In a recent post I talked about the nature of transformation as personal activity and the need for leaders to go first. But, how do we as change artists and leaders go first?
Traditionally we think about learning skills and capabilities to effect change. We learn models and frameworks. We learn facilitation techniques. We learn new tools and ways of thinking. All of this is good, but this is not personal transformation. This is illustrated in the diagram below as the parts outside the heart.
In the classic personal growth book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey states that private victory precedes public victory. We need to look after ourselves before we can effectively help others. We hear the same message when we are on airplanes: “In the event of a drop in cabin pressure, put on your own oxygen mask before helping others.”
Personal transformation is about the shifting the structure and character of ourselves – learning to alter our own identity, values, and beliefs to become better human beings. How do we do this? We improve our empathy skills or better yet develop our compassion. We use mindfulness of meditation to become more focused and present with others. We acknowledge our flaws and love ourselves as human beings not despite them but because of them. We trust others. It’s all about forming a better relationship with ourselves so that we can form richer more valuable relationships with others.
My own personal journey has centered around letting go of ego, insecurity and perfectionism to develop self-kindness, caring and being present. Although the road is hard and painful, it is also joyful and liberating. I can see a manyfold increase in my effectiveness in my personal and professional life. Now I know I am in a place where I can participate in leading a transformation – I wasn’t before and didn’t recognize it.
We can only transform to the extent that we have a capacity in something. To build environments of high trust we need to be trusting. We need to value other human beings for them to feel valued. We need to embrace and love our shortcomings so that others can feel safe making mistakes and learn from them rather than feeling inadequate.
Of course in a transformation, leaders will need to attend to external matters such as vision, purpose and culture, but these will not fully succeed without their personal transformation.
I have recently been writing and will continue to write on topics around personal growth as I see this as central to organizational transformation.
Lululemon – An example of Break-though Culture
My last post was on the amazing culture at Lululemon. Christine Day, the CEO, is a living example of what Good to Great calls – Level 5 leadership – she is humble and nurtures those around her grow and learn.
Everyone at Lululemon gets free Yoga classes. Can you imagine the power of a workforce that is more balanced, at peace, and present with others? Wow. That’s the kind of shift I want to see cultivated everywhere.
Brene Brown’s work on understanding shame and empathy kick started this journey. Siraj Sirajuddin’s Temenos retreats had a profound impact. Most recently, I have found Oneness meditation to help me connect with my humanity and love myself more deeply.
Let us consider an organization that wants to transform itself. i.e. to change in structure and character.
A simple view would be as follows:
By state, I mean the complex system that represents the organization. This includes people, culture, customers, infrastructure, etc.
Transformation is in a Direction
Real transformation is about pursuit of a direction, not achievement of a goal. A living, growing systems will continue to pass through a series of many small transformations as per diagram below.
Each Person Transforms
When we talk about an organization transforming we are are really talking about the aggregate of the transformations of all the individuals. Many people need to transform before one may recognize a change in the organization as a whole. Of course people will transform at different rates as per Moore’s model for diffusion of innovation based on innovators, early adopters, etc. The diagram below illustrates each person needing to transform.
Leaders Go First and become Attractors
For a given moment of transformation, it will be the case that some people will go first. These people will act as leaders in the context of the organizational transformation. They will become what Siraj Sirajuddin refers to as a symbol of transformation and act as an attractor to facilitate the transformation of others. In the diagram below we can see a leader who is acting as an attractor.
Success Requires that the Leadership Team Go First
If an organization truly wishes to transform, then the leadership of the company need to transform first. This would include the CEO and senior management of a hierarchical organization or perhaps the head of business unit and her management team. Illustrated in the diagram below, we see how a leadership team can become a powerful attractor to a new organizational state.
In hierachical systems, transformation initiatives will fail if the management team does not transform. In this case, the management team acts as an attractor for the current state. Failure of the management team to fully embrace a change with a sense if urgency is a severe problem in many transformation efforts. If urgency is not in place, it is better to abort a transformation effort and replace it with a less significant change effort.
Change Artists Lead the Leaders
A change artist is someone who works with organizations to support their growth and transformation.
Like the leaders in an organization, the change artist needs to transform first so they themselves can act as a symbol of transformation. It is not possible for a change artist to facilitate a transformation without having gone through the journey themselves. It is for this reason, that people that can play this role have already undergone their own transformation. They need to play the archetypal role of the Wounded Healer.
Thanks for Siraj Sirajuddin for mentoring me in his model of transformation via Temenos and private conversation. Many of the ideas here are either directly from him or were strongly influenced.
Thanks to the person or persons who told me that people have to transform one at a time – I wish I could remember who!
Thanks to Jon Stahl for helping me crystallize the notion of leaders going first through his presentation Agile from the Top Down.
The following diagram is a powerful mental frame to help understand change efforts within organizations. It makes the discernment between tactical, strategic and cultural levels. One way to use the diagram is to position each change item or activity on the line to show what aspect it is focussed on.
More importantly, I use the diagram to engage with clients to explore what they want to achieve, why they want to achieve it, and how invested they are in the outcome.
Some typical benefits are listed above the line. Most importantly, break-through results only come from culture – not tactical or strategic approaches.
- Tactics – “How do we work?” is about day to day practices and process elements. These are things that a team or organization can adopt.
- Strategy – “What do we want to achieve” is about aligning the company around key goals and initiatives.
- Culture – “Who do we want to be?” is about clarifying the organizations reason for existing as well as it’s values and vision.
Relationship between the levels
Culture is the foundation that Strategy and Tactics sit on. But culture is like an iceberg – a powerful force that is underwater where you can’t see it. Sure it’s possible to work at the levels of tactics and strategy, but that is unlikely to make any lasting change or draw great benefits. Lasting change requires working at all three levels so that the tactics and strategy support the culture.
Relationship to Leadership Agility
Bill Joiner has identified a number of distinct mindsets that can be found with managers/leaders. and his work on Leadership Agility. The following are one to one mappings from types of leaders/mindsets:
- Experts focus on Tactics: problems and work execution.
- Achievers focus on Strategy: outcomes and the system.
- Catalysts focus on Culture: vision and break-through culture.
The deepest inspiration comes from Bill Joiner and his work on Leadership Agility and the different levels of focus. This served as the basis for my model.
I would like to thank a variety of sources for the notion of Culture being mostly hidden – I have seen or read this in a number of places but most vividly from the folks at Crucial Conversations and their book Influencer in particular.
I am grateful for Mike Cottemeyer for helping me understand the difference between Agile Adoption (Tactical) and Agile Transformation (Cultural).