What makes a good transformation leader? It might not be what you think!

I recently sent some of my clients a link to a recent Harvard Business Review article that poses this same question specifically about digital transformation. Tech/digital change is something that any thriving business will be going through forever. Digital speeds up our change and keeps it happening….

As my clients quickly identified, they ‘knew’ some of the people and had similar issues in their teams. In the article by Nathan Furr, Jur Gaarlandt, and Andrew Shipilov, they give us a choice of leaders:

• The Insider with a proven track record but doesn’t know much about digital
• The Young Digital Guru who’s just led a new category expansion at Amazon
• The Sharp ex-consultant with experience advising clients on digital

Whom would you pick to lead a team that is meant to transform the way your customers do business with your company? Or how your processes and data are managed – across your entire business?

The young digital guru knows ‘the space,’ has experience at a world-class high-tech company with all the credentials, and led a successful team there. She’s young and unencumbered by old ways of thinking and working.

The consultant who has advised the highest levels of businesses might be the ‘right guy.’ He’s worked with senior executives at all kinds of companies and has the ‘chops’ to show people how to get it done.

The ‘insider’ delivers but has no digital experience. She’ll be on a steep learning curve on the subject. Seems she might be the weakest choice, right?

Of course, without knowing the business, the candidates, or the culture, we cannot know truly who would be right. As the article points out, the mindset and skillset to truly help an organization transform has nothing to do with technical or technological capability. Sometimes that makes a leader less open to new ideas, as they think their own knowledge and ideas are better.

Here’s the rub. The consultant might be a great addition to the team for strategic planning and stakeholder management. But he’s never delivered anything and has no experience leading teams. The digital guru might be a great teammate for helping with the tech, best practices, and attracting great talent. But she hasn’t really had to influence people, teams, and departments of legacy, long-term employees who are used to their ways of working. Her experience is with techies who love change and largely start with a clean sheet of paper. There is a great opportunity for a lack of mutual empathy and misalignment. Resistance kills speed and momentum.

Your best change leaders may be right under your roof. When you have the opportunity to empower someone who knows your company – the fabric, the culture, the fears and doubts, the org chart as well as the power map, then your project will likely succeed. They have a network. They build alliances. They speak the language, and they have credibility. Look inside for your brilliant change agents, and be sure that they connect, listen and learn before taking any other action.



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