How to lead transformational change when you have no formal leadership

Bill and Greta Hurst are the owners of Tabula Rasa Gallery in Baroda, Michigan. The community of Baroda is experiencing a moderately paced and purposeful transformation. In the last seven years, the village has enjoyed the addition of two wine tasting rooms (with a third on the way), a café, a restaurant, a brew pub, a B&B, and the Hurst’s art gallery. In the nearby countryside several wineries and other agri-tourism businesses have opened. Greta is a mosaicist and yoga teacher; Bill is an IT professional and photographer. While a member of the business community with their gallery, this couple were early contributors to the transformation of the area to an agri-tourism destination.

Steve: What does it mean to be a transformational leader?

Bill: The leader has a vision and can translate it to align people, resources, and actions to move that vision forward. Sometimes it’s looking at an old problem with new eyes and being adaptable to changes in the macro economy. In our case, we love Baroda and the rich history of the town. We wanted to leverage the legacy and bring more attention to the growth the area has enjoyed and continues to experience.

Steve: Tell me about a time when this was particularly challenging or rewarding for you. What was the situation, what did you do, how did it work out?

Greta: We focused our initial efforts on wayfinding to leverage the area’s historical focus on agri-tourism. We wanted signage to promote the area. To move this forward, we resurrected the Baroda Business Association (BBA) which had been dormant for a decade. We linked this with the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) to figure out ways to promote the area. We wanted to produce a video. To gain buy-in and commitment, we wanted community business and government leaders to support the project. This was our foray into the community, and it took nearly four years to build trust and gain support. In the end we were successful.

Steve: How did you clarify the purpose of the transformation?

Bill: Between the area’s agricultural history, and the village’s focus on tool and die shops, there were competing interests about where to take the community. Greta had many meetings with the DDA, helped initiate the Baroda Area Business Association (BABA), and attempted to hold a Harvest Feast Street Festival to celebrate Baroda area agri-tourism. While the Harvest Feast ran into roadblocks, BABA’s “Party on The Pavers” is now held annually on the vintage bricks of our downtown main street.

Steve: In what ways did you experience cross-functional dysfunction, and how did you address this?

Bill Greta: We had some of this early on. For the Wayfinding and Harvest Feasts, there were competing factions. We had to figure out how to pay for these projects and keep it equitable among the various sized entities. We wanted to include three communities; others wanted only to focus on two. Finally, we had all three aligned and ready to go, but because of these competing factions, we lost one of the communities. This also ultimately cost us a very important sponsor hence the morphing of Harvest Feast into Party on the Pavers.

Steve: How did you enroll others in the transformation?

Greta: We found early on that we needed to create an environment to attract businesses that brings in tourists. The new streetscape project was intended to help do this. We went door to door to speak with both business owners and elected officials about supporting this. We had to show them the math to win over their minds and share the rationale to win their hearts. One key business owner was resistant, but after we showed him a neighboring village’s streetscape and the benefits it brought to their community, we won him over.

Steve: Please comment on organizational challenges you faced, both structural and behavioral.

Greta: Structurally, we had to pull together the BBA, DDA and BABA into a cohesive group with a clear transformational purpose – agri-tourism. We were able to do this early on. Behaviorally, because most of us were volunteers, some of those who were paid participants didn’t realize the legitimacy of our leadership. With time and persistence, we established credibility.

Steve: How did you become more of a coach?

Bill: In this case, it is all about networking and alliance building. We knew where our support came from, and we knew where we needed to apply more finesse. We were also an example by owning several downtown properties. It’s easier to sell the idea of transformation if you have skin in the game.

Steve: If you could give one piece of advice, what would it be?

Greta: First, make sure your purpose is clear, and that the execution supports the achievement of that purpose. Identify the stakeholders up-front and enroll them by addressing their needs and concerns. Finally, make sure there is room to organically and dynamically modify the purpose as you embark on your journey.

