Who is Leading your Transformation?

WARPs joke of the week doesn't really happen weekly.  It only happens during those rare times when the Blogger's subject matter doesn't pair with a marginally funny cartoon. 

“Transformation” is the buzzword of the year. Yet with all the transformational change that’s happening, there is a serious lack of transformation leads.  The cover of Harvard Business Review this month says “Agile at Scale”.  There are several models out there for Agile at Scale, yet very few people that can lead this type of effort.

What does it mean to be a transformation lead? How does it differ from a Transformational Leader?  What are the capabilities and competencies needed for these roles?

First, let’s get a few definitions clear for the purposes of this article.

  • Transformation:  A transformation, which we’ll define here as “organizational”, means that there is change in multiple aspects of the organization, i.e. structure, culture, and practices.  Simply changing technology doesn’t usually qualify as a transformational change.
  • Transformation Lead:  A transformation lead is the person leading the change.  This person is charged specifically with making the change happen.  They don’t usually have operational responsibilities.
  • Transformational Leader:  Be careful here because the words are similar.  A transformational leader has operational responsibilities but leads their organization through the change.   They make sure their people have the support and resources they need to make the change. They set the context for how the change will affect the team and each person personally. There is a tight partnership between and the Transformation Lead and Transformational Leaders.

What makes a good Transformation Lead?

In this prior post, we layed out the competencies for a Transformation Lead.  Here are some additional characteristics to add to the skill list.

  • Dynamic. The Transformation Lead is a very dynamic person.  They can flex between strategy, implementation; culture and process; influencing and directing; coaching and teaching, abstract and concrete.  
  • Vast Toolset.  A good transformation lead has a vast set of tools in their toolbelt because they never know what the situation will call for.  The Transformation Lead doesn’t come with a prescription or best practices, they find the best path for the challenge at hand.  
  • Temporary.  Transformation leads don’t stick around forever.  They are always working themselves out of a job. If the Transformation Lead does their job well, the change gets traction and the organization can carry it forward themselves.
  • Leader.  Most importantly, a good Transformation Lead is a leader.  They are not simply a subject matter expert. Transformation Leads know how to lead people without authority.

What makes a good Transformational Leader?

A good transformational leader has the qualities of a good leader with a few additions.  

  • Willing to take risks.  A good transformational leader is not risk-averse.  They are willing to experiment and fail while trying to make change.  
  • All-in.  The Transformational Leader is fully committed to the change.  
  • Sets Context and Quells Fears.  They set the context for the team by showing them how it applies to their organization and for each of them personally.  For example, sometimes a change will cause a dip in people’s performance either because they are learning new skills or because sometimes de-optimizing local performance boosts the overall outcomes.  The Transformational leader lets them know that this is expected, and quell any fears about job loss.
  • Sets Clear Expectations.  The Transformational Leader sets clear expectations about the shift in principles and values.   For example, with Agile a Leader needs to be clear that “We used to say ‘get it right the first time’ and we now expecting you to ‘experiment and learn.  This is a change in values, we are no longer asking you to get things right the first time.’ When leaders fail to do this and the transformation conflicts with the old ways of working, people are reluctant to adopt the change.  It also creates a lot of anxiety because people aren’t sure what’s the right thing to do.
  • Starts with themselves.  Transformational Leaders know that the change starts with them.  They seek to adapt their own behavior and leadership style in order to support the team.  Rather than order the change and ask for reports on how it’s going, Transformational leaders ask how they can help.  They are seeking feedback on their own blind spots.

What Transformation Leads and Transformational Leaders have you worked with?