What ignites transformational leadership?

There are two common ways leaders ignite the flame of enterprise transformation.

One is when an individual CEO sees and commits to a new possible future and leads the way. Or, it can be sparked when such a leader is challenged with a crisis-like situation—sometimes traumatic, unplanned, and seemingly unsolvable.

Warren Bennis, widely regarded as a pioneer in leadership studies, called the latter experiences “crucibles.” These experiences he says, “force leaders into deep self-reflection, where they examine their values, question their assumptions, and hone their judgment.” (Insigniam Quarterly, Fall 2014)

Through such an inquiry, those values and past approaches can be re-honed or determined to be obsolete and then released.

On the path of the possible you boldly commit to an unprecedented future. This kind of future is one that can’t be accomplished through past strategies, practices, and vision. It will demand a transformation.

Committing to this future will then take you into uncomfortable yet creative territory—well beyond old assumptions, and into new realms of thinking and acting.

Transforming in the “crucible” calls forth a similar kind of work, and in the face of an unplanned and sometimes traumatic crisis.

The obvious difference is that on one path you generate the demand for transformation by committing to a new future—on the other, you are working in the crucible and the situation requires it.

Through inspired transformational leadership you can shift to managing from a future possibility, not from the past.

As a transformed leader, committed to an unprecedented outcome, this kind of individual transformation can orient the entire organization, its commitments, strategy, vision, and culture around this new future.

Tim Bailey, executive vice president, at S.C. Johnson & Son is this kind of leader.

Tim says, “If you start with a possibility and work your way back to the current circumstances, you always end up with something bigger than if you start with circumstances and try to figure out what is possible.” (Insigniam Quarterly, Fall 2014)

Tim knows what he is talking about. Starting with a commitment to new possibilities, he has led dozens of breakthrough projects that added hundreds of thousands of dollars to the bottom line.

As a leader, you may be sparking an enterprise-wide transformation by committing to a new future, or transforming in the midst of a “crucible” experience.

Either way, you are called upon to forge a pathway to a future beyond what was predictable based upon the past.

What possibility could you commit to that would inspire breakthrough performance?


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