Steve: Thank you for taking the time to share your story. Having been a resident of the community off and on across multiple decades, I’m impressed with what you’ve done, and look forward to seeing more productive growth and change in the area. Thank you also for all you have done for the community.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


Note: In 2016, Bill published a photo book about Baroda’s dynamic businesses, “A Portrait of Baroda, Michigan Businesses”.  For more information about the book, go to

How risk tolerance impacts your transformational success

After doing this work for decades I’ve learned how various cultural factors impact an organizations ability to be successful with large scale transformational change.

One cultural factor is risk tolerance. I have learned that the more risk tolerance the organization, and its leaders, the greater the probability is of successful transformational change. Incidentally, success is defined as meeting the objectives of the transformation in the timeframe specified, and that it is sustainable for the long term.

The greater the risk tolerance, the more likely the organization will be to try new ideas and approaches. Executives are more willing to engage with employees to discuss opportunities related to the transformation. Further, executives are more willing to put the execution of the transformation in the hands of the employees.

This means that executives must be secure in their leadership to experiment and innovate, and they must be more willing to give up their leadership to others in their organization. The more frontline employees are enrolled in the execution of the transformation the greater the sustainability.

Call to action: if you are leading a transformational change, ask yourself this question. Are you hoarding the leadership, or are you taking greater risk to enroll your leadership team and your frontline employees to help drive the change?

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


How clear purpose can lead from one transformation to another

Every day we hear about large corporations who continue to expand their presence into different products and markets. They typically leverage one successful transformation to achieve the next. One historical example with which I am personally familiar is how in the 1950’s Whirlpool Corporation went from being a successful Midwestern company manufacturing washers and dryers to become a full line U.S. appliance manufacturer and marketer by the end of that decade. Today they are the world’s largest manufacturer of major home appliances.

Closer to home…I was 10 years old when we lived in the suburbs of Chicago. My father was growing tired of this life and wanted to expand his horizons. He had dreams of buying a little farm in Southwest Michigan, growing a few grapes, and making a little wine for himself.

In 1966 we bought our first farm. Within two years my father had started planting grapes and making his own wine. He achieved his goal and found his purpose.

In 1969 a neighboring farm became available for purchase. It had an established you -pick fruit business, and several more acres of mature vineyards and orchards. After about six weeks of debating the decision, we purchased the second farm on May 10, 1969. (Tomorrow marks our 50th anniversary!)

My father’s vision and purpose expanded. Now he wanted to grow grapes not just for himself, but for others who were interested in making their own wine. Coincidentally in the early 1970s home winemaking grew to become a significant American hobby. In 1974, dad successfully achieved his second goal and purpose. Not only was he raising high-quality vinifera for home winemakers, he had established what was likely Michigan’s largest home winemakers’ shop and was developing strong relationships with home winemakers across Chicagoland and the Midwest.

Regardless if you are a major, multi-national corporation, or an organization of one, this all boils down to an important message for all leaders. Do not become complacent by achieving your first goal. Think about and search for other opportunities to continually transform your business.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


Why you should define structure before you define culture


One of my executive clients asked me to help resolve a cultural issue that was hampering his ability to transform his organization. Upon examination, I discovered he had a significant problem with cross-functional dysfunction because people didn’t understand expectations across the organization.

I interviewed a few of his top leaders and facilitated a conversation about the work in their areas and the requirements they had of each other. In some cases, leaders had no idea what other leaders needed to be successful in their respective organizations.

We scheduled two more meetings where we included selected middle managers. Here we discussed in more detail the requirements from one another and how we would fulfill those. We also noted that this transformation would require employees to work together differently than was previously required. Employees would need to better cooperate and collaborate more frequently. We defined the required behavioral characteristics and the outcomes required from those behavioral changes.

We then devised a plan the middle-managers used to drive the implementation. Voila! Success.

