The “Performer Transformer” Leader … who thrives in a world of relentless change, by simultaneously delivering today and creating tomorrow

June 17, 2022

The “ambidextrous” challenge of a business leader has become increasingly important in a world of relentless change.

Leaders need to be able to deliver high performance today, and simultaneously transform the business for tomorrow. Not just occasionally, but continuously. Not just as a balance, implying a bit of each, but to do both effectively.

25 years ago I wrote an article called “leading in double time”. The same idea. Now it matters more than ever, because leaders are at the heart of economic value creation.

Economic value which is driven partly by performance today, but equally by what you do today to create the profit streams of the future. In the past, the future was not so different from the past, now it most likely is. That’s why transformation is essential, and relentless.

New research by Korn Ferry focuses on these polarities – the ability to perform and transform at the same time:

The report headlines “Today’s leaders are being asked to simultaneously run the business and change the business” and concludes “only 14% of leaders have what it takes.”

“CEOs today are leading in a world moving through crisis and disruption—where challenges have no known solutions, or if they do, there are far too many choices and few clear ones. Yet even while driving change amidst all this uncertainty, they need to keep the trains running on time.”

Perform and Transform can feel like a tension, or a paradox. The challenge is to think otherwise, to embrace a new mindset and capabilities that enable both at the same time.

Scott Anthony, a good friend who leads Innosight, has long explored what he calls “Dual Transformation” – the ability to improve today, while also transforming for tomorrow. His point is that yes, you want to achieve both, but you only have today, and you only have what you have.

Korn Ferry adds “If leaders focus on transformation only, they risk failing to hit their numbers; if they focus on performance only, they risk falling behind their competitors. In reality, they are two sides of the same coin.

Think of today’s demand as a constant sway between performing now and transforming next. Even though the traditional business mindset puts these capabilities at opposite ends of one spectrum, they are not, in fact, mutually exclusive. Rather, they are simultaneous, ambidextrous, and symbiotic—they are true and actionable at once. An enterprise leader can perform as much as possible and transform as much as possible. It’s about maximising both capabilities—and not at the expense of one or the other.

Indeed, many enterprise leaders have sat at the helm of highly transformational companies that delivered extraordinary results. But these top-performing CEOs were once seen as the exception to the business rule. Today, however, more and more organizations are creating Perform-Transform strategic priorities in order to meet the needs of this increasingly complex and uncertain environment. But for companies to implement these agendas successfully, we need a different kind of leader—one who has the capabilities to both perform and transform, along with the capacity and agility to pivot dynamically between the two, all in order to create impact across and beyond the enterprise and broader ecosystem.”

The global environment is more volatile, more interconnected, and more competitive than ever before. Indeed, over 85% of CEOs interviewed by Korn Ferry for its CEOs for the Future study told us the historical “line” between business and society is ever more porous. As a result, CEOs, C-suite leaders, and other senior executives must now respond to multiple stakeholders simultaneously, all while they handle challenges more complex, situations more ambiguous, and duties more significant than their predecessors faced.

5 “Perform Transform” Mindsets

Korn Ferry’s research shows that “Performer Transformer” Leaders grow organisations 6.7% faster than their peers, but less than 14% of executives can be considered as such.

  • Purpose: they believe they should apply and grow their gifts in order to more powerfully give to others, the enterprise, and beyond.
  • Courage across and beyond: they believe in identifying and addressing enterprise problems and opportunities, even when unpopular, fear‑provoking, challenging, or outside their control.
  • Awareness of self and impact: they believe that their ability to deeply understand and continuously learn about themselves and their impact is foundational to maximise their impact across the enterprise.
  • Inclusion that matters: they believe they can multiply impact through connection and inclusion.
  • Integrative thinking: they believe that situations and people need to be interpreted in their dynamic relationship to the enterprise and beyond, balancing the interaction of multiple tensions, and generating creative resolutions that are more than the sum of parts.

Find more great leadership insights from Korn Ferry here.

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