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Transformational Leadership Must Be Centered

Today, large-scale business transformations with significant organizational changes are an imperative across all industries. True organizational change cannot occur without effective leadership, and the transition to a digitally engaged organization is no exception. Businesses will need a new type of leader, someone with the vision to imagine a better future, someone willing and able to embrace change with all the ambiguity that change entails, and someone with the organizational IQ to forge new ways of doing business while maintaining excellence in operations and customer service. Key to leadership success in today’s digitally disruptive environment, that is changing so fast, is to have leaders who embody cohesive goals, who inspire and engage the right team into emotional commitment to a centered purpose and common approach with rich connections, while framing to resolution, the issues towards solutions, drawing on the optimum energy in a timely fashion. Of-course to be able to do all that, the leader must be emotionally intelligent, change ready, and be able to communicate effectively. Assuming that such leadership begins and ends with managing the team could be catastrophic.

Business transformations typically disrupt, and leaders will benefit from transformational attributes in the way they lead. While company cultures within any industry today are superficially open to change, once you scratch beneath the surface, they tend to be highly resistant to anything that threatens the status quo, placing a high premium instead on conformity. It is this overall bias toward conformity—along with other significant gaps between the executives and the transformation leaders—that makes transformational change so difficult. Portrait of a successful leader that emerges is curious, entrepreneurial, and willing to challenge conventional wisdom, up to a point. These leaders bring a competitive spirit and ambitious mindset to challenges and demonstrate resilience through difficulties. They are open to taking risks and pushing the boundaries of the industry’s business-as-usual practices, but within the norms of their business culture and the industry. Clearly, businesses will benefit from leaders who have some transformational attributes, especially when compared to the general executive population. However, given the volume and pace of change within any industry, these leaders are not well positioned to move their companies as fast or as far as they need to go to thrive.

Essential attributes of transformational leaders

Typical transformational leaders are senior executives who have successfully led large-scale transformation within an established, complex organization. These leaders would have enabled their organizations to achieve substantial progress in responding to the threats and opportunities posed by significant disruption. The typical attributes of such leaders include having an affinity for thinking differently and challenging conventional wisdom. In the face of the rapid product innovation, business model innovation and new competition that are disrupting businesses, innovation and boldness are precisely the leadership hallmarks that are needed now more than ever. The must challenge traditional approaches and cut through bureaucracy to be change ready, shaping and leading their teams through ambiguity and uncertainty that might exist. They must be proactive in building relationships, be socially attuned, read the room they are in well and engage with a bold vision to rally the troops behind a common cause. Rather than leading with a preconceived point of view, they are now more inclined to let the data and the market shape their messages. They must become more attuned to the needs of their companies and the industry, and they must take a more organic approach to setting goals and communicating. Finally, they must continue to demonstrate a strong competitive spirit and engaging interpersonal characteristics. If they are able to build on these competencies—and develop new skills where they are lacking—they can better position themselves to lead their organizations in an era that will demand rapid transformation. Doing so is critical. There is no doubt that business leaders in most industries must be willing to break the rules and re-imagine their business models in order to thrive in a disruptive era.

Leading in active circular structures for agility

Today’s environment is pressing organizations to become more agile; in response, a new organizational model is emerging that exhibits embodied direction, network of empowered teams, rapid decisions, quicker learning cycles, dynamic people model and ignited passion with next generation of automated work. In aggregate, the trademarks of these tenets enable organizations to balance stability and dynamism and thrive in an era of unprecedented opportunity. Business environment in every industry is changing rapidly at unprecedented speed. Disruption everywhere is challenging companies to be innovative while preemptively transforming to self-disrupt. Such an agile operating model has the ability to quickly and efficiently reconfigure strategy, structure, processes, people, and technology toward value-creating and value-protecting opportunities. An agile organization thus adds velocity and adaptability to stability, creating a critical source of competitive advantage in volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) conditions. Today’s companies are under tremendous pressure to deliver customer-centric value, with innovation and speed. This will allow transformational leaders to the make the necessary meaningful impact with presence, resilience and belonging.

Leaders must look inward as well

It has become abundantly clear that organizational change is inseparable from individual change. Simply put, change efforts often falter because leaders overlook the need to make fundamental changes in themselves. They must have the necessary emotional intelligence to have the essential self-understanding and social context, to translate the changes into organizational context. Leaders must examine themselves, to gain understanding of their own modes of operating to have clarity on what makes them tick. All individuals have their own inner lives, populated by their beliefs, priorities, aspirations, values, and fears. These interior elements vary from one person to the next, directing people to take different actions in different circumstances. Indeed, you can live your whole life without understanding the inner dynamics that drive what you do and say. Yet it’s crucial that those who seek to lead powerfully and effectively look at their internal experiences, precisely because they direct how you take action, whether you know it or not. Taking accountability as a leader today includes understanding your motivations and other inner drives.