Lesson learned? Sometimes we try to change behavior without being clear about the structural outcomes or structural implications. Structure and culture work together to make an organization more efficient and more successful.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


How one transformational leader started a new role in a new organization

Jill Bradley is the Chief Operating Officer of BUILD Chicago, Inc. BUILD Chicago’s mission is to engage at-risk youth in schools and on the streets to help them realize their potential and contribute to our communities. Recently I had the opportunity to interview Jill, who started her new role at Build about six months ago.

Steve: What does it mean to be a transformational leader?

Jill: It is about knowing the people and building a relationship with them and inspiring them to drive through change. It’s about focusing on the positive as we transform and supporting people when obstacles to change seem insurmountable. It’s also about learning from failure and not calling people out for taking a risk and failing.

Steve: You just started at BUILD a few months ago. Your role as COO is new to you and new to BUILD. How has this been going?

Jill: Bringing this role into BUILD was a big change for the organization. This role was not clearly defined when I started. It was a challenge to define it and set boundaries regarding the scope of the job. This required that I ask lots of questions of the CEO, my peers and my team.

Steve: How did you clarify the role?

Jill: I clarified the role of the team I’m on – the CEO’s team and then our individual roles. I set out that my role was to steer the organization, not slow it down with operational bureaucracy. I was clear that I may not have all the answers to technical questions that surfaced; I had the leadership say to determine how deep to question the progress of various activities.

Steve: In what ways did you experience cross-functional dysfunction, and how did you address this?

Jill: First let me say that cross functional dysfunction does not need to be fatal. At BUILD I discovered that we are more cross functional than we are dysfunctional. Also, being cross-functional is messy. You must tolerate why some individuals are in the room. Not every person makes sense in every meeting, but that’s ok. Part of my role is to allow people to be messy in their pursuit of cross functional health.

Steve: How did you enroll others in the transformation to having a COO at BUILD?

Jill: One, I asked many questions. I espoused the idea of inquiry not advocacy. Second, I made my office a safe place. People can come to me with concerns without fear of reprisal. Third, understanding the sources of resistance, and using resistance to clarify the purpose and outcomes.

Steve: Please comment on organizational challenges you faced.

Jill: People here are all amazing. We do great work for the community. My role is to support the team, help them do great things for the kids in the community. My role is not to protect employees from themselves. Helping employees enroll in the mission of the organization is my number one goal.

Steve: How did you become more of a coach?

Jill: I had an amazing example earlier in my career. A man I worked for was a brilliant leader who did not promote himself. He supported us to be our best. He walked the talk. From him, I learned how to coach my employees. I also learned about coaching up, but this is more of a challenge and takes more courage.

Steve: If you could give one piece of advice, what would it be?

Jill: Live in the moment with an eye toward the future. I may not in the organization when the vision is fully realized, and that’s okay. Keeping this in front of me and the team is crucial, and celebrating the incremental progress is important.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,




How to prepare your transformation to achieve phenomenal success

Last week I described how transformational leadership and organizational change management (OCM) work together to drive phenomenal success. Let’s take another look this week. The matrix above demonstrates what happens when you have one or the other, both or neither.

Phenomenal Success: When you have both strong leadership and a solid OCM plan, you are likely to have phenomenal success, and will probably exceed your targets. Who doesn’t like this?

Looks Good on Paper: When you have solid leadership but don’t have a good approach for OCM, you and your leadership team are likely aligned on your measurable outcomes, but you will struggle to achieve them because the rest of your organization is to some degree left behind.

Aimless Wander: When you have a solid OCM plan but weak overall leadership. It’s hard to imagine, but I’ve seen this happen. It usually results in some areas implementing better than others. Overall, though, the organization is unclear about the long-term impact, and the transformation struggles.

Failure. This one is obvious. If your transformation lacks leadership and enough OCM, you will go nowhere.

