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The Transformation Mindset: 7 lessons from world-leading executive coaches on how to lead through turbulence and change

Recording my podcast ‘The Unlock Moment’ always feels like such a privilege. Sitting in my study with my headphones on and broadcast microphone on the table, I have the opportunity to be in conversation with some of the most high profile corporate leaders and executive coaches on the planet.

The Unlock Moment podcast is listened to in over 70 countries and features some of the highest profile coaches and leaders in the world, talking about the moments of clarity that defined them and shaped their life and career. 

In this article I bring you 7 lessons from some of the best in the business that will help you to embody a transformation mindset in the way you lead.

Lesson 1: Nathan Furr – The Upside of Uncertainty (episode 34)

Nathan Furr is an INSEAD Professor and co-author of “The Upside of Uncertainty: A Guide to Finding Possibility in the Unknown”. He describes the four factors that help leaders to navigate the challenges of uncertainty that go hand in hand with transformation. 

“There are four things we can do to navigate uncertainty with greater courage. One, REFRAME the uncertainty from a source of loss to a source of gain. Two, PRIME or prepare, so when uncertainty happens you are able to navigate it with greater calm. Three, DO – take action effectively to navigate the unknown. And four, SUSTAIN yourself through the inevitable setbacks, disappointments and changes of course that come with uncertainty.”

Are you turning uncertainty into fear or are you turning it into opportunity?

Lesson 2: Seth Goldenberg – Radical Curiosity (episode 39)

Seth Goldenberg is a leading thinker on creative exploration and the author of “Radical Curiosity: Questioning Commonly Held Beliefs to Imagine Flourishing Futures”. He invites us to imagine a radical future and see the world in front of us in opportunity, not in inertia. 

“Believe the extraordinary is possible. We need to flip the narrative that things are not just happening to us and we have no voice in this. All the rules, they were just made by people who were here a little earlier than us. I think it’s extraordinary to just imagine that we are blessed with more tools and more capacity than we ever have been, so the question is not ‘can we do something?’ The question is just ‘what’s worth doing?’"

Is your vision sufficiently radical to have a chance to materially and sustainably move the dial?

Lesson 3: Carol Kauffman – Don’t Hold Back (episode 61)

Carol Kauffman is the founder of the Institute of Coaching at Harvard Medical School and the co-author of “Real-Time Leadership: Find Your Winning Moves When The Stakes Are High”. When facing a challenging moment, her career has been defined by the mantra ‘Don’t Hold Back.’ 

“I had this feeling like, this moment is really important. And so I sat down and asked myself, and this is the Unlock Moment, you would not know me unless it was for this exact moment and what I did with it. I sat down and I said, ‘ok, if there’s a life lesson for me right now, I need to know what it is.’ And the words that came to me were ‘Don’t Hold Back’. I did not realize how important those words would be.”

Are you being sufficiently bold in how you approach the challenge in order to achieve and maintain momentum?

Lesson 4: Whitney Johnson – Disrupt Yourself (episode 63)

Whitney Johnson is a world-leading coach and Wall St Journal best-selling author of books including “Build An A Team” and “Disrupt Yourself”. She has 1.8 million followers on LinkedIn, who tune into her ‘Disrupt Yourself’ mantra and how she applies growth models learnt in the world of investment banking to the growth of people. 

“Loss aversion theory says that we are more motivated by what we lose than what we gain, in fact 2.2x more. And so sometimes when we’re thinking about doing something new, we try to envision all of the good things that will happen if we do that new thing. I find that that sometimes isn’t as helpful, and loss aversion theory proves this out, as saying to yourself ‘what bad thing will happen if I try to stay here?’”

Are you finding the right hook to motivate your team to change?

Lesson 5: Garry Ridge – Reframe Mistakes as Learning Moments (episode 41)

Garry Ridge is the former CEO and Chairman of WD-40 Company, renowned for its progressive coaching culture of servant leadership and employee engagement of 93%, underpinning a 6x increase in revenue and a 10x increase in enterprise value over 25 years.

“That was my Unlock Moment, when I went back to school, when I said ‘I’ve just become the CEO of a US public company.’ I was scared but not afraid. My Unlock Moment was, I had to learn, go back to school, and learn the power of servant leadership. The power of the three most important words I’ve ever learned in my life, ‘I don’t know.’ It was scary. But it was good, and I’m so pleased and grateful that I had the opportunity to do it.”

Are you humble enough to admit when you don’t have all the answers?

Lesson 6: Dr. Ruth Gotian – Do Something Important, Not Just Interesting (episode 51)

Ranked by Thinkers 50 as the #1 emerging management thinker in the world and author of “The Success Factor”, Dr. Ruth Gotian researches the mindset and skill set of peak performers. She describes how the pursuit of goals many felt to be unachievable motivated her to prove them wrong. 

“He said six words that forever changed my life. He said, ‘Do something important, not just interesting.’ It’s really quite fascinating. I am that kind of person that, the more you tell me it can’t be done, the more I need to prove to you how it will be done. And that’s happened over and over and over again. .. And thank you very much to all of the people who said it can’t be done. Because of you, I did it anyway.”

Is your goal big enough to motivate the team to achieve the impossible?

Lesson 7: Dr. Gary Crotaz – Always Invest In Your People

Lastly, drawing on my own experience. People often ask me, “when you look back to your years leading strategy and transformation in organizations in crisis, is there anything you wish you had done differently?” 

We underestimated the impact of developing our people on overall business performance. As a result, when we had to make major budget cuts, developing our people – training, coaching, team building – frequently fell below the line when it came to what was protected. Yet Gallup shows highly engaged organizations perform between c.20% better on productivity and profitability, and experience significantly lower employee turnover than poorly engaged organizations.

So invest in a culture of coaching. Develop your managers to lead with compassion. Assign external coaches to your most senior leaders and establish an internal coaching approach for managers to coach junior team members, supported by digital learning tools. Unlocking the potential in all your people is one of the biggest levers you can pull in executing a successful transformation.

McKinsey cites that 70% of transformations fail. But with these lessons you can lead and establish a resilient and sustained culture of peak performance that will underpin the successful delivery of your transformation initiatives.

If you’ve enjoyed learning from these coaches then you can listen to the full interviews on The Unlock Moment podcast, on Spotify, Apple and all major podcast platforms, as well as at TheUnlockMoment.com.