Centered leadership

Centeredness is essential to effective transformational leadership. It provides the space in which we choose how to respond, rather than automatically reacting to a situation. In this space we must find the time and awareness to bring our inspirational leadership skills to bear by engaging all parts of our self and being fully present. This requires us to develop our inner resources, like self-awareness, stress tolerance, emotional awareness, flexibility, independence, optimism, etc. Good transformational leaders use their inner resources to set the tone for the team with their worldview, shared ambition, responsibility, openness, integrity, etc. It is this tone within which the leaders must connect with others with empathy, humility, listening, vitality, expressiveness, commonality, etc. Optimizing this connection is essential to lead the team with vision, common approach, direction, purpose, focus, co-creation, sponsorship, etc. Centeredness is the ability, acquired through learned practice, to apply a set of physical and mental skills that help create a state of greater mindfulness. It is the key to replacing automatic reactions with thoughtful, strategic and authentic responses.

Ensure that as a transformational leader you adopt a leadership model that revolves around finding your strengths and connecting with others. Today’s complex, volatile, and fast-paced business environment is placing extraordinary stress on leaders. More often leaders lack the skills needed to cope, which undermines the organizational performance and personal satisfaction. Leaders must proactively cultivate the capabilities that enhance their leadership to unlock their organizations potential in challenging circumstances. Define a personal and professional context that has clarity about your intelligence, tolerance for change, desire to lead, and effective communication skills.

Surround your context with 5 essential dimensions that revolves around you always:

  1. Meaning that provides happiness in the purpose with which you do things using your own signature strengths. Whatever the source of meaning (and it can differ dramatically from one person to another), centered leaders often talk about how their purpose appeals to something greater than themselves and the importance of conveying their passion to others. Sharing your meaning to inspire colleagues requires leaders to become great storytellers, touching hearts as well as minds. These skills are particularly applicable for executives leading through major transitions, since it takes strong personal motivation to triumph over the discomfort and fear that accompany change and that can drown out formal corporate messages.

  2. Manage your energy optimally, maintaining the right flow, and ensuring appropriate restoration when necessary. Often, we see a change effort starts with a big bang of vision statements and detailed initiatives, only to see energy drain out prematurely, with time. Sustaining change requires the enthusiasm and commitment of large numbers of people across an organization for an extended period of time. Leaders will find it hard to sustain energy and commitment within the organization unless they systemically restore their own energy (physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual), as well as create the conditions and serve as role models for others to do the same.

  3. Optimistic framing of problems and issues around you constructively can seed the conditions that result in a safe environment where all employees are inspired to give their best. Stimulate creativity, such as exploring opposing points of view in discussions with colleagues while reframing. Take time to convince others and encourage them to speak up. Help colleagues reframe the way they react to dissent, forge a less defensive and ultimately more innovative culture. Create an environment that is going to allow innovation and creativity, and make it OK to fail.

  4. Connections with others in an increasingly complex web of functions in their business environment are becoming a significant challenge for leaders. This complexity causes the effectiveness of leaders that aren’t suited to traditional, linear communication styles. Further, leaders can find the volume of communication in such networks overwhelming. Increasingly, they must also be adept at building relationships with people scattered across the ecosystem in which they do business and at bringing together the right people to offer meaningful input and support in solving problems. Linear and hierarchical structures are impediments, giving way to circular and agile environments that enhance the connections and satisfaction in the resolutions.

  5. Engaging with individuals and the organization is a critical element for successful organizational change. Risk aversion and fear run rampant during times of change in most organizations. Leaders who are good at acknowledging and countering these emotions can help their people summon the courage to act and thus unleash tremendous potential. They must engage with their aversion to risk, with fear and sometimes even with opportunity. Leaders must acknowledge the existence of risk, often must admit they don’t, in fact, have all the answers—an unusual mind-set for many leaders whose ascent has been built on a virtuous cycle of success and self-confidence. Leaders must embrace their vulnerability effectively, because it has the potential to enhance their engagement.

Take a page from physics - centrifugal & centripetal forces organization

If you are part of the rotating system, you experience an apparent centrifugal force pushing you away from the center of the circle, even though what you are actually feeling is the inward centripetal force that is keeping you from literally going off on a tangent. In the case of a rotating system, the centripetal force pulls the mass inward to follow a curved path, while the mass appears to push outward due to its inertia. In each of these cases, though, there is only one real force being applied, while the other is only an apparent force. In an agile organization, the dynamic and circular structures must counter the centrifugal forces from innovation, speed, customer needs and search for value. It is the centered transformational leadership that must balance the centrifugal forces during this era of disruption everywhere.


Leading an organization through an extraordinary change takes more than simply telling people what to change. It means embodying that change in a way that few leaders have been trained to do. But learning how it creates an organization that can keep evolving and improving over time. Centered leadership is a journey, not a destination, and it starts with a highly personal decision that continually attempts to bring their personal and professional context together to address the centripetal and centrifugal forces optimally. Today’s transformational leaders can become even more effective through centered leadership: a shared purpose with deep meaning for the people involved, explicit awareness and management of energy, positive framing, strong informal and formal networks, and the collaborative creation of opportunities.

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