Call to action: Use this as a self-assessment. Determine how your last transformational initiative performed. Use your self-assessment combined with last week’s post to determine the steps you need to take to ensure success with your next transformation.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


How transformational leadership and organizational change management work together to drive phenomenal results

Working for years with senior executives driving transformational change, I’ve observed that sometimes leaders jump directly from strategy to execution without doing the necessary preparation to activate and accelerate implementation within their organization. This preparation requires transformational leadership skills to transition from strategy to execution. I have also observed that organizational change management (OCM) cannot take the place or make up for a lack of transformational leadership.

Leaders use OCM to provide a structured approach to leading the organization through a transformation or a large-scale change. There are, however, several prerequisites necessary for OCM to be successful. These are elements of transformational leadership.

  1. There must be a clear purpose to the transformation.
  2. Outcomes must be specific, attainable and measurable.
  3. The leadership team must be aligned on these two points above.
  4. The leadership team is willing and able to put aside their own functional needs to consider what is best for the whole organization during the transformation (to eliminate cross-functional dysfunction).
  5. Organizational risks, including cultural risks, must be identified with a mitigation plan in place.
  6. The right governance structure is in place to provide day-to-day leadership for the transformation.
  7. The leader agrees to play a role in strategic communications.
  8. The leadership team agrees to engage with front-line employees and middle managers to enroll them in the change.

With these elements in place, a strong OCM plan can be established and executed. OCM leverages these elements by providing and executing:

  1. A strong communication plan that emphasizes purpose and outcomes and includes your active participation.
  2. An education programs that describe how the environment will be different after the transformation, down to how specific roles might change.
  3. Organizational planning that revamps roles and structure.
  4. Enrollment plans that determine how front-line employees and middle managers will be involved in the implementation.
  5. Skill- training required for all impacted parties to learn how to operate in the new environment.
  6. Long term entrenchment plans to embed the transformation for the long-term.

All of this combines to create a winning formula to drive phenomenal success, often exceeding targets.

Call to action: As you consider your next transformation, think about these points.

  1. Have you done the work necessary to prepare your organization – starting with your leadership team – to drive success?
  2. Have you activated the team and set the stage to accelerate the work?

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


How to Convert Project Failures into Amazing Success

We all want to be positive, embrace an optimistic future, and focus on possibilities.  This is especially true in managing projects and introducing change into an organization.  We see the possibilities at the other end of the change, it can be exciting . . . however, the change can’t simply be declared and expected to happen.  The journey needs to be led and managed.

At a high level, I have found that there are key behaviors at the Organizational, Team and Personal levels that are critical for any change journey.

Organizational Behavior

“Here it comes, another ill-conceived program.” Many communications coming from the leadership team leave employees wondering about priorities, impacts, and expected outcomes. When an organization effectively manages change, the leadership team agrees on the purpose of strategy execution, successfully engages employees to adapt to the change and implement decisions, and willingly reaches throughout the organization to help employees handle the implementation.

Team Behavior

Without healthy team behaviors, team members end up pointing fingers at one another, and devolve into counterproductive, time wasting rituals. Effective teams work together quickly to achieve goals. This requires healthy conflict to engage and discuss difficult topics, commitment to the team’s purpose, and a willingness to hold one another accountable for outcomes.

Personal Behavior

We’ve all seen cartoons depicting the disheveled executive. When you look beneath the appearance, you see an ineffective, guarded individual who doesn’t deliver. Conversely, effective executives are open, vulnerable, accept risk, and speak with honest candor with others.

Here are five characteristics of an organization that effectively manages change. How does your organization stack up?

  1. The leadership team agrees on the outcomes of decisions.
  2. Priorities are clear to the organization.
  3. The organizational impacts of decisions are understood by those impacted.
  4. Front- line employees are involved in implementing the decision.
  5. Leaders coach employees through the implementation of the decision.

