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Challenging traditional leadership styles allows transformation to take root and flourish, ultimately driving business growth. Here’s how you can activate your own change to ensure a wider transformation.

Why do business transformations fail? It isn’t the tech, it isn’t the processes and it isn’t the people; transformations fail when leaders don’t activate their own personal change along with the rest of the organization.

The statistics are consistent – over 70 percent of transformation efforts fail to return adequately on the investments made in them within the targeted timeline. This is especially true for digital transformations where millions are spent on modernizing systems and processes.

Transformations fail when leaders don’t activate their own personal change along with the rest of the organization.

It’s easy to point fingers at systems integrators and the technology, or to blame users for resisting something new. Executives who defend their failed investments to boards, investors, colleagues or customers have a whole rotation of explanations.

What they usually don’t mention is how, at an executive level, they hampered their success by failing to lead together as an aligned team to transform the organization.

Change How You Lead

Senior leaders are generally pretty good at pushing along emails that have been written to depict them as ‘sponsors’ of change. They hit the bullet points in the town halls and execute on the recognition programs. They sign off on training for users and make SMEs available – in other words, they do everything they need to do to change other people.

They externalize the change, staying on the sidelines as a cheerleader for the effort and ticking the boxes for their sponsor roles.

The problem is that transformation requires more from senior leaders than good sponsorship. They can’t be on the sidelines – they have to get in the game. They must figure out how to lead together differently if they want to transform their organizations.

That’s why I’m always telling executive teams that if they don’t have to change how they lead, they aren’t transforming their companies.

Seared into my memory is a conversation I had years ago with a very angry CFO who had invested millions in a new enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. The CFO was frustrated because the pace of adoption and return on investment wasn’t where he thought it should be.

Like many ERP implementations, the users had pushed back on process changes and their respective executives, including the CFO, had backed their resistance, coming up with all sorts of reasons why they couldn’t accept the standard approach recommended by the systems integrator.

Everyone in the organization knew that the top leaders were not willing to change, and it set the standard for the rest of the transformation efforts.

In doing so, the executives had sent a clear signal to the organization that they were not willing to change how they led the business. And, they had forced customizations that bloated the effort and caused configuration challenges.

Everyone in the organization knew that the top leaders were not willing to change, and it set the standard for the rest of the transformation efforts.

The source of the resistance from users was valid because they were protecting their ability to provide executives with what they needed to run the business the way they always had. Everything from report layouts to data configurations were being recreated in the new system so that executives wouldn’t have to see or do anything different.

When users couldn’t get the ERP system to recreate existing reports, they resorted to building them in offline files (often stored on their local hard drives), creating a data integrity problem as well as duplicate work for themselves and others.

They weren’t doing all that work for fun. Senior leaders had been demanding that they get the same information they’d always used in the same format they were accustomed to seeing, so they could continue leading the business the same way they always had.

Activating Change

Through my work with Karrikins Group, I’ve observed hundreds of senior leaders express a firm commitment to all types of transformation. Despite their willingness to sponsor change, they often fall into the familiar trap of failing to start with themselves and understanding how they need to lead differently in the transformed business.

They avoid altering their own behaviors, contributing to stasis that hampers progress and return on investment. They often do all the superficial sponsorship activities right, such as sending emails, hitting bullet points, approving training and the like.

Sticking to old leadership ways impedes transformation and leads to delayed or missed results.

But, by failing to tackle their own leadership transformation, both as individual leaders and as a team, they fall short in ways that materially affect the overall transformation effort.

Genuine transformation necessitates a shift in how organizations are led. It’s not about hands-on training for senior leaders; it’s about understanding new metrics, asking different questions, seeing the business in new ways and tuning into emerging issues.

Leaders have a lot of excuses for not activating their own change. Some of them may sound familiar:


• Complacency in personal development: Leaders believe their existing approach is sufficient, so they avoid the introspection and effort needed for personal change.

• Comfort with dated ways of running the business: Old metrics, familiar reports, expectations by Boards, or other pressures incentivize leaders to maintain the status quo.

• Comms plans are easier than conversations: Leaders rely on carefully curated comms plans instead of having authentic conversations with their teams and broader employee base.

• The badge of busy: Leaders feel they are too busy to invest time and energy changing how they lead, and the business of today is prioritized over the opportunities of tomorrow.


Here’s the thing. Transformation doesn’t happen while leaders are busy doing other things. Leaders must be actively engaged in their own change, not just in checking off the communications tasks someone else concocts for them.

They must tackle the huge task of working together as a leadership team to figure out how to lead differently. Then, they need to make that visible to the rest of the organization as a model for what the transformed business will look like.

Sticking to old leadership ways impedes transformation and leads to delayed or missed results. Challenging them allows transformation to take root and flourish, driving growth and positive outcomes across the business.

Make That Change

If you are in the midst of transforming your organization, here are five questions you should be asking yourself and your other enterprise leaders if you want to fill in the missing piece and figure out how to lead differently as you go forward.


1. How will we as a leadership team need to work differently from what we do today?

2. How do we go beyond sponsorship and start to learn about leading differently in the transformed business?

3. When this transformation effort gets hard, how are we going to work together to move forward instead of dropping back to business as usual?

4. What conversations will we need to have together that we aren’t having today?

5. How can we demonstrate our own growth and development to our colleagues in support of this transformation?


At Karrikins Group, we like to remind executives that “nothing changes until someone changes, and that someone is probably you”. By visibly investing time and effort in personal change, leaders and leadership teams can accelerate results and energize the transformation process.

I believe that this missing piece can be the difference between a successful and unsuccessful transformation. Because it isn’t the tech, it isn’t the processes, it isn’t the users. It’s the leaders that hold back success.

Julie Williamson

Contributor Collective Member

Julie Williamson, PhD, is a Managing Partner at Karrikins Group as well as an experienced keynote speaker and author. A leading voice in how alignment can transform leaders and organizations, Julie has worked around the world with some of the largest companies, helping them set and execute on strategy and transformation. Her background in business, technology and social science gives her a unique perspective on solving the challenges that live in that reality. Find out more at https://karrikinsgroup.com/meet-karrikins/julie-williamson/

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