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Successful transformation: leadership and commitment

Simon Close

Most people recognize that leadership is key to transformation success, yet it often remains the most elusive ingredient. Building leadership and commitment is difficult, and organizations frequently underestimate the time and effort it takes.  

It is also the least tangible part of the recipe, which makes it difficult to identify objectively when it is going well. We explore the hallmarks of good transformation leadership and the steps you need to take to secure it. 

Why are leadership and commitment so often overlooked in transformation?  

Transformation requires a specific type of leadership, focusing on challenges that include: 

  • Owning and communicating a shared ambition, and explaining why this is in the long-term interest of the organization 
  • Breaking down organizational silos, enabling people to collaborate on the transformation 
  • Overcoming resistance to change and anxiety over the impact on individuals  
  • Helping people deal with ambiguity and uncertainty.  

This can be very different from business-as-usual leadership and too often, leaders are unclear on what is expected of them. They may think that asking for help can be seen as a weakness when often, additional support and/or training would help them upskill for transformation

Beyond this, there are many other factors that can dissuade individual leaders from truly championing a transformation, which makes securing their buy-in difficult. 

This can lead to leaders giving superficial agreement, only to ignore transformation efforts and continue with their own agendas. In more extreme cases, organizations can face real subversion, with people actively undermining the transformation. 

Common barriers to effective transformation leadership


Executive teams are too preoccupied with enormous business-as-usual demands


Concern over the impact of the transformation on a leader’s own position or on the team that they lead


Anxiety that the transformation will be detrimental to operational performance in the short-term


Different departmental priorities are in conflict with the transformation


A lack of experience in large-scale transformation and what good looks like

How to build better transformation leadership and commitment 

The first, and most important point, is to invest time and effort in building a genuine commitment to the transformation. To do this: 

  • Involve as many leaders as possible early in shaping the overall transformation ambition
  • Think about leaders as individuals. Leading change can be particularly difficult when the change will also impact them personally. 
  • Building genuine understanding and ownership will require on-going effort. It’s not a one-off event. 

The organization should invest in developing leaders throughout the organization, not just the senior leadership teamso they can build the new skills required to deliver the transformation. Not all leaders will have experienced big transformations before, so it is very important they are clear on what to do and how to do it, and the behaviors they need to role model to others in the organization.   

The role of the transformation team in driving leadership and commitment 

The transformation team should ensure that difficult discussions take place early. For example:  

  • Are the right people in leadership positions? 
  • Is there the level of leadership commitment needed?  
  • Is the transformation team providing sufficient clarity of direction? 
  • Has the organization given the most talented people the capacity to focus on transformation? 

It is common for the answer to some of these questions to be ‘no’. In such instances, the transformation team should confront the challenges, not shy away from them. While this will likely feel difficult in the short-term, investing effort early on will make the process easier over time. 


How do you break down organizational silos, resolve conflict and focus collective resources on the right priorities?

Step 1.

Establish a shared goal. Ensure people are clear why they are working together and encourage them to proactively share information. 

Step 2.

Forge team connections. Teams work best when there are personal relationships and trust. This process doesn't happen naturally, so you need to dedicate time and effort to build these. 

Step 3.

Provide clarity over decision-making. People feel more empowered if they understand how decisions will be made. 

Make effective transformation leadership a key objective 

If an organization does not invest in ensuring senior leaders are aligned and committed at every stage of the journey, transformation will grow increasingly frustrating and exhausting for everyone involved.  

Delivery then becomes a very lonely task for the transformation team. With no ‘pull’ from the organization, the team has to ‘push’ transformation onto others. That breeds resistance and, in some cases, resentment. 

The specific barriers to strong leadership and commitment may look different for individual organizations but as we’ve discussed, there are some common basic principles for solving these challenges. While there are no shortcuts, success is more likely if building effective transformation leadership is seen as an explicit objective from the outset. From there, teams can take the necessary steps, expending the level of time and effort required to gain both initial buy-in and ongoing commitment.