally Engages Others

The leaders you are looking to spot are very effective in engaging others. This is important since strategic execution and transformation is successful only when a critical mass of employees decides that it is in their best interests that the transformation succeeds, and join in. Employees are “engaged” or enrolled when they see that the transformation is meaningful for themselves and the business. Each employee who becomes involved in the transformation will engage with a series of questions, e.g., what is the company trying to do, why now, what does this mean to me personally, will I have a job when this is over, etc. Employees engage with a transformation on a very personal level. If the leader speaks about the transformation as a concept, and does not make the translation for the employees, it will make it more difficult for the employees to determine if the transformation is a good thing and if they should become involved. The leader must “build the bridge” from the concept of the transformation to the specific requests for actions and involvement.

The transformation is made meaningful by the leader engaging and inspiring groups of people, who in turn engage and inspire others. For success in execution the employees need to be more engaged and committed than they were prior to the beginning of the transformation. This engagement will not occur if they do not consider the strategic execution and transformation to be personally meaningful, and essential to the future success of the business.

Addressing Those Whose Actions are Inconsistent

You are looking for leaders who are willing to have difficult conversations. In particular, you are looking for leaders who will address the actions of others that are inconsistent with the future and the transformation. “Truing up” others’ behavior will be essential. Leading requires causing disruptions as well as taking difficult positions with those whose actions are inconsistent with the intent of the strategic execution.

One type of interaction is with people who are complaining and have a persistent complaint. The first step is to listen to the complaint. In some cases, the complaint is an accurate description of a circumstance that is in need of attention. Those are the easy ones. A second category of complaints is actually a poorly formed request. The person is asking for something, and often wants to contribute to the transformation but is speaking in a manner that makes it difficult to hear. Generous listening by the leaders will usually allow this complaint to be re-expressed as a request for inclusion, and from that point it is also easy to accept and get the person included. The tough ones are when a person or group has a persistent complaint. When the leader listens to the complaint there sometimes is not a viable circumstance in need of attention nor is there a poorly expressed commitment. Rather, what is present are undifferentiated complaints, also known as whining. This situation eventually calls for the leaders to address those who are complaining and ask them to be responsible for their speaking and to find a way to contribute. Easier said than done in some cases.

A special group of people whose actions should be watched closely is the management team. In working with companies that are wanting to achieve a transformation, the biggest and most frequent stumbling block I see are members of the management team whose actions are inconsistent with the commitments of the transformation. That is, managers who are unable or unwilling to lead and are actively sabotaging the transformation. This appears to occur when the person discovers what it will cost them personally to lead. I cannot stress how essential this point is. Too often leaders attempt to “limp along” with members of management who are not strong, not committed, and in some cases, both. While there are always extenuating circumstances and good reasons, it is nonetheless a mistake.

One of the behaviors of managers that cannot be tolerated is blaming past failures and mistakes on the employees and implying that the same thing will happen again. Leaders of transformation must continue to reinforce that management is accountable for the quality of the results, that management cannot achieve anything without the active support of employees, and together they can be much more successful that working apart or against each other. After this clarity on accountability, the leaders should then make sure that the transformation is connected to business results in the minds of the employees. A transformation that is not connected to specific business results will soon turn into a corporate program and lose effectiveness.

Accepting Chaos and Risk

Leading a transformation will from time to time involve accepting chaos and taking risks. Leading a transformation is a recipe for living in unpredictability. You are looking for leaders in the organization who can tolerate if not thrive in chaos and risk.

Often members of management will be uncomfortable with these conditions. These managers will try to intercede to reduce these unpleasant conditions by stopping the transformation. The leaders of the transformation cannot allow this to occur, and if it does, not to let it persist. If it does persist, the leaders will be taken off course and the transformation will slow or stop.

Strategic execution involves chaos and risk. Leaders assist others in getting past the chaos and responding appropriately to risk. Ironically, managers are often upset at taking actions that are perceived to be high risk, when actually a larger risk comes from NOT taking action. John Kotter has written a number of excellent books on transformation. One of his primary assertions is that the role of leaders is to create a sense of urgency. That is, to have managers see that doing nothing is a greater risk to the business than taking the risks associated with the transformation. Involvement comes when managers see that there is greater risk to the business from not acting rather than the transformation. This is a critical role for leaders since if managers are left to their own resources and views, they will act in a way that is in their own best interest rather than what is best for the business.

Willing to Share Power

You are looking for leaders who are comfortable with power. You do not want people who will let the power of leadership roles “go to their head”. You want individuals who are committed to the future and transformation, not their own glory. Leading a transformation will require sharing power. In some cases this is sharing power with hourly employees and may include sharing power with union leaders. The benefit of the sharing of power is that teams comprised of hourly employees are often able to implement changes much faster than the normal “management chain of command”. The sharing of power by leaders is often upsetting to middle managers who see their positions threatened by the different order.

Leaders have to decide if it is worth upsetting middle managers to achieve a business result or is maintaining the “normal order” of greater importance. The upset middle managers will often argue that the leader is losing power as a result of this power sharing. The irony is that the opposite actually occurs. The leader gains credibility and power by sharing with a broader range of employees in service of business results.

