How your strong sense of purpose drives successful transformation

Another of my all-time favorite movies is “Secretariat,” a film about an American Thoroughbred racehorse who, in 1973, became the first Triple Crown winner in 25 years. His record-breaking victory in the Belmont Stakes, which he won by 31 lengths, is widely regarded as one of the greatest races of all time.

Secretariat’s owner, Penney Chenery Tweedy, overcame significant barriers to lead him to multiple victories over his short career.

  • She changed her life as a 19-year-old housewife and fundraiser in Colorado.
  • During Secretariat’s run, she commuted between her career as a housewife in Colorado to the stables in Virginia and other various locations where races were held. Remember, we’re talking about the early 1970’s when air travel was much different than today.
  • In the early 1970’s, women were not considered able to viably participate in horse racing.
  • She had to deal with a huge financial issue upon the passing of her father.

Despite these barriers she:

  • Knew she had a winner.
  • Engaged people who would support her cause.
  • Had faith in her purpose – to enable Secretariat’s success.
  • Persevered in the face of adversity.

As a result, Secretariat not only won the Triple Crown, he set speed records in all three races. His time in the Kentucky Derby still stands as the Churchill Downs track record for ​1 1⁄4 miles, and his time in the Belmont Stakes stands as the American record for ​1 1⁄2 miles on the dirt.

One of the most successful transformations in which I was involved was the Whirlpool acquisition and subsequent integration of Maytag. Our leaders set a strong purpose – to create the largest home appliance manufacturer in the world. The intent was to create a combined company to more effectively compete globally by providing the greatest innovation for consumers at competitive prices. We were successful for many reasons, including:

  • We had clear purpose.
  • We focused on this and set aside other distractions.
  • We had a strong leadership structure in place to drive the transformation.
  • We motivated and enrolled employees in the change and acknowledged and their contributions.

These two stories – Secretariat and Whirlpool/Maytag share these attributes. How does your transformation measure up?

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


How high expectations improves your ability to drive successful sustained transformation


One of my all-time favorite movies is “Remember the Titans.” The movie is based on the true story of African-American coach Herman Boone, portrayed by Denzel Washington, and his attempt to integrate the T. C. Williams High School football team in Alexandria, Virginia, in 1971. I watched it again recently and continue to be impressed with the transformational leadership of Coach Boone.

Among other things, he demonstrated high expectations of his team:

  • He forced team members to put aside their differences.
  • He created an environment where high performance was rewarded.
  • He led the team to victory.

Movies often take literary license to make a point. This one is no exception. But the instruction we receive is significant and cannot be discounted.

In the late 1980’s while working on my MBA, I enrolled in a marketing course taught by Professor Bruce Wrenn. I don’t remember most of my professor’s names – partly because it has been 30 years, but mostly because few other teachers I’ve ever had expected so much from his class.

  • We wrote a two-page paper a week sharing insight about a current marketing news topic.
  • We were responsible for a team project during the term that would result in a 30- page report out.
  • We developed a class project together to revitalize a local high-tech company by establishing a new strategy.

Some class members complained. I loved the work and the challenge. It was one of the best courses I enrolled in throughout my entire university career. I consider it also one of my most successful. Why?

  • I learned a great deal.
  • I still use some of the underlying principles of material we learned (sustained application).
  • That high-tech company? It’s still in business 30 years later because it, in part, adopted the strategy we developed. In this day where high-tech companies come and go, this says something (sustained application)!

Dr. Wrenn was a transformational leader. He knew his material, he interacted with us fairly, and he drove us to success.

Do you have high expectations?

  • Are you challenging your team to achieve high performance?
  • Are you providing the environment for them to succeed?
  • Are you achieving the most from your team?
  • Are the results sustained?

How do you measure up?

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,



How quiet time to reflect can help you build your transformational leadership

Last week, my wife and I had the opportunity to travel to Tuscany, Italy. We stayed with a small group in a villa outside the tiny village of Pienza. During our visit, we had the chance to visit a 12th century stone Romanesque church where both Pope Pius II and Pope Pius III were baptized centuries ago.

I visited this same church five years ago. On that visit, I captured the scene of a lone woman sitting silently by herself. No doubt she was reflecting on something of her life. My friends and I were careful not to disturb her and left quickly one we saw she was deep in thought.

There was something restorative about the solemn quietness of that massive stone building. It made me think about how those who are developing their transformational leadership might effectively use time in their busy schedules to do something similar. You don’t need a 900-year-old stone church, but you do need a quiet place you can go to rest, relax and restore.

