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When is Transformation Possible?

Consciousness of the need for transformation can occur when leaders have gradually prepared for change and are ready to embrace it, or when they are unprepared for it and life events force them to wake up.

Usually, multiple life events contribute to an individual’s or group’s readiness for transformation. For example, a leader may be aware that her industry is going through profound changes, the exact shape of which won’t be clear for years. At the same time, she may have attended a conference at which she heard another leader describe experiences preparing an organization to deal with these changes. And she may have had a taste of the power of transformative interventions at a leadership development program she attended. The combination of these events sparked commitment to change, to exploring new visions of what she and the organization could become.

Often, the combination of events that opens a leader to change, especially of a personal nature, is less positive. The organization has lost significant revenues. There have been disaffections from its senior ranks in reaction to the leader’s authoritarian style. Negative press stories are further hurting morale. The stress of handling the job is having painful ramifications on the leader’s personal relations. Perhaps she has developed serious physical symptoms from the stress. Too often, failure or trauma—divorce, heart attack, scandal, loss of position, prosecution—occurs before a leader opens to transformation.

The essential steps that make transformation possible are the acknowledgment of the need for change, the admission of blemish, the owning of some responsibility for the current state of affairs, and a glimpse of the potential to become something better.