Know Thyself: 5 Roles to Adopt When Leading Through Transformation
January 30, 2023
January 30, 2023

Transformation: Love it or hate it, the Big T is here to stay. The most meaningful transformations—the ones with real future-defining potential—are often the result of a new or updated corporate strategy.   

At Navigate, it is one of our strongly held opinions that your business’s strategy is only as good as your ability to implement it. Although 68% of executives believe their business excels at developing a strategy, 61% agree that their organizations struggle to bridge the divide between conception and execution. 

Turning your strategic vision into reality, and modeling the behaviors necessary to make that shift, is a make-or-break moment for leaders—and these leaders’ efficacy can, in turn, make or break the transformation itself. Leaders cast large shadows, and to be effective in times of change, they need to adopt distinct styles of operating, communicating, problem-solving, and influencing. 

Because there’s leadership, and then there’s leadership through transformation. To nail the latter, you must first acknowledge that the leadership capabilities that got you to the starting line won’t carry you all the way through to the finish. We leveraged our depth of experience and identified five distinct roles or capabilities that we believe are essential for executives to cultivate when leading through transformation. By becoming fluent in each role, and flexing fluidly between them as circumstances evolve, leaders (and by extension, their organizations) are better positioned to succeed.

But first, you need to understand the full extent of your current organizational capabilities, where your leaders’ individual strengths lie, and where you have work to do.  

Ready, set, assess

The implications of transformation are far-reaching, so it can be tempting to make yours headline news, complete with leadership speeches and town halls, the establishment of task forces, internal announcements, and even branded swag. However, this puts the cart before the horse and ignores the hardest work—the work leaders need to fully engage in, day in and day out—to see change through. 

Before making any grand proclamations, it’s crucial to get a clear reading of your top executives who will be seeing the change through. What are their “default settings”—the automatic or instinctive styles of leading they’ve come to rely on for years, or perhaps their entire careers? How do they read situations and determine how to engage? Digging into these instincts and default settings will enable you to identify areas for adjustment and improvement, which is step one toward your ultimate goal of achieving a successful transformation. 

The many faces of transformational leadership

In our work guiding organizations through the seas of change—transformational change or other major shifts affecting large numbers of employees—we’ve identified five roles that leaders must be able to play at any given time. Gaining proficiency in each of these roles, and correctly assessing which is most effective for any given situation, helps leaders meet the challenges ahead, whether that means deciding a new direction, steering the ship through choppy waters, or communicating a change in course. 

The Strategist: A visionary who can see oncoming obstacles (and proactively maneuver around them), the Strategist has the aptitude to create a path forward and the agility and decisiveness needed to keep initiatives on track.

The Pilot: Self-aware and unflappable under pressure, the Pilot identifies and manages their own biases, routinely revisiting goals and reevaluating demands to conscientiously manage capacity and effort. 

The Empath: Armed with an understanding of what drives motivation and how to build trust, the Empath harnesses passion and excitement—as well as fear and apprehension—into action that pushes teams forward while also prioritizing individualized attention and one-on-one mentorship.

The Player-Coach: Active on the field and off, the Player-Coach primes teams for progress, motivates them along the way, provides feedback and accountability, and at times, gets in the game to push the ball forward.

The Storyteller: As a persuasive communicator and active listener skilled at transferring key information to stakeholders, the Storyteller rallies the organization around transformation, strategically sharing insights to generate the excitement and buy-in necessary for project success.

Chances are, some of these traits will match with certain leaders’ personal styles—but there will also be some that don’t. Like any other skill or competency, these roles need to be practiced over time to gain true proficiency. This requires leaders to develop situational and self awareness, which will help them discern when and how to apply each.

Context matters

It’s important to be aware of the context in which leaders operate, which may be fraught with unpredictability and chaos, recent turnover, an overwhelming workload, and organizational resistance to change. Our team at Navigate takes these variables into consideration when working with leaders.

Our approach is adaptive and open-minded: We listen closely and ask thoughtful questions, working with leaders and teams to understand what’s working and what isn’t. Our focus on relationships helps us build rapport and trust, meet you where you are, and provide clear communication, candid feedback, and actionable support. 

It takes time to build these capabilities and feel comfortable using them. We’ve helped countless leaders maneuver through the fog of transformation and adopt the behaviors necessary to catalyze others in their organization to act—enabling people at all levels to bring the strategic vision to life. If you’re gearing up for a major organizational change, we’d love to chat.