How Leaders Change Organizations

June 27, 2017


One of the terms I see frequently in literature on Leadership is “transformational leadership.”  This term was coined by Dr. James Burns, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian who studied great leaders in history and authored a book called Leadership in 1978. Since then, there has been a lot of research done and a model of transformational leadership has been developed. But the basic definition of transformational leadership is leadership that identifies needed change, creates a vision to guide the change, and executes the change in tandem with the organization.

What are some of the key ways that leaders can change people’s behavior?


Set a vision and expect your people to live up to it.

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal would serve to organize the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone and one we intend to win…” – John F. Kennedy

In just 3 short years, John F. Kennedy’s vision for what could be accomplished set in motion the most ambitious and far-reaching national endeavor that had yet been conceived for the United States, involving scientists, servicemen, private contractors, public officials, engineers and military personnel. It not only galvanized the nation toward a strategic goal then, but it far outlived the president who set the vision, and it still inspires us today. This type of leader is “comfortable on the edge of uncertainty.” They understand that growth does not occur on a known path.

This leadership capability, called Inspirational Motivation, involves the courage to set a vision without knowing exactly how it can be achieved, coupled with the absolute confidence that your people can achieve it. As articulated by Harvard Business Review, this is the “pull” method of inspiring others, ass opposed to the “push” method.

Understand your business as a system for which you (the leader) are responsible.

“A bad system will beat a good person every time.”  William Edwards Deming

In 1960, The Prime Minister of Japan awarded Dr. W. E. Deming Japan’s Second Order Medal of the Sacred Treasure. The citation on the medal credits Deming for Japan’s industrial rebirth and its worldwide success.

In his four-day seminars and in the famous documentary “If Japan Can... Why Can’t We?” Dr. Deming insisted that management causes 85% of all the problems in any company. That’s because management is responsible for the system, and the system constrains performance. Compare the flow chart Deming used in his seminars with the typical org chart structure. Deming’s diagram illustrates how things really work, while the org structure only illustrates the flows of organizational power.


The flow diagram was the spark that in 1950 and onward turned Japan around. It displayed to top management and to engineers a system of production. The Japanese had knowledge, great knowledge, but it was in bits and pieces, uncoordinated. This flow diagram directed their knowledge and efforts into a system of production, geared to the market—namely, prediction of needs of customers. The whole world knows about the results.

W.E. Deming, The New Economics for Industry, Government, Education

Dr. Deming also insisted that this system produces nearly all performance and behaviors and so leadership, as the owner of the system, is responsible for the company’s performance. This ties into the Idealized Influence component of transformational leadership – the leader “walks the talk,” and has the ability to really SEE the problems in the system.

Know how to empower your people.

“People won’t go down a long corridor unless there’s something promising at the end. You have to have something that beckons them to ‘walk this way.’”  - Walt Disney

It’s not hard to get people to agree that empowering employees is important, but how many leaders have really put a system in place to achieve this goal?  According to the Disney Institute (a consulting firm that helps companies apply Disney’s management systems), even at the beginning, Walt and his brother Roy acknowledged each other’s areas of competence and trusted each other to support the “dreams” with their own respective skills.  This is the sort of empowerment that great leaders manifest – they trust their careers to the people that they surround themselves with. This ties into both the Intellectual Stimulation and Individualized Consideration aspects of Transformational Leadership, because it seeks to understand the motivations of each person on the team, as well as utilize the creativity and problem-solving of each person on the team.

If you want to know more about Transformational Leadership, take a look at this well-organized background literature review by the leadership development organization IMD.

Topics: Business Best Practices

Selene Crosby

Six Sigma Expert

Ms. Crosby has 20 years of experience developing, implementing and improving successful business processes and projects in both technical and non-technical environments. Her areas of expertise include process improvement methodologies, process mapping, business process automation, analysis, project management, audit and internal controls processes, technical writing and training design. She is a Certified Analytics Professional (CAP), holds a Six Sigma black belt, Lean Bronze certification and an Innovation Engineering black belt. Ms. Crosby has been the Program Manager for Analytics Transformation at Andeavor Corporation (formerly Tesoro), worked in the Process Engineering Section at Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) as part of the Texas Manufacturing Assistance Center (TMAC) program, assisting small to mid-sized manufacturers in becoming competitive in an increasingly global economy by becoming aware of and implementing process improvement and business strategies. Ms. Crosby held a variety of roles at Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati OH from September 1998 to June 2012 and attained internal P&G certifications including Continuous Improvement, Business Process Transformation and High Impact Training. .
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