Three Characteristics Of Transformational Leaders

I work with many companies aiming to become customer-centric organizations. These efforts are never easy, and they always require a multi-year journey. In order for an organization to sustain a change agenda over that span of time, the senior management team needs to actively lead the effort. What does that mean for those leaders?

In my work, I’ve observed that the most effective leaders demonstrate three key characteristics:

1) Communicate “Why”
The only way to get people to truly buy-in to change is for them to understand why it’s happening. Most executives tend to under-communicate. And when they do communicate, they often focus on “what” the company will be doing and “how” it will get done. Here are some ways that executives can improve their communications:

  • Develop a clear script about “why” the company is going through the change
  • Develop a clear script about “why” the change is good in the long run to your organization and its employees
  • Make sure that your direct reports fully understand why the change is going on and have their own scripts
  • Make sure that you regularly discuss the “why” in your ongoing communications

2) Model Desired Behaviors
Temkin Group’s 6th law of customer experience is simply: “You can’t fake it.” And we can all learn from New Jersey mayor Corey Booker’s mom, who once told the mayor: “What you do speaks so loudly that I can’t hear what you are saying.” Your organization can tell what’s truly important by observing your actions. If people see that you haven’t changed, then they won’t change either. Here are some ways that you can model new customer-centric behaviors:

  • Look for new ways to use customer feedback; consider regularly calling out to customers
  • Find ways to incorporate voice of the customer data/insights into your decision-making
  • Start asking customer-centric questions like: who is the target audience and how will this help them?
  • Make the change a top item on your meeting agendas; even above the normal operational items.
  • Make choices about what meetings you attend or decisions you make based on the signal it sends to the organization about your support for the change

3) Reinforce Change
It’s very easy for organizations to fall back into their regular, “comfortable” routines. So you need to make sure that you continuously reinforce the changed behaviors. Here are some of the things you can work on:

  • Hold your direct reports accountable for change in their organizations
  • Make “leading and supporting change” a key objective that you use to measure your direct reports
  • Publicly recognize and call out people in your organization that are acting consistently with where the company is heading
  • Don’t promote anyone in your organization, even high performers, if they are not proactively supporting the change
  • Embed the new direction in the hiring and new employee on-boarding process
  • Ask people in your organization what you could be doing to more effectively support the change
  • Develop personal goals every quarter for how you will reinforce the change

The bottom line: Transformation takes strong, committed leadership.

Since this is a longer post, I’ve made a version that you can download in .pdf form. Feel free to pass it around.

Written by 

I'm an experience (XM) management catalyst; helping organizations improve results by engaging the hearts and minds of their employees, customers, and partners. I enjoy researching and speaking about leading-edge XM topics. I lead the Qualtrics XM Institute, which is the world's best job. We're igniting a global community of XM Professionals who are inspired and empowered to radically improve the human experience. To achieve this goal, my team focuses on thought leadership, training, and community building. My work is driven by a set of fundamental beliefs: 1) Everything starts and ends with human beings, so you need to understand how people think, feel, and behave; 2) XM is a discipline that needs to be woven throughout an organization's entire operating fabric; and 3) Building the XM discipline requires a combination of culture, competency, and technology.

One thought on “Three Characteristics Of Transformational Leaders”

  1. Great article! I have seen so many “talk the talk” but fail to “walk the walk”. I truly believe if an organization focuses on delighting the customer at every turn and exceeding the customer expectation, they will not fail!

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