“Be the change you want to see in the world.” This famous quote by Mahatma Ghandi summarizes this month’s focus on transformation for leaders. This is admittedly one of my favorite leadership topics. Why? Because when a leader has impact, transformation occurs, and when transformation occurs, a leader has impact.
What gets in the way of transformation? Busy-ness is the obvious distraction: “I don’t have time for that,” “that’s not real work,” “what’s that got to do with making our numbers?” It turns out, that transformation has everything to do with real work, and often is the real work that produces breakthrough results.
What’s at the root of why we resist transformation?
Anger and fear: Sometimes it’s anger, blaming others for our situation or lack of results. Anger and fear are both natural human emotions. They can also become habits.
When leaders become more self-aware of their habitual patterns, anger and fear are brought into light for what they truly are; simply emotions. I often ask clients “what’s the worst thing that could happen?” When they reflect, the worst thing is usually so improbable, and the next worst thing isn’t so bad after all. They see the fear for what it is; a strong emotion passing through. Once emotions are experienced as a “pass-through,” a leader can avoid the habitual reaction in which they behave as a fish on a hook that can’t free itself, flailing and suffering.
Desire is often the most insidious reason for resistance of transformation; the desire to be right, to be in control, to be comfortable, to look good to others. When we focus outward, the inner game is often ignored. Leaders who choose to make things different begin by focusing inward.
Last month we shared a column from the Harvard Business Review: “What Kind of Leader Do You Want to Be?” Spending some time on this question is critical. Transformation comes with clarity of vision. Many are clear about the kind of leader they want to be, but are challenged in the daily execution of their ideal. One thing we know is that without destination in view, it’s hard to get there. You need to create a clear vision, but vision alone isn’t enough. You also need a “footprint.”
Creating your leadership footprint involves self-awareness, exploring the degree of alignment between your desired vision and your current situation, effective self-regulation, and frequent monitoring. It’s not linear; you don’t “arrive.” It’s rather a decision that you’re willing and able to get on the path and courageously move forward, one action and practice at a time. You are transforming.
It may sound difficult at first; transformation isn’t always easy. My clients share that although challenging, they find it tremendously worthwhile to make the effort.
Consider Joel, a client who recently shared a courageous conversation about his own transformation. He was involved in a tremendously challenging evolution as a leader; from being the founder and chief “knower” into the role of visionary, strategic leader of the future at his company. He admits to confidently knowing the “how” of his role, while being less confident about the more subtle, (and uncomfortable,) “being” required from his new role. With uncanny vulnerability he asked “What do I now do, and is it valuable to anyone?”
I replied that simply showing up as a leader, boldly embracing the unknown future, yet confidently trusting in his own ability to listen, ask thoughtful questions, and trust in the wisdom of his tremendously talented employees might be the most valuable role of his career. That required a lot of him; breaking old habits of thinking and being that had brought him to the brink of success in the first place.
Joel is fortunate to be surrounded by an incredible team of colleagues, and is committed to building a learning organization through coaching.
What about you?
What transformation are you willing to embrace this year?
Are you surrounding yourself with the right kinds of support? Having a process and a partner with whom to share the challenge and celebrate the successes along the way makes transformation not only doable, but joyful at each step along the way.