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,



How teams more effectively drive transformations than do superstars

Recently my stepson, Jack, came home from his weekly, friendly basketball game. We engaged in a discussion about two types of players he has encountered over time. We’ll refer to them as Group A and Group B.

Group A players work as a team. They pass more frequently and leverage each other’s strengths to score. They inherently trust one another to do the best they can to achieve a win.

Group B players focus on their own ability. They pass the ball less, and when they do, it’s usually after holding it much longer than their Group A counterparts. It’s all about them.

Jack told me that it is more fun to play with Group A because they make sure everyone plays. No one is left out. On the other hand, he doesn’t like it when there are too many Group B players on the court. They show off, trying to make points on their own, and rarely involving others.

Who wins the most points overall? Group A.

This is a metaphor for ensuring your business leadership teams are aligned and working together for the benefit of the entire organization. Cross-functional dysfunction occurs when individual functional leaders become more interested in the success of their function than in the success of the overall company. As the leader, it’s your job to ensure that you set goals for your team that promote more to the success of the company, and then hold them accountable to these goals. This applies to the day-to-day operation of your organization and is clearly required for transformations.

Next week we’ll dig into this further and talk about one trait you can model and encourage to help drive transformational change.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


How to develop trust that in turn promotes organizational transformation

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post that discussed the need to develop more trust to be successful in driving transformations. The feedback I received suggested the article offered ways to demonstrate trust, and my readers wanted to know more about how to develop trust.

Coincidentally, the news lately has been filled with stories of leaders stepping down due to one indiscretion or another. Leaders of industry, government, education and others. I will leave the debate about why they stepped down to the media and others. Instead, let’s address the fundamental underpinnings.

About 15 years ago, I added a leadership component to my work in guiding organizational transformations. The model I developed started with character, based on true principles. These true principles include internal drivers such as humility, positivity, and balance. These in turn promote external focuses including service orientation and belief in others.

All these features drive to one’s ability to garner trust – or to be trustworthy.

  1. You develop humility by recognizing that you don’t have all the answers, and that you must rely on your team to impart their knowledge.
  2. Positivity is developed by looking at the glass as at least half-full. Yes, it’s important to recognize and manage risk, but your team is looking to you to guide them through the unknown. Stay on course to achieve your transformative vision. Look for the positives and accentuate them.
  3. Develop balance personally and in the office. Yes, there are times when work demands a few extra hours but make this the exception and not the norm. Exercise. Breathe. Meditate. In the office, be sure you allocate time to be creative and to renew. Don’t go to lunch every day with the same people. Mix it up.
  4. Serve others. Ensure your leadership includes helping others. This can be as simple as coaching someone through a difficult decision. Be sure you are rightfully taking on issues to resolve and follow through. Serving others includes holding people accountable. Don’t let commitments slip through the cracks.
  5. Believe in others. You have a team for a reason. They are there to help you run the organization. Trust them to do their job. Put measures in place to gauge performance but stay out of the way.

These are the underpinnings to leadership I believe are the most important for leaders to develop to successfully drive transformative change. How do you measure up? Are you a transformative leader? Drop me a note if you’d like to discuss this further.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


Why you Need to Galvanize your Transformation

Recently my son purchased a new All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV) for my grandson. Austin, who is 10, had outgrown a smaller version, and besides the old ATV was suffering from a host of mechanical problems. I happened to be visiting the day after Austin received his new “toy.” He was excited to show me how he could handle it and demonstrated this with great skill as he weaved through the forest trails behind their home. Notably, the new ATV handled differently than the old one. It would frequently stall, and then was difficult to restart. Each time he struggled to start the ATV, his dad reminded him that the new ATV required a different startup procedure than did the old one. Austin was handling change like so many of us. It’s difficult to start a new routine, and when we do, it’s good to have someone help us.

Just like Austin, your employees need help galvanizing your transformation. They need new skills, gentle reminders, and accountability. Here are a few tips to help galvanize your transformation.

  1. Prepare employees. Validate that you have the right education and training for employees to acquire the new skills required.
  2. Change the measures. Identify 2-3 critical metrics that assess transformation progress. Hold people accountable to achieve these metrics.
  3. Identify change agents. Equip a few employees throughout your organization to help reinforce actions required to sustain the change.

As I consult with executives regarding change, they often focus much of the effort on the work leading up to the change but don’t put adequate attention on activities required to sustain the change. When insufficient effort is applied to the former, these change projects risk success. Don’t let yours be one of them.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


Lessons from Lincoln, the ultimate transformationalist

Recently my wife and I traveled downstate to visit Springfield, Illinois. I hadn’t been there in 30 years, and she had never been. Both of us wanted to learn more about one of our national treasures, he who has been called one of the world’s great statesmen, Abraham Lincoln.

There is much we can learn about leading transformational change from this man. During his famed presidency, he accomplished two monumental transformations, seemingly at odds with each other, by directing the Civil War to reunite the union, and passing the emancipation proclamation.

“Public sentiment is everything. With it, nothing can fail; against it, nothing can succeed (1).” As remarkable as it may seem, in 1861 Lincoln spent more time out of the White House than he did in it. And the chances are good that if a Union soldier had enlisted early in the Civil War, he saw the president in person. Lincoln made it a point to personally inspect every state regiment of volunteers that passed through Washington D.C., on their way to the front; and early in the war they all passed through Washington, D.C. (2).

As a result, it is believed that Lincoln met every Union soldier who enlisted early in the Civil War. He knew that people were the best source of information, and he knew that connecting with people built relationships of trust. He spent 75% of his day meeting with people.

This is just one example of how Lincoln was a transformational leader. He worked to enroll the troops to win the war. He worked to enroll congress to pass the 13th amendment (although the vote didn’t happen until after his death).

“Enrolling the Troops.” This is one requirement for successful transformation. As a leader, are you out talking with your employees about the change? Are you assessing how it is affecting them? Are you listening for opportunities to fine tune your purpose and agenda?

One executive I worked with led an organization of several hundred employees. As we were working together through one massive transformation, he took time every week to meet with his people to gather the answers to the questions above. Then he interpreted these back to the project team to ensure on-going success.

Are you a Lincoln transformationalist?

Dedicated to your profitable transformation


  • Lincoln-Douglas debate at Ottawa, Illinois, August 21, 1858
  • Lincoln On Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times, Donald T. Phillips, Warner Books, Inc.; Reprint edition (February 1, 1993)