Encouraging Others to Get the Glory

Leading a transformation involves creating inspired actions in others to produce outstanding business results. You are looking for leaders who will actively encourage others to excel and “look good”. This includes having others excel, gain notoriety, and be rewarded.

You want to be cautious of prospective leaders who are concerned with personally “looking good” and getting all the credit. These people will not be effective, as this trait will severely hamper their effectiveness in transformation. You do not want people who will be torn by the choice to go for business results or personally be in the limelight. You want to confront the unfortunate reality that many bright skilled people cannot lead because of their own desires for personal recognition. While these people are charming and talented, they miss a key ingredient for leadership. I have seen many of these type people selected for leadership positions, and usually it does not work out well. Even if they start off well, they are not able to sustain the changes and the transformation does not persist.

Relationship to Results

There is a unique relationship between business leaders and results. As you look to spot leaders, this one attribute must stand out. Each prospective leader is unique, and yet you want results orientation to be central to the person. Many things drive leaders, as each person has their unique experience and history that leads them to be willing to “give themselves over” to the demands of being a leader. Results are what are important to leaders. Leaders are not concerned with perks, privileges and special relationships. Leaders want results. Period. End of conversation, or as the Brits so elegantly word it, “Full Stop”.

In developing the leaders in your business, it is important to remember that the leaders’ reason for being is to mobilize people to achieve results. Leaders achieve results by seeing that people in the organization are inspired to act in a way that produces results. In particular, acting in whatever ways that are required to have the organization achieve the promised level of results. Anything that distracts a leader from that mission and passion is a disservice to the leader and the organization.

Managers who are concerned with their own comfortable life and want to make sure that they have all of the perks, privileges and special relationships are likely not being real leaders. Further, they are probably doing a disservice to the organization by taking up a position that needs a leader. They are not only not doing what is needed, they usually are actively blocking and undermining those who are trying to provide leadership and do what is right for the organization. Often, I hear these people described as good people who are well intended and just not capable of doing what is needed. It is as if they are actors who have lost the plot but are expected to regain it in the next act. In reality, they are not focused, but the hope is that they will regain it “any day now”. While it is true that caterpillars will turn into butterflies with the passage of time, it is not true that these unfocused and self-serving people will turn into leaders with the passage of time.

Organizations achieve results that were otherwise not going to occur because of the being and actions of leaders. Leadership is required when the results that are wanted and needed will not occur absent some intervention. The intervention that produces the results is the role of the leader and the evidence that a leader was there. If the results are not being accomplished, then the leader is not getting the job done. While that statement may seem harsh or judgmental, I invite you to think along with me as to what that statement makes available and possible to a person who is committed to being a leader. It puts in stark relief the reason for being of a leader and a measure that is most valuable.

There is a strong tendency to tell excuses when an organization or team fails to deliver the expected results. While there are always extenuating circumstances, I am going to encourage you to work from a factual perspective that the result was achieved or it was not. Being factual makes a huge difference. If we say the reason for being of a leader is to produce results that were otherwise not going to happen, we then see that what the leader is always and ONLY about is producing results. Business leaders are not Renaissance people who are fully developed in every aspect of life. No, they are men and women who have devoted their careers to learning how to accomplish unexpected results through others. It is a finely-honed skill that wants to be cherished, developed and protected.

Perhaps the biggest threat to leaders getting results is reasonableness. Leaders are frequently told that they are unreasonable. In a normal business setting when someone is told that they are “unreasonable”, it is very seldom a compliment. It usually is a critique or criticism and tied to a request that the person stop asking for what they are asking, or doing what they are doing. The “pinch” is that being reasonable and listening to all the good reasons will only produce what is already going to happen, and nothing more. Anything other than that which was already going to happen will require someone interfering with what is perceived as reasonable, or in more convention language, disrupting the status quo. A leader must remain vigilant in guarding against becoming reasonable or being convinced to stop being “unreasonable”.

The question then is how this trait of reasonableness occurs for or shows up for the leader. Occasionally it is self-induced. This comes from having some doubt or question about some element of the result and what will be required to achieve it. Generally, reasonableness is presented by those around the leader. Worst of all, it may come from a consultant and/or project manager who is supposed to be supporting the leader.

Maintaining Focus on Achieving Results

The leaders you are looking for are passionate about business results. They had rather get results than eat or sleep. This attribute is important since the leaders will keep reminding employees of the business results that the transformation will accomplish. The leaders will need to continually connect the transformational actions to the business results, as employees have a tendency to let the two become disconnected.

At MB, Tom Stephens continually discussed the need for financial results that were to come from the transformation. He continually reinforced that the reason for the transformation was to create a substantial improvement in business performance. In addition, the company sponsored business literacy training for all employees. These training courses were designed by and delivered by employees from within the operations. Some of the trainers were hourly workers and union members. You can imagine how much more credible financial information about the operation is when it is provided and taught by a colleague.


Identifying the prospective leaders to assist in the transformation is the place to start the preparation. It is important to be candid about these prospective leaders, and not to have hope. Someone’s potential is not usually a good conversation to have about leaders. Either “they do or they do not” is far better than potential.

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