Here are some of the benefits you might receive:

  1. Clear your mind to improve your focus.
  2. Think more deeply to improve your creativity.
  3. Improve your concentration to accomplish more in less time.
  4. Rediscover yourself to reduce the possibility for group think.
  5. Think through problems more effectively by eliminating external distractions.
  6. Appreciate important people in your life to improve your relationship.

All of this goes to developing your ability to succeed as a transformational leader.

Questions to ask yourself:

  1. Are you setting aside time on a regular basis to rest, relax and restore?
  2. Is this time free of distractions? Are you alone?
  3. Are you using this time to be introspective and think about your leadership?

Need help getting started? Read the last two weeks newsletters for ideas on the kinds of questions you might ask yourself during this time.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


How you can assess your transformational leadership

Since my wife is Chinese, I often read ancient Chinese writings to develop a greater appreciation for the history of her culture. Recently I came across this by the philosopher Tsang (edited for brevity and clarity, not for content):

I examine daily myself on these three points:

  1. Have I been faithful in transacting business with others?
  2. Have I been sincere in my communications with others?
  3. Have I practiced the instructions of my teacher?

These questions can form the basis of a transformational leader’s regular personal self-assessment. They support the notion that to become a transformational leader you must have a foundation of interpersonal and organizational trust (see last week’s blog), and that you are regularly developing yourself.

On a regular basis, a successful transformational leader will reflect on these questions to determine her current state and identify opportunities for improvement. They don’t wait for external events or feedback to influence their personal development.

Don’t misunderstand, external input is usually a good thing – just don’t wait for it to happen. Schedule regular time on your calendar to perform this simple self-assessment, determine any needed course corrections, and develop a plan to implement.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


How interpersonal trust is required to drive successful transformation

I am appalled. Look, nobody is perfect, but if you are following the news lately, it seems to be loaded with stories of bribes, scandals, assault, lack of compliance, and other inappropriate behavior. None of this inspires interpersonal trust and therefore has serious implications for the organizational trust necessary for a leader to drive successful transformation.

Interpersonal trust is the confidence two people have in each other regarding their respective intentions, integrity, character and ability.

Organizational trust is gained when leadership demonstrates consistent behavior, clear communications, follow through and transparency.

Here’s how the two play together:


Clearly for you to become a true transformational leader – a leader who can successfully and repeatedly drive transformational change – you need to develop both interpersonal trust and organizational trust.

Where do you stack up?

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


How to Demonstrate a Clear Purpose

In the mid-1960s, my dad had an interest in growing grapes that created good wine. He believed that Michigan had the potential to grow good wine. He had no big plans to grow thousands of vines or build a winery, rather he simply wanted a place to spend weekends away from Chicago and start his hobby.

In 1966 we purchased a run-down farm near the little village of Baroda, about 90 miles from Chicago. We continued to live in Chicago and spent every weekend on the farm. We spent most of our time improving the property. This meant tearing down dilapidated outbuildings, restoring the old peg-and-beam barn, and making the house more habitable. It did have a few acres of asparagus and black raspberries, but eventually, this gave way to vineyards. My dad was one of the first to plant French hybrid grapes in the area.

In a few years, our vineyard acreage grew to 15. Most of these were French hybrids, but he also began experimenting with vinifera vines (vines native to warmer European climates). Much of our crop was sold to home winemakers and dad used the balance of his earnings to make his own wine.

Dad had a vision. He was clear on his purpose and invested his time and resources accordingly. He communicated this purpose to his family and friends. While later in life he slowed considerably, he never wavered from that original vision to have a few acres of grapes and enjoy this as a hobby.

One of the principle roles of a leader is to set and articulate a clear vision or purpose for the organization. This must be well communicated to garner success. What is your vision or purpose? Is it clear? Are you passionate about it? Are the priorities clear? Do others around you understand it and know how to act on it?

Today, there are ten full production wineries within a few miles of Baroda. I cannot claim that my dad started all of this, but no doubt he had an influence on some of his neighbors. If you ever travel through southwest Michigan, stop at one of our wineries, and try some of our great wines.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


The supreme quality of leadership is integrity

Dwight Eisenhower said it. “The supreme quality of leadership is integrity. Lately it is rare for a day to go by without a report about an indiscretion of a CEO, the clergy, or a political leader.”

John Maxwell said, “The people buy into the leader before they buy into the vision.” As a consultant for a variety of organizations, I’ve seen this time and time again.

These two quotes go hand in hand. If you lack integrity, your people won’t follow your lead. They won’t execute your vision. Therefore, leading with integrity is an essential ingredient to successful transformational change.

I cannot imagine any executive who reads the news saying to himself or herself, “There’s another one who was caught. It will never happen to me.” Yet it does. Nearly every day there’s a new name in the news.

