Transition Management: Light lines crossing quickly leading to the horizon - netzwerk managementberatung | coaching
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Leadership | Transformation Management

Leading transformation processes successfully

From Sabine Walter, Head of network management consulting | coaching

We - companies, industries and our society - are undergoing a transformation. In a transformation from an industrial to a digital society. We are at a stage of technological development that has already led, is leading and will lead to drastic changes in the economy and society. Therefore, in this article, we will address three questions: What is a transformation? What distinguishes it from change? Why is it important to lead a transformation and not just manage it? We also provide recommendations for companies on how to lead transformation processes to success.

"Transformation" is derived from the Latin word "transformare". This means to transform. Transforming is more than changing. When transforming, under certain circumstances no stone is left unturned. The familiar is thrown overboard, the new takes up space, even if it cannot yet be understood and penetrated - let alone appear controllable. In order to successfully shape transformation processes in companies, it is important to understand the difference between a change and a transformation.

What is a transformation and what distinguishes it from a change?

A transformation is a structural change, a fundamental transformation of familiar structures that have been established over decades, of defined focal points, familiar competences and internalised beliefs. A transformation is therefore something that redefines the familiar. A transformation breaks with routines, calls on people to leave their comfort zone and to open up the unknown, to dare something new. A transformation is clearly more than a change. It is broader, deeper and more complex. As a result, it evokes even more fears and uncertainty. Many changes happen simultaneously during a transformation without having a clear target or goal in mind.

In a change or a process of change, however, that is precisely what is given. As a rule, the process begins with a clear goal. All decisions and measures are geared towards this goal. Milestones have been defined. Their achievement is measurable - similar to the achievement of the target picture. In a transformation, the picture of the future is vague or non-existent. What will a digital society look like? We do not know. We have isolated ideas about it, but a complete picture with all its opportunities and possibilities, with its risks and disadvantages, none of us has that.

We drive on sight. In the companies and in society. Milestones are difficult to define. This leads to uncertainty in the whole process. Where do we stand? What have we already achieved? What challenges still lie ahead? When will the transformation be complete? These and other questions are omnipresent. But this "driving on sight" holds infinite opportunities, if we take them to is used by know. We can experiment, try things out, approach them step by step, integrate experiences into further development. If we have the courage to do so.

For a transformation to succeed, several interlocking and interrelated changes are needed. A transformation is never complete. It runs continuously like a perpetual motion machine.

A transformation is not a sprint. A transformation is a marathon. Shaping it requires perseverance and the ability to navigate the unknown. People who can do this have a strong inner compass. And these are precisely the people who can lead such transformation processes formally or informally and win others over to help shape them.

But what exactly does leadership mean and what distinguishes it from management?

What is the difference between leadership and management?

The words "management" and "leadership" are often used synonymously. But they are two different things. Processes and crises can be managed. People are managed. While the focus of management is on making something controllable and manageable, leadership is about the opposite. It is about letting go and thus about trust.

How is a transformation to be led?

One obstacle to successful transformation processes is fear. The opposite of fear is trust. Trust is therefore a central element in actively shaping transformations in companies and in our society. Trust has a chance to grow when things are understood and to some extent controllable, i.e. can be managed. This in turn requires leadership. Leadership that enables individuals to act in a self-determined way and to penetrate things at their own pace with their own abilities, to initiate changes, to shape them and to lead them to a defined goal.

Creating these spaces for development, design and decision-making is the task of transformative leadership.

What are the characteristics of this transformative leadership?

Transformative leadership aims to strengthen the self-efficacy of employees. It must Making development possible and Strengthen self-confidence. How does this work in practice?

First: The attitude of the leaders

To lead transformatively, means leading in an unselfish and supportive way - following the self-image of giving others space to develop. Transformative leadership aims to bring people into their self-efficacy in order to dedicate their full potential to shaping transformation. Transformative leadership is always eye-level, benevolent and centred on the individual.

Second: Implementation in everyday leadership

In day-to-day leadership, it is important to let people grasp the meaning of the transformation again and again. Only if they see the whole and their individual actions as meaningful, will they become permanently involved and have confidence in the process and their work.

In order to lead complex and lengthy transformation processes to a successful outcome, the Intrinsically motivated be. They must want to move and change - out of themselves - following a vague goal and idea. For Executives this means that they have to be enthusiastic about being To kindle the fire in others, to help shape them. This Keeping the fire "blazing" for a long timeis the secret of their success and at the same time a demand on one's own leadership personality and the way in which the process is managed. A high tolerance of frustration, a strong focus on solutions and the ability to see failure as an opportunity are therefore indispensable personal competences. What other competences are involved?

  • Have confidence
  • the ability to form high performance teams
  • Assigning needs competence and relinquishing decision-making competence
  • Hand over responsibility
  • Create transparency
  • Welcome mistakes and allow failure
  • Create development spaces
  • Promote innovation
  • Continuously develop oneself further
  • Create structures

Let's look at these competences in detail.

Have confidence

Lack of trust makes development of any kind impossible, including transformation. A lack of trust does not allow high-performance teams to emerge, to think outside the box, to try things out and to experiment. A lack of trust makes a constructive error culture impossible and thus destroys creativity and innovation. That is why Trust a key role in the area of transformational leadership.

