This pristine Minnesota retreat center was the site for a transformational leadership team retreat last week.

New leaders are seldom hired to protect the status quo: to preserve the existing state. Incremental progress: small, methodical change isn’t very attractive either. Because the pace of change is rapidly accelerating, leaders today are most often asked to think in transformational ways: profound (sometimes radical) change that sends an organization in a whole new direction. 

Coaching for transformation

Within the past five business days, our team has been working with two relatively new leaders who are creating transformational change in their world. One is a Minneapolis/St. Paul-based non-profit CEO, whose organization serves the population with mental illness and homelessness. We met with her team at a retreat center in Victoria, MN. The other is an international pharmaceutical leader whose organization is focused on dramatically reducing the cost of drugs in the healthcare system. We are meeting with his team this week in the magical city of Prague, in the Czech Republic.

Within the magical, Medieval city of Prague, there is exciting, transformational work being done to reduce the cost of drugs in the healthcare system.

In both situations, we coached with the same message: To claim “transformation” means to accept “disruption.” So, “transformation” is a word that needs to be used carefully. This is because most people are threatened by disruptive change – at home and at work.

It’s easier to embrace disruption when we all agree we are in crisis. But that’s not the situation with either of these two clients. Both are overcoming their own sense of accomplishment and comfort. That’s much harder to do!

Transformation comes from within

For both leaders to succeed, each has to embrace the idea that transformational change in an organization is directly related to transformational change inside each of the leaders. In other words: we cannot expect to transform an organization, without expecting to transform ourselves. “Transformation” means: profound (sometimes radical) change that sends us in a whole new direction.

This team will transform their organization, and themselves by embracing their dissatisfaction, and planning their own personal transformations.

Anyone whose intentionally lost a lot of weight, stopped smoking or drinking, written a book, or run a marathon understands personal transformation. None of these activities are status quo. Seldom incremental. More likely transformational.

So, as coaches, we take great care to ask new leaders and their teams these specific questions:

1. In what ways are you unsatisfied with the impact of your work?

2. Do you believe your vision is sufficiently “transformational” to be satisfying?

3. If so, what needs to transform within you, to lead this transformation?

Then we inject healthy tension, and appropriate amounts of silence, to allow for the transformational thoughts to speak loudly inside us.

Start – Stop – Continue

Seeing the Cathedral in Prague Castle – built 700 years ago – helps me see the vision of the good leaders who came before me.

The idea of transformation in any organization means you are willing to change both how you operate, and what you measure – more than 50% over a 3 year period of time. That’s game-changing change. In general, the people important to your success are willing to follow if they can see and feel these three things in your leadership:

  1. YOU are changing – transforming yourself in ways that make you a better leader.
  2. You coach them through the change in ways that help them feel like “winners” – instead of victims of the change.
  3. You react and respond positively to big goals and the inevitable roadblocks along the way.

So, I hope this causes you to pause and think about: What do I need to start doing to lead this change? What do I need to stop doing to lead this change? What do I need to continue doing to lead this change?

How you live out your Start-Stop-Continue answers has everything to do with how effective you will be at leading your transformation today.