Breakthrough performance often begins with a single leader’s personal transformation.

It’s not enough to be busy, so are the ants. The question is, what are we busy about?” – Henry David Thoreau 

When you and your colleagues are not in touch with what you are “busy about,” it is a signal that the time is ripe for transformation.

That signal often manifests as waking up to the reality that all the “busy-ness” of business as usual won’t get you where you need to go, or even envision going.

There comes a point when you realize that doing more of what you know works plus incremental improvements will fall short. This is where breakthrough thinking can begin.

Any real breakthrough performance calls for a shift in the way you and your colleagues view what is possible. This will take new ways of “perceiving, thinking and/or acting.”

At this point, on behalf of creating breakthrough performance, and on behalf of a new future, you as a leader begin by transforming yourself.

Such a transformation starts with:

  • Confronting the reality of the situation
  • Revealing the hidden assumptions and embedded beliefs shaping the current reality
  • Working to be free from the old ways of seeing, acting, and thinking
  • Releasing attachment to your opinions about how it is now and how it ought to be

By putting past shortcomings (and even successes) behind you a clear space emerges for envisioning and committing to a new and unprecedented future.

There are many examples of transformational leadership impacting an entire company culture.

When Ford’s corporate culture was no longer allowing for success, CEO and COO Harold “Red” Poling, chose to take on replacing the old culture, not simply making incremental changes.

At the beginning of this process, there were two phrases that were very common in the workplace: “The Job” and “Job One”. “Job One” referred to an urgent priority. (Insigniam Quarterly, Fall, 2014)

When a plant manager was asked what “The Job” was, he replied, “getting cars out.” When Poling was asked the same question, he replied, “Quality is Job One.”

Poling’s powerful stand for quality was transformational. It grew to become the core of a new corporate culture, as clearly reflected in the now well-known slogan: “At Ford, Quality is Job One.”

Soon, people at Ford went from being busy about getting cars out, to being busy about getting quality cars out, and that transformation made all the difference. It shifted low morale, slow sales, and poor reputation to record profits and breakthrough performance.

Which transformational leaders have inspired you to go beyond “business as usual”? What is your organization “busy about”?


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