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Eight Milestones to Transformational Leadership

Eight Milestones to Transformational Leadership

By: Frances Hesselbein, co-author of Peter Drucker's Five Most Important Questions: Enduring Wisdom for Today’s Leaders (Wiley, 2015)

In a world where the rules are constantly changing, millions of people in every sector of the economy are wrestling with the new demands of leadership. I hear leaders and managers everywhere discussing the same fundamental challenge: the journey to transformation, moving from where we are to where we want to be in the tenuous future that lies before us.

In sharing experiences across the public, private, and social sectors, I have found that organizations usually pass eight milestones to reach their destination: an inspired, relevant, viable, effective organization. These milestones are as relevant to a small community group or the Girl Scouts as they are to a large business or government agency.

1. Scan the environment. Through reading, surveys, interviews, and so on, we identify the major trends likely to affect the organization. The essence of strategy is to define the implications of those trends. Sometimes we can catch a straw in the wind and have a responsive program or project ready as the trend emerges — not after. This assessment of emerging trends and implications, supplemented by internal data, provides essential background for planning change — and offers a better basis for action than our own preconceptions. Flying on assumptions can be fatal.

2. Revisit the mission. The mission statement simply describes why we do what we do, our reason for being — our purpose. Knowing that management is a tool, not an end, we manage not for the sake of managing in its own right, but for the mission. And one’s mission does not define how one operates, but simply why. It must be clear, powerful, compelling, and to the point.

When we revisit the mission, we ask ourselves the first three of the five most important questions that Peter Drucker helped organizations answer:

  • What is our mission?
  • Who is our customer?
  • What does the customer value?

When we answer these, we are well on our way to managing for the mission.

3. Ban the hierarchy. Transformation requires moving people out of their old organizational boxes into flexible, fluid management systems. We cannot continue to put people into little squares on a structure chart. Psychologically it boxes them in. We prefer circles — concentric circles of functions and positions in a staffing design that looks almost organic. Job rotation becomes an enriching reality. People move in circular ways — learning new skills, expanding positions — circular management. We need to ban a hierarchy not suited to today’s knowledge workers, who carry their toolkits in their heads.

4. Challenge the gospel. There should be no sacred cows as we challenge every policy, practice, procedure, and assumption. In transforming themselves, organizations must practice planned abandonment — discarding programs, policies, and practices that work today but will have little relevance to the future and to the organization we are building to meet that future.

5. Employ the power of language. Leaders must beam a few clear, consistent messages over and over. They must lead by voice, communicating with all their customers, and all their constituents, a few powerful messages that connect and illuminate.

6. Disperse leadership across the organization. Every organization must have not one but many leaders. Some speak of empowerment, others of sharing the tasks of leadership. I think of it as dispersing leadership — with leaders developing and performing across every level of the organization. Leadership is a responsibility all members of the organization share, and it is circular.

7. Lead from the front; don’t push from the rear. The leader of the future does not sit on the fence, waiting to see which way the wind is blowing. The leader articulates clear positions on issues affecting the organization and is the embodiment of the enterprise, its mission, its values, and its principles. Leaders model desired behaviors, they never break a promise, and they know that leadership is a matter of how to be, not how to do.

8. Assess performance. Self-assessment is essential to progress. From the beginning of the change process, we are clear about mission, goals, and objectives. Well-defined action steps and a plan for measuring results are essential to planning any organizational change. We then can embark upon the journey with goals and measures in place. At the end of the process, the most exuberant phase of the journey, we evaluate our performance and celebrate the transformation. We do this by asking the next two of Drucker’s five critical questions:

  • What are our results?
  • What is our plan?

Across the globe, for leaders aware of the tenuous times ahead, the journey to transformation is a journey into the future. These leaders are taking today’s organization and transforming it into tomorrow’s productive, high-performance enterprise.

Although the milestones on the journey are known, the destinations are uncharted, and for each organization the destination will be determined not only by the curve of the road ahead but also by the quality of the mission and the leadership it inspires.

Excerpted with permission of the publisher, Wiley, from Peter Drucker's Five Most Important Questions: Enduring Wisdom for Today’s Leaders by Peter F. Drucker, Joan Snyder Kuhl and Frances Hesselbein. Copyright (c) 2015 by the Frances Hesselbein Leadership Institute. All rights reserved. This book is available at all bookstores and online booksellers.

Author Bio:
Frances Hesselbein

is the founding president of the Frances Hesselbein Leadership Institute, formerly the Peter F. Drucker Foundation for Nonprofit Management. She served as CEO of the Girl Scouts of the USA and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton. She is the author of My Life in Leadership: The Journey and Lessons Learned Along the Way, Hesselbein on Leadership and More Hesselbein on Leadership