Sue and Jeb were finished eating and Sue invited Jeb to walk across the street to a nearby park. It was a bright, sunny summer morning, and it wasn’t long before they saw butterflies alighting on the various flowers. Sue stopped and pointed them out. Then she asked Jeb what he knew about the growth of a butterfly. A bit confused, he quickly recalled they start out as a caterpillar, then go into a cocoon, and finally emerge as a butterfly. “That’s right,” said Sue. “But did you know that butterflies go through four stages—egg, larva, pupa and adult? Each stage has a different goal. And at every stage it’s still a butterfly, even though it doesn’t look like one.”
Jeb was beginning to understand. Both the Transformer toy and the butterfly start out looking different from their final state, less effective with untapped capabilities. But in order to reach their full potential, they must undergo change. The process of change leverages their existing strengths in new and different ways. They become stronger and are able to really fulfill the purpose for which they were created. Anything else is falling short of the reason for their existence.
As he sat through a variety of company sponsored leadership classes over the years, Jeb always felt like someone was trying to change him from the person he truly was. He resisted some of the lessons shared during those times in order to be “true to himself”; it felt odd to try behavior to which he wasn’t accustomed. Now he understood it wasn’t about becoming someone he wasn’t. It was about understanding, leveraging, and applying his strengths with a different emphasis to gain better results. His intellect, personality, and passions were still the same. But he needed to recognize how to leverage them to improve his relationships with coworkers, manage organizational politics, and understand the business environment around him.
Jeb mentally kicked himself for being so thick-headed. Sue smiled and told him how long she had been waiting for this moment—for him to realize the need for transforming his leadership approach. She had broached the subject many times over the years, but to no avail. Sue recognized Jeb had to be ready. He had to hit his head against the proverbial brick wall long enough until he became committed to the need to change from within. It couldn’t come as pressure from someone else.
Sue was gracious in never giving up on Jeb. She reminded him there were four key elements to think about regarding his transformation.
Here are four key elements you can use like Jeb to transform your leadership approach:
- Authenticity – This isn’t about becoming like someone else. This is understanding the most effective qualities of leadership and connecting them with his own strengths.
- Motivation – Change doesn’t occur without reaching a tipping point of readiness. This occurred when Jeb finally recognized the current state was no longer viable and envisioned the future in a way to pull him forward.
- Visibility – Transformation starts on the inside, usually with a shift in values. But It is accompanied by a visible change in behavior or appearance recognized by others.
- Results – True transformation is followed by manifesting a different outcome.
Jeb was all in now. He was committed to transformation and understood the need. Though nothing had happened yet, his spirit felt lighter because he had a better vision of the future. And Sue’s confidence in his ability to transition to the next level was encouraging.
Their two hours together had flown quickly, and Sue had to get to another meeting. “But wait,” said Jeb, “where and how do I start? Do I pull out all the leadership material I’ve accumulated on my bookshelves and just start reading it?” Sue smiled. “That’s a good start,” she said. “But meet me next Saturday morning and I’ll share with you the seven Stepping Stones I’ve found to be helpful in this process.”
Jeb drove home contemplating his future. The challenges with many of his projects were still there, but he felt he had a path forward to become a stronger leader, with increased effectiveness in the organization.
When he arrived at his office on Monday morning, the first thing he did was to pull out the materials from corporate leadership trainings he had participated in over the past several years. In particular, he sat down and studied a leadership profile from an assessment he took six months ago. Frankly, he hadn’t spent as much time with it as he should have. Yet now as he read through it, he became more aware of how his attitude and approach impacted the results within the organization. He looked forward anxiously to his next meeting with Sue, wondering what she would share with him.
Jeb arrived early the following Saturday morning and was sipping his coffee when Sue sat down and gave him a sheet of paper with seven words on it: purpose, perspective, values, traits, behaviors, tools, and ideas. He read them quickly, then looked to her with interest. After they ordered breakfast, she told him her most significant accomplishment during her 40-year career was to be able to look back at the leaders she developed along the way. Coming from someone with her technical accomplishments, numerous patents, and industry awards, this surprised Jeb.
Sue continued by sharing that over the years she identified seven stepping stones that provide a vantage point for leaders to be more effective in their roles and gain improved results with their teams. She recognized that by virtue of their position and responsibilities, leaders always have a better vantage point than others in the organization, understand the broader impact of decisions and behaviors, and influence outcomes at more levels of the organization. These stepping stones help leaders to positively impact their leadership results and reach their peak effectiveness.
Sue went on to explain the meaning of each stepping stone. Her decades of experience led her to the conclusion that as a collective, these concepts form the keys to equip leaders for success. In her last few years with the company, she began to gather a number of articles that helped explain each concept better. She offered to send him a group of articles on each topic every few weeks so that he could read and learn from them. In particular, she told him they would offer practical steps he could use to apply what he learned. Jeb jumped at the chance to continue to absorb Sue’s wisdom. He was becoming more aware of his need for development and knew she would guide him well in the process. Jeb went home energized, waiting for Sue’s email with articles on the first topic, Leadership Purpose.