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Don’t even attempt to transform your organization until you can transform yourself…

Lots of talk about “transformation” and “transformational leadership” these days…

The academics and business experts are singing in harmony––if you’re not transforming these days, you’re dying. It’s just a matter of how quickly.

If you agree, then you had better acknowledge one stark, crucial fact. Transformation is completely dependent on people and it starts at the top. If you don’t know how to transform yourself––continually––don’t even attempt to transform your organization.

Here’s why…

Imagine trying to implement a major cultural transformation. Let’s say the shift from a hierarchical leadership structure to an “agile” model.

The first step in any major transformation is to analyze the risk. You do a “SWOT” assessment to make sure you’ve got the people and resources in place to tackle this transformation. In reality, you are already throwing up obstacles before any formal assessment or analysis. This is normal––and perfectly human.

Very few successful business people dive in to the deep end of any pool without at least knowing the dog paddle. It’s human nature to be cautious––to look at the downside first.

  • What will it cost?

  • Who is likely to put up the most resistance?

  • What (or who) might we lose along the way?

  • Can we sustain it?

  • Will we eventually come out better than we are now?

These are good questions! It would be foolhardy not to think about them. (And I’m sure you can think of plenty more!)

Now imagine trying to make even the simplest personal transformation. Let’s use an enthusiastic commitment to a more disciplined exercise regimen.

Ask yourself those same questions. How many obstacles are you finding? How many excuses can you find for not diving into your new routine in one big splash? Even one major obstacle can provide enough of an excuse to keep you from even getting started.

What will it cost?

“I have other priorities right now.”

Who is likely to put up the most resistance?

“Me! It’s tough enough to get up on time now. How am I going to get up an hour earlier to get to the gym? And I’m just too tired after work.”

What (or who) might we lose along the way?

“Well, I might lose some weight and that would be a good thing. But, I’ve already made a commitment to spend more time with the kids and I can’t give up my responsibilities at my church and…”

Can we sustain it?

“I’ve started a new gym membership every year for the past five and I’ve never seen it through.”

Will we eventually come out better than we are now?

"Ya––if I stick to it. If."

Of course you may be more determined and disciplined than my hypothetical responses would suggest. (NOTE: These are all actual responses I’ve heard from leaders in our workshops for exactly this challenge!)

The point is transformation is hard work. Even when it’s simple––it is usually not easy.

When you’re dealing with an organizational transformation, you can multiply the level of difficulty; sometimes exponentially.

You’re dealing with many people––and they are all asking the same questions.

People are generally resistant to change––and that’s multiplied when they find others who share and confirm their fears and trepidations.

All transformation involves risk and uncertainty and people are generally risk adverse.

On the plus side, there are several ways to get people on board with a transformational initiative…

Instead of creating a “buy-in strategy” start “askn’"…

This means involving as many people as possible early in the process so you have input from all levels and perspectives. The more involved they are, the more you’ll resolve obstacles before you launch your plan.

Practice genuine compassion…

In this application it means making a meaningful and real effort to understand the concerns of everyone involved. This isn’t about being “sensitive” in the least flattering and least productive sense. It means understanding why people might be hesitant and hesitant and creating empowering and inspiring responses. It’s not about placating everyone’s feelings and letting them stall the initiative. It’s about recognizing that much of the time people’s feelings are a response to real concerns and identifying those underlying concerns and addressing them may just reveal the best path to success.

And most of all…

Walk the walk.

People follow examples much more enthusiastically than they do orders. Apply this idea on two levels.

First––approach any transformation with excitement, enthusiasm, passion and a genuine sense of purpose. If you can’t, you shouldn’t be making any major changes anyway!

Next––and even more important––if you want people to embrace transformation, show them that you do––all the time. Model the behavior you expect from others.

Perfection is not a destination––it’s a never-ending process. If you’re going to inspire others to transform, then transform yourself––continually.

Use these strategies:

Commit yourself to personal and professional Mastery.

Dedicate yourself to continual self-improvement.

Be flexible, adaptable and comfortable with uncertainty.

As we’ve noted, uncertainty is just part of transformation. You can’t avoid it. Show people that you’re open to change and responsive to shifting conditions and circumstances.

Be confident yet humble––lead by example. (Self explanatory, right?)

Leading transformation is not easy. It’s not easy for any one person––and it’s much more difficult when you’re dealing with any group.

It is however, simple.

If you want to empower others to embrace transformation, to inspire them to their highest levels of creativity and productivity––don’t just talk the talk…

Walk the walk!

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