Tornadoes, Transformation and Business Leadership

In August of 2005, a large, violent tornado swept through our neighborhood indiscriminately uprooting trees, scattering personal possessions, and leveling homes. It’s something I’ll likely never forget. Our home was one of them. Although only a couple people were hurt physically, hundreds of lives in our community were suddenly and literally turned upside down.

Tornadoes of various sizes and force sweep through the business world all the time. Usually we call it something else. Restructuring. Right-sizing. Implementing a new program or process. Strategic initiative. ERP. Software implementation. Merger or acquisition. And for many if not all of those impacted by efforts like these, it can feel like a tornado just swept through, uprooting our lives, scattering well-worn routines, and turning our work-world upside down.

But most leaders don’t think of it that way; in part because of what Simon Sinek in his book Leaders Eat Last calls ‘abstraction’. Abstraction is the phenomenon of turning people, real people with feelings and work habits and lives, into numbers or faceless names. It happens, for example, when HR brings the printout to the layoff meeting with two columns of numbers: one column shows the headcount and the other shows the dollar value.

Abstraction happens when we refer to Mary and John and Sally and Bill and everyone else as “Human Capital” or “Assets” or simply “headcount’. Abstraction gives us the excuse to avoid empathy.

I’ve written before about the problem of business leadership. Business spends nearly $170B annually equipping and developing leaders but trust in business leadership is still at 15%. That’s the same number as Congress’ approval rating in 2014. Is it any wonder that 70% of the American workforce is disengaged at work? Or the number one reason people leave their job is their boss? Or that so many attempts by leadership fail to create a culture of innovation, transform the organization, restructure, or introduce change?

Business leadership needs transformation. What happened to the leadership virtues of integrity (consistent, principled behaviors that engender trust), magnanimity (the ability to inspire great things from others), humility (serving and putting the needs of others before your own), authenticity (leveraging strengths and leading from the core of who you are), and courage (the ability to lead, inspire, and serve in the face of risk)? All these can be developed and taught but what part of the $170B in leadership development costs is allocated to virtue? Arguably some of it should be. According to a study conducted by Deloitte, The Leadership Premium, companies with great leadeship have a 73% greater ability to change and a +35% swing in valuation.

The second step in the ThinkPoints™ transformation model is leadership because those that built the status quo but now want to transform it in some way need to transform themselves first. Before any initiative, strategy or change effort gets underway, before any strategy is executed, before taking any steps to transform a business, we’ve developed the tools and approach so leaders can start with themselves.