For trust to emerge and grow, a character of integrity is just as necessary as competence. Freedom from fear and a deep self-confidence help to trust others as well.

It is the task of leaders in transformative leadership to promote the self-confidence of their fellow human beings through praise and recognition, enabling self-definition, self-organisation of one's own area of responsibility within a defined framework and allowing for failure.

The ability to form high performance teams

High-performance teams are distinguished from "normal" teams by "blind" trust. So that this trust endures even when there are personnel changes in the team, the selection process, the onboarding or integration of new team members, but also the process of leaving are of central importance.

Shaping these processes is also the task of the managers.

Assigning needs competence and relinquishing decision-making competence

The transformation will only be able to be shaped if everyone can decide the things that promote and maintain trust in the process. Of course, this changes as competencies grow. It is important that leaders develop the tact to hand over decision-making competencies appropriately and trust others to make decisions. This goes hand in hand with accepting a "yes" as a "yes" and a "no" as a "no". 

Hand over responsibility

Giving up responsibility as a leader implies seeing one's own environment as equal and mature. This can only be achieved if a leader accepts himself or herself as he or she is; and from this self-confidence grows trust in others.

Letting go of responsibility also means not having a claim to power. On the contrary, leaders who let go do not need to bear sole responsibility for further development, for success. In doing so, they make others "co-creators".

Create transparency

One of the competences of transformative leadership is to create transparency. This presupposes that information and knowledge advantage are not understood and used as an instrument of power, but that information and knowledge are seen as an elementary part of successful transformation processes.

The prerequisite for this is freedom from fear. Why? Because then

  • everyone has the confidence that they are needed and valued and that knowledge advantage is not needed as an instrument of power,
  • everyone is equal and is seen as equal,
  • everyone can use the information and knowledge to develop.

Creating transparency means communicating on the basis of facts and presenting an issue from different perspectives in a value-free way. The aim of this fact-based, non-judgemental communication is that everyone can form their own opinion.

Transparency in transformation processes However, it also means making comprehensible decisions and making information and knowledge accessible to all those involved, so that a learning culture is lived and everyone benefits from "the Intelligence of the swarm" profit.

Welcome mistakes and allow failure

In our society, we judge mistakes as an expression of negligence, lack of competence or insufficient willingness to take responsibility. Therefore, many see "making mistakes" as a personal stigma that brings shame and gnaws away at self-confidence. This cycle of a lack of tolerance for mistakes gives rise to a fear of trying out new things, thinking outside the box, going new ways - in other words, being innovative.

But a transformation requires exactly that. Daring to do something new, thinking outside the box, trying things out, experimenting, "back to square one", researching, combining - in other words, being innovative. That is why establishing a constructive culture of error is a management task.

I even go so far as to ask: "Can there be errors in a transformation at all?" How do we measure that things or decisions are flawed? In complex transformation processes, we often only gain this knowledge with a considerable time lag. Therefore, it is not about correcting mistakes, but about re-evaluating decisions made under changed conditions and information.

Create development spaces

Transformative leadership requires inviting others to take responsibility for themselves, their own development and that of the team, i.e. also to take on leadership. This requires that leaders:

  • Giving space instead of constricting, 
  • Encourage instead of demand, 
  • Let others be instead of patronising them, 
  • listen and ask questions instead of saying and
  • exemplify how to overcome fear.

Leaders who live transformative leadership also see leadership for themselves as an interplay between leading and being led.

Promote innovation

As already outlined, innovation and error culture are closely linked. But innovation is much more than a constructive approach to mistakes. To be innovative, you need to see the big picture, you have to think in a networked way and be able to completely exclude the existing from your thinking. This is easier if you do not deal with the topic of the question at all in everyday life, but are an "outsider" in the field, so to speak.

Therefore, it is crucial for a transformation to form interdisciplinary teams and to enter into (changing) cooperations. This will only succeed if all Trust in the team and cooperation or innovation partnership. Conversely, this means, that people lose the fear that knowledge will be "betrayed".

Continuously develop yourself

Leaders are challenged to Continuously develop themselves and learn permanently. This includes above all the Ongoing development of one's own personality: releasing fears and rigid behavioural patterns and strengthening self-awareness and self-confidence.

Furthermore, it is a question of developing an attitude which The search for the perfect solution is subordinated to a step-by-step approach, to experimenting and getting things done.

Create structures

Although this competence may seem surprising at first glance, it is of central importance. Establishing structures in complex, unclear, time-unlimited situations creates trust. It is important that these structures remain flexible and that their meaningfulness and usefulness are questioned again and again. Structures in transformation processes are "living organisms". It is therefore important that there are no power or status symbols associated with them, but that they serve the cause alone.


Transformative leadership is a prerequisite for successful transformation processes

Transformation gains momentum when we engage many people to think outside the box, experiment and "just do it". We can encourage and support these people through transformative leadership. This succeeds above all with trust, self-confidence and relational trust. It is the task of leaders to create this trust, to strengthen it and to maintain it even in the face of setbacks. Continuously working on one's own confidence and minimising one's own fears is a central element of one's own further development. Leadership at eye level, committed to the cause and not to maintaining power, is necessary to awaken and strengthen the self-efficacy of all those involved in the process.

Transformative leadership is essential in organisations, companies and our society if we want to actively shape the change from an industrial to a digital society for our own good.

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