Looking at every project through this five-pronged lens is key to your success. Thinking about both project structures and behaviors at each of the three levels, organizational, team and individual ensures that you are comprehensively considering every element of your project teams’ make-up to ensure success.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


You are a transformational leader regardless of the size of your organization

Adam McBride is the owner and general manager of Hickory Creek Winery in Buchanan, Michigan. Adam acquired Hickory Creek two years ago and is transforming it to become another great destination on the Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail. Just 90 minutes from downtown Chicago, the wine trail covers many wineries, breweries and several restaurants for you to spend a day, a weekend or longer.

Before Adam purchased Hickory Creek, he worked in corporate America, running a distribution facility with 120 employees. I recently interviewed Adam and discussed his experiences starting his new career as a winemaker and winery owner.

Steve: What does it mean to you to be a transformational leader?

Adam: It’s about having a purpose for your change. To me, transformational means significantly changing the process, the organization or the culture. The first 90 days of your leadership are critical. You must listen to your team, quickly identify areas to improve, build momentum and enroll the team to drive forward. It’s important to have small victories early on. This helps establish your credibility.

Steve: Tell me about a change that was particularly rewarding or challenging.

Adam: I travel to many different wineries to learn different approaches and of course, to try their wines. Once I discovered a system to visually track open wine bottles used in the tasting room. We need to track this for inventory control and reporting to the Liquor Control Commission. I brought the idea back and announced the new solution to the team. We would implement it immediately. There was some resistance, and the team found a few things wrong with the idea. Based on this feedback, we agreed to run both our old system and the new system in parallel for three weeks. At the end of the three weeks, and with additional input from the team, we adopted the new system.

Steve: How did you clarify the purpose of the change?

Adam: I simply kept the message in front of them – this will be easier, take up less room, and be much cleaner. Fruit flies are a problem in the tasting room during warm weather and the new system will eliminate most of this problem.

Steve: Please comment on any organizational challenges you’ve experienced, particularly taking over the business.

Adam: The three men who originally owned the winery were prescriptive. Employees were not able to make any decisions on their own. Changing this culture has been a challenge. I encourage my employees to make their own decisions regarding their work. If someone needs to come in and work a few extra hours to catch up, I let them make that decision. I also encourage is risk taking. Sometimes we try ideas and they don’t work. That’s okay, and I admit when I made a mistake. One example: The winery tried a version of food service previously and it didn’t work out. I wanted to try it again. It didn’t work the second time. For me, having the humility to try again, fail and admit it goes a long way to build your team and build trust.

Steve: If you could give one piece of advice, what would it be?

Adam: Surround yourself with the right people. Set the vision. Trust your people. Ninety percent of the time, people want to do their best. Let them, and they might just surprise you and do more than you expected. My other piece of advice? Drink Hickory Creek wine and everything will be fine. It even rhymes.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


How to be the world’s greatest CEO


Anyone who knows me knows I am a big fan of Southwest Airlines. One of the reasons I chose to live in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood was to be near Midway Airport, Southwest’s largest airport in terms of number of flights per day.

On January 3, 2019, Herb Kelleher, Southwest’s founder and first CEO passed away. When I say Herb was great, the results of his leadership speak for themselves:

• 2018 was the 24th year Southwest appeared on FORTUNE Magazine’s Most Admired Companies list and was the only commercial airline among the Top 10.
• Southwest is the only domestic airline with a decades-long history of returning capital to Shareholders.
• Southwest is the only domestic airline with 46 consecutive years of profitability.
• Southwest has been #1 in the DOT Consumer Satisfaction Ranking for 23 of the last 27 years.

You don’t maintain these kinds of metrics in the airline industry unless you are transformational.

This week, I had the opportunity to be on a Southwest flight. In their in-flight magazine, there was a long article giving tribute to Herb Kelleher. No summary that I could provide would do this article justice. I’ve included a link to the article and recommend you read it. You’ll understand why I consider him great, and why Southwest Airlines has been so successful almost from the beginning.

Call to action: Think about the characteristics that made Herb a great leader. Consider adopting some of his practices.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,