Digital Transformation
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The building blocks of a transformational leader


A fish rots from the head down, they say. I first heard the expression from the rank and file at my last job, where upper management was reactive and the vision was, well, fuzzy at best. No one respected the boss. His style was condescending, his team was unmotivated, and his results were disappointing. He was hardly a transformational leader.


My new manager's approach is clear and engaged. She sets high expectations for her team and serves as a role model for them and others in the company. We are fiercely loyal in return.

Management gurus offer endless strategies for success, but they almost always agree on one thing: leadership, or lack thereof, is at the root of an organization's success or demise. It's hard to overstate the power of a transformational leader. Inspired employees are more productive and willing to pull off heroic feats, and companies that can tap into that power will gain an edge over their competitors and move beyond what they thought was possible. If good leaders can create a strong organizational structure, transformational leaders can actually revolutionize it.

Attitudes and approaches

Vince Lombardi once said, "Leadership is based on a spiritual quality—the power to inspire, the power to inspire others to follow." As the name implies, transformational leaders know how to bring meaningful change to their business. They focus more on the softer skills than the traditional leader does; through the strength of their ideas and personality, they inspire and motivate others to work toward a common goal.

This type of leader identifies and communicates a vision, creates an energy and a sense of purpose, and builds a momentum for change, making the tough decisions that move the business forward. In his book Transforming Leadership, Pulitzer Prize–winning author James MacGregor Burns described this as the point where "leaders and followers make each other advance to a higher level of morality and motivation."

The makings of a transformational leader

Steve Bandrowczak, the former senior vice president of global business service and business process outsourcing at HPE, was charged with heading a major business expansion at DHL and realized quickly that a $1.5 billion problem was staring him down—and the wrong team was working on the issues. The solution he and two colleagues created was to quickly pull all the best people from across his IT team and other departments to create a "rogue organization" that got the job done. "Everybody on that team was dreaded and hated because they were breaking every rule," he said. "Whatever it took, we did it."

Is your organization positioned to spot big trends and develop new ideas for growth? Today, more than ever, senior executives need to ask themselves how to bridge the gap between technology and business. Building the skills to become a transformational leader is key in making that leap and should be a strategic priority. Here's how to start:

  • Think big. Look to the future, and don't be afraid to challenge the status quo the way Bandrowczak did. You'll need to break away from the obvious solutions if you're going to create new, exciting strategies.
  • Surround yourself with smart people. You can't go it alone, so you'll need knowledgeable, reliable colleagues who aren't afraid to challenge you.
  • Manage people, not tasks. Lead through culture. Find new ways to inspire your team, and empower them to deliver results.
  • Be specific and tangible. Think beyond the typical "transactional" tactics on which many rely. Spend time developing your team, and encourage them to stretch beyond what they thought was possible.
  • Communicate through action. Become your company's chief communication officer. Know what you stand for, and then walk the walk.
  • Stay curious. Never stop looking for new ideas. Be fascinated by everything.

Even the most successful businesses, spurred on by the rate of technological innovation today, will undergo some degree of transformation. It's time for your organization to get busy reimagining itself for a digital world.

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Jan 30-31, 2018
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