The Successful Transformation Series | Part 2: Transformation means transforming leadership

The Successful Transformation Series | Part 2: Transformation means transforming leadership

24 August 2020
Gerrit Sarens
Gerrit Sarens
  • Stuck in the middle

  • In these times of widespread transformations, Ambits is all about successful transformation. Transformation that is genuinely adopted by people on the floor.

    Transformation in a dynamic business environment demands a lot from middle managers. When they do not immediately perform as expected because the stretch is too big, middle managers are often criticized and blamed, creating fear, doubt and self-criticism.

  • When C-suite executives dream up big visions, middle managers are the ones responsible for making those ideas a reality. Middle managers wield significant power when it comes to employee engagement. When the company shows middle managers that they’re valued and sets realistic expectations for success, middle managers will become your company’s superheroes. These are the folks who represent the true interface between management and the workforce. So, it’s pretty clear why they'd be invested.

    HR Dive, (2016), Why 'middle managers' are an employer's most important leaders.
  • For middle managers, the personal development of their employees may not always be the highest priority because of time pressures, constant short-term firefighting or lack of skills. On top of this, managers are often centered on performance evaluations, which reduces the openness of team members towards their manager.

  • Strangely, at most companies, coaching isn’t part of what managers are formally expected to do. Even though research makes it clear that employees value learning and career development above most other aspects of a job, many managers don’t see it as an important part of their role. Managers think they don’t have the time to have these conversations, and many lack the skill. Yet 70% of employee learning and development happens on the job, not through formal training programs. So if line managers aren’t supportive and actively involved, employee growth is stunted. So is engagement and retention.

    Harvard Business Review, (2014), You Can’t Be a Great Manager If You’re Not a Good Coach.
  • Transformational Business mentoring

  • Business Mentoring is designed to support both C-level managers and middle managers under pressure. Mentoring generally fosters a longer lasting relationship between mentor and mentee, and focuses on longer-term development of both the business and the people leading it. A mentor has been defined as: “a more experienced individual willing to share their knowledge with someone less experienced in a relationship of mutual trust.”

  • The mentor’s primary function is to be a transformational figure in an individual’s development.

    Clutterbuck, D. (1991). Everyone needs a mentor.
  • See the system

  • Effective transformation of a business requires the transformation of the business leaders and the reigning culture at the different levels in the organization. Therefore, Business Mentoring envisions the transformation of leadership.

    • At an individual level, it will mean closing skill gaps, tapping into unused talent, increasing engagement and improving work pressure.
    • At a team level, a transformation will need to tackle toxic team dynamics and inter-personal conflicts.
    • At the organizational level, Business Mentoring may need to build a new culture, overcome organizational trauma or inertia or work on the leadership’s tone of communication.
  • It just doesn’t help to take care of one element in the system.

  • An approach based on systems thinking may be needed to address and solve issues at all three levels, that simultaneously reinforce each other.

    You might consider the organization as an eco-system in which air, water, plants and animals work together to survive or perish.

    It just doesn’t help to take care of one element in the system.

Struggles of a manager

Managers are

  • not or inadequately trained in this role


    • lack self-confidence
    • don’t know how to go from being a colleague to being a boss
    • need to loosen up on the command & control leadership style
    • must let go of the (technical) expert status
    • cannot give or accept constructive feedback
    • feel pressure to perform as manager
    • have difficulty building relationships
    • want to be liked by everyone or want to be the ‘bad boss’
    • play the hero
  • are struggling


    • stay too involved in operations
    • have trouble prioritizing
    • cannot delegate
    • fear conflict situations
    • disconnect from the team
    • deal with flawed strategic thinking
    • do not relate to higher management
    • lack clear communication skills
    • remain not self-aware
    • avoid difficult conversations
    • miss political antennas
    • ...
  • capable of more


    • need mental preparation as successor
    • need to be able to lead big changes ahead
    • need to learn to be emotionally resilient and in control
    • need to learn to make big decisions fast without all the information
    • must become persuasive presenters
    • need to learn how to cultivate their own personal brand
    • need to learn how to lead by example
    • manage by trust, not by fear
    • need to overly develop empathy
    • ...
Subscribe to Ambits Insights

Subscribe to Ambits Insights

Our newsletter is about leadership development through business mentoring (max. 1/month).