Leading with integrity. What does it mean?

  1. Developing and staying true to your vision. Sure, it may change slightly due to different business factors, but staying true to your vision, and explaining your deviations openly, helps you maintain integrity.
  2. Every situation is different but sticking to your principles is key.
  3. One of my leaders once told me, “Some people will tell you that asking for feedback is a sign of weakness. Don’t believe it.” Encouraging thoughtful dialog helps people integrate change into their work and gives you information that helps you course correct as necessary.
  4. Set and live to a higher standard. Don’t just do enough to get by, or worse yet, to get away with subpar performance. Do more. Set a higher bar.

How do you stack up?

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,

How to Inspire Employees to Drive Transformational Change

I’ve shared before that about 20 years ago I had the opportunity to build a house. My builder told me that the typical house takes 160 days to complete – from groundbreaking to moving in.  He then warned me that because the house was 700 feet off the main road, construction would take longer. Just how much longer, he would not commit.

I determined to reduce construction time. I stayed engaged with the general contractor and treated the subcontractors like royalty. During construction I went out to the house nearly every day. Typically, I went to the house after work to evaluate progress and report findings to the general contractor.

On occasion I would go to the site early in the morning before work, or during lunch. I took coffee, water, donuts, cookies or pizza for the subcontractors. Later, I learned that these gestures created a sense of purpose and appreciation among the subcontractors. They wanted to help people build their dreams. They wanted to do good work and they wanted to feel like they were a part of something bigger than 8 – 10 hours of labor a day. I also discovered later that this worked to my advantage as many extras were added – at no cost.

There are two major lessons here. First, the sponsor of the project must be actively engaged in monitoring and guiding progress. The second lesson is to engage and inspire your employees during change. I used donuts and coffee to share my passion for building the house, and in turn, the subcontractors felt like they were part of something bigger.

You might say, “Well, Steve, this is a nice story, but so what? You expended a lot of time and energy to supervise the construction, a job you delegated to the general contractor. But what were the real benefits?” We moved into the house in 140 days, the house met specifications, and the project came in under budget. How many of your projects achieve these kinds of results?

When you consider your next change initiative plan time in your calendar to stay engaged with the project. Think about more than just attending the regular status meetings to stay informed. Instead, make a difference. Talk to the employees doing the work. Ask the project manager informally about progress. Schedule lunches or other events during the project and not just to celebrate the end of the project.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


Is More Effective Leadership of your Transformation a Waste of Time?

The Project Management Institute says firms that effectively manage their transformations do the following things better than their minimally effective counterparts:

  1. They are 7 times more likely to detect change in the external environment.
  2. They are 3 times more likely to leverage significant changes.
  3. They are 5 times more likely to establish change management beyond major projects – mostly to help achieve changes in culture.
  4. They are 5 times more likely to work across functions.

These firms have a 50% better chance of projects being on-time, on-budget or on-spec and have an 80% better chance of meeting or exceeding ROI goals.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


How selflessness promotes success

Continuing our basketball discussion from last week, Jack and I talked more about the difference between Group A players – those who worked together – versus Group B players – those who thought more about themselves than others on the team.

An obvious trait of Group A players is selflessness. They realize that achieving success is not about them. Merriam-Webster defines selflessness as having or showing great concern for other people and little or no concern for yourself.

In our conversation, Jack and I identified companies where the CEO was a superstar. Chrysler, General Electric, Kodak and Motorola to name a few. I bet you can name their iconic CEOs. I also bet you can describe what has happened to their organizations.

Conversely, we also identified a few companies who have earned recognition as very well-run organizations – the best of the best. Southwest Airlines remained on the list of well-run organizations across several decades due to their customer-oriented culture. McDonald’s due to their relentless focus on process and consistency. Whirlpool Corporation due to their award-winning leadership development focus. I bet you can’t name any of their CEOs without Googling for the answer.

In my consulting career, I’ve worked with many executives across dozens of organizations in multiple industries. There is a clear correlation between their level of selflessness and the degree of success they achieved driving transformational change.

What does it mean to be selfless? How do you develop it? Here are a few things I look for:

  1. Listen more, talk less. Are you listening to listen, or listening to respond?
  2. Be patient. Yes, deadlines are to be met, but understanding and operating at the fine line where your team can grow and develop vs. deliver requires patience and skill.
  3. Celebrate other’s success. Don’t qualify it. Just celebrate it. Could you have done it differently or better? Perhaps, but that’s not the point.
  4. Appreciate differences. Recognize that others have a point of view and you can probably benefit from it.

How do you stack up? What can you do to further develop your selflessness to drive greater transformational success?

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,