Business Transformation Requires Leaders to First Transform Themselves

Last March, I wrote about Mohan Nair, an IT guy who had written about a prerequisite for business transformation: that business leaders must give employees a cause to believe in. It turns out there's a prerequisite for that prerequisite: If a business leader is going to transform his employees, he first needs to transform himself.

 

Nair, chief innovation officer at Cambia Health Solutions in Portland, Ore., is a computer scientist with a resume that includes positions at Intel, Mentor Graphics and a few other IT companies. He's also the author of "Strategic Business Transformation: The 7 Deadly Sins to Overcome," and he's come up with eight great tips on how to bring about that self-transformation:

 

  • Admit you have a mojo dysfunction. Your company has been operating in survival mode for a while now, and that's not good for anyone. But before you can reignite others, you must reignite yourself. That means much like the alcoholic who must admit he or she has a problem, you must (metaphorically) say, "Hello, my name is ______ and I am an old-paradigm command-and-control leader. Worse, I have been running on empty for a while now. It's time for me to rediscover my basic leadership beliefs and leverage them into a new beginning." Sure, it can be hard and scary and exhausting to realize everything you've built your leadership legacy on is wrong. It's a lot easier, in the short term anyway, to go on pretending nothing has changed. But once you find the courage to face the truth, you take the first step toward a new paradigm that's so much better for all concerned.
  • Realize that you, personally, have to change. Business transformation begins with personal transformation. Recycling your usual skills only recycles your past. Only by recharging your leadership mojo - getting back to your basic beliefs and rediscovering your passion in light of a new reality - can you transform yourself and your company. Seeing the world as existing to serve you is obsolete. It's not about you anymore; it's about others you serve. Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, and other social reformers had it right: They did not start out to be social reformers; they just wanted to make things right. They started with themselves, then their neighborhood, and then the world. So, mojo starts with you. You can change any circumstance if you change your view of the situation.
  • Find your competency. Acknowledge to yourself and to others what you're good at and not so good at. (Don't be bashful: Vulnerability helps people connect to you and makes you a better leader.) But this is only a starting point. To be a great leader, you need to know what you're great at. This is the skill set around which you will package yourself inside your organization. Think competence, not capacity. Being capable of performing is not enough. That will seldom give you the advantage you need to spark real change. Finding your competency is more about the recipe than the ingredients. Think of yourself as an artist, not a painter; an author, not a writer; a composer, not a musician.
  • Translate that competency into value. Ask yourself: How can I put my competency to work inside my organization? How can I use it to provide value differently to a transformed world? Great leaders can put value into any object. We see hints of this when we hold onto a simple object because it reminds us of someone or some event. A rose? A pen? A lucky outfit you wear on special days? Mother Teresa's value is compassion for children. That was her brand. What do others feel when they hear your name? What is your mojo? Once you figure out how to provide value to your organization, your organization will be able to share that value with its customers. It may be that your value requires you to move into a new part of the organization. That's okay. Many people find that they are in the right organization but in the wrong department to maximize their best selves. Be open-minded about where you belong and can do the most good.
  • Create a solid platform for work. The skeleton of your platform was constructed a long time ago. It is made up of your skills, your experience, the knowledge that defines you. But are there missing planks? Knowing what you want to do, where are the holes that will hinder your ability to execute? To innovate? Figure out how to fill in the holes with new skills, new experiences, new knowledge. Do this now. Make it a priority. A resume is not a record of your jobs but a recipe of the platform you call your skills. A new job, or a new role inside a current company, is not merely a place to land. It is the next step of your evolution as a leader. Think about it this way as you make your decisions.
  • Awaken your cause. Find the one thing inside your company that you feel passionate about. (If you can't find a cause, you may as well forget being a leader.) Maybe it's customer service. Maybe it's mentoring. Maybe it's product innovation. Whatever your cause may be, make it your mantra. Let it drive everything you do. Mojo begins and ends with your realized purpose. Cause is so much more powerful than mission. Causes are realized while missions are given. Causes transform while missions inform. Causes start with an individual. Leadership mojo is unstoppable if powered by a cause.
  • Commit to servant leadership. Gandhi was not capable of being a good lawyer. In fact, he was laughed out of his first case. Eventually, he realized he was at his best when he was serving others. It was his power source. It can be yours, too. Being successful in business today means bringing back your leadership mojo in a different way - not based on ego, but in service to a higher order. How can you take all we've discussed so far-competency, value, platform for work, cause - and use them to serve others? That truly is the million-dollar question. How can you take all of these facets and apply them to transforming a situation for your customers or your employees?
  • Find and leverage momentum. This is where mojo finds its true fulfillment (not to mention financial reward). What is momentum? It's the force of an idea and the acceleration you give to take hold of a market. The Pet Rock from the '70s represents speed, which is just force applied to an idea. On the other hand, the iPhone represents momentum: It's something people needed and wanted without realizing they needed and wanted it. So do Starbucks and Disney: The former filled the need for coffee communities; the latter filled the need for a business model based on happiness. Momentum is a unique way to view the market. Companies that don't understand it will miss the drivers that indicate where momentum is going. Those that do will get there first with products designed to be hot sellers. If you think about it, leveraging momentum is the pinnacle of servant leadership. You're so tuned into your customers that you know them better than they know themselves.


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