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Three Characteristics of Transformational Leaders

~ By Bruce Temkin

Blue leadership compass

I work with many companies aiming to become customer-centric organisations. These efforts are never easy, and they always require a multi-year journey. In order for an organisation to sustain a change agenda over that span of time, the senior management team needs to actively lead the effort. What does that mean for those leaders?

In my work, I've observed that the most effective leaders demonstrate three key characteristics:

1. Communicate "Why"

The only way to get people to truly buy-in to change is for them to understand why it's happening. Most executives tend to under-communicate. And when they do communicate, they often focus on "what" the company will be doing and "how" it will get done. Here are some ways that executives can improve their communications:

  • Develop a clear script about "why" the company is going through the change
  • Develop a clear script about "why" the change is good in the long run to your organisation and its employees
  • Make sure that your direct reports fully understand why the change is going on and have their own scripts
  • Make sure that you regularly discuss the "why" in your ongoing communications

2. Model Desired Behaviours

Temkin Group's 6th law of customer experience is simply: "You can't fake it." And we can all learn from New Jersey mayor Corey Booker's mom, who once told the mayor: What you do speaks so loudly that I can't hear what you are saying. Your organisation can tell what's truly important by observing your actions. If people see that you haven't changed, then they won't change either. Here are some ways that you can model new customer-centric behaviours:

  • Look for new ways to use customer feedback; consider regularly calling out to customers
  • Find ways to incorporate voice of the customer data/insights into your decision-making
  • Start asking customer-centric questions like: who is the target audience and how will this help them?
  • Make the change a top item on your meeting agendas; even above the normal operational items
  • Make choices about what meetings you attend or decisions you make based on the signal it sends to the organisation about your support for the change

3. Reinforce Change

It's very easy for organisations to fall back into their regular, "comfortable" routines. So you need to make sure that you continuously reinforce the changed behaviours. Here are some of the things you can work on:

  • Hold your direct reports accountable for change in their organisations
  • Make "leading and supporting change" a key objective that you use to measure your direct reports
  • Publicly recognise and call out people in your organisation that are acting consistently with where the company is heading
  • Don't promote anyone in your organisation, even high performers, if they are not proactively supporting the change
  • Embed the new direction in the hiring and new employee on-boarding process
  • Ask people in your organisation what you could be doing to more effectively support the change
  • Develop personal goals every quarter for how you will reinforce the change

The bottom line: Transformation takes strong, committed leadership.


Bruce Temkin is Customer Experience Transformist and Managing Partner of Temkin Group. He is widely viewed as a leading expert in how organisations build differentiation with customer experience. He has worked with hundreds of large organisations on the strategies, operational processes, organisational structures, leadership, and culture required to sustain superior customer relationships. Bruce works with executive teams to define the right strategy and develop plans for accelerating the path to customer experience improvements. Bruce is the author of the popular blog Customer Experience Matters where he regularly posts insights on topics such as customer experience, branding, leadership, and employee engagement.


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