The Human Heart of Transformation: An interview with Michael Leckie Author & Coach To The C-Suite

I had the pleasure to speak to Michael Leckie, author of The Heart of Transformation and executive coach to C Suite, CEO and transformational leaders for global organisations. In this interview Michael shares his perspectives on exactly what is at the heart of transformation, the capabilities required to lead it and a glimpse into the role of the CEO . 



[00:00:00] Who is Michael Leckie?

[00:02:27]  The human heart of transformation

[00:04:09] What is digital transformation?

[00:05:52] The Six Capabilities required for successful transformation 

[00:10:12]  Examples of successful transformation 

[00:13:17]  How important is it to have the right strategy?

[00:16:54] What is an expirational leader and why you need one. 

[00:20:38] The capabilities required to be an effective transformational leader

[00:23:12]  The role of the CEO

[00:25:41] The challenges of being a C Suite executive leader and how can an executive coach help

[00:28:54] The role of humility in effective leadership and can it be learned?

[00:33:53] The role of motivation, measurement and rewards  in digital transformation. 

[00:38:00] What capabilities and attributes to look for in senior and future leaders

[00:41:20] Beyond executive coaching, sharing knowledge and giving back

[00:45:56] Where to find more from Michael Leckie




Who is Michael Leckie?

Tim Ellis [00:00:00] You’ve spent a number of years working with some fairly major organizations, actually, Bloomberg, Gartner to name a few. But now you started your own LLC, the Silverback Partners. So what I’m really interested in, … a little bit about you. So the first question really is who is Michael Leckie? What’s your mission?


Michael Leckie [00:00:16] The second part is easy to answer. I actually remember Rodd Wagner, who used to be with Gallup, who’s author of multiple books now, and a great guy told me once that one of the Gallop questions they ask when they’re interviewing you to be a consultant, there is, What’s your mission? And he said, one of the things they do is also people who hesitate or aren’t quite sure. They tend to step back from because they want someone who really knows what they’re going for. And so he asked me that one day at dinner, and I said, “I think it’s to make the world a better place to live and work one organization at a time.” And the only thing that’s changed in that over probably the last 20 years is trying to make the world a better place to live and work. But I’m trying to do it with more than one organization at a time, hence writing the book and some of the things I do. But for me, it intertwines like how do we spend so much time at work? So much of our life we give so much. Should it mean so much to us? How do we make that better? And I’m not talking about like perks or benefits from talking about how do we make it meaningful, high impact, rewarding, something that we really believe in, but also create for me an environment where we have the capability of change so we can evolve because so much lack of change is hurting our organizations. And I think making us unhappy when we can’t change is where it needs to go. So that’s my mission as far as who Michael Leckie is. It’s funny, I have the two children in their young twenties and they once asked me not long ago about, well, how did you plan out your career? And I said,  that would have been a really good idea, plan out the career. But it’s really just in a series of great mistakes and trying things and going where the growth is. And as as the great 20th century philosopher Cher said, If you’re not willing to look foolish, you’ll never have a shot at greatness. So letting myself look foolish and just try things and do it, and that’s brought me here through a number of corporate jobs. I was in large scale consulting, like with Arthur Andersen, the small consulting with a great little firm called Stewart Living and Associates. And I worked for Gartner for many years, General Electric to Bloomberg. And then about three years ago, I decided I wanted to take all that and see what could I do to take what I’ve learned and what I’ve been given by all those great organizations and people I’d worked with and for, and do something interesting, give something back, and maybe work in a space that I thought had some real challenges like change management and change and transformation, building culture.


The human heart of transformation

Tim Ellis [00:02:27] So you mentioned in your book actually the title, you’re very human centric in the sense that you’re looking at things from a human perspective and how to change organizations for good. So what does that mean? And what does good actually mean as far as organization is concerned?


Michael Leckie [00:02:41] Yeah, yeah, I guess it’s a bit of non-greasy double entendre there with the good, but it’s changed them in a permanent sense, but also change them for the better. And yeah, you’re right. I definitely approach you from a human perspective and some may argue it’s because I’m not maybe technically savvy enough to approach it from a technological or a systems perspective. But really what I found over the years working in in so many organizations around change and having the privilege at Gartner, working with literally thousands of C-suite leaders, especially in the technology space who are driving or bringing change about, was that they’d say to me, Michael, it’s not the technology. We can figure that out and it’s not the processes and the systems, so we can figure that out. It’s the people. And are they embracing or not embracing, understanding or not understanding? And we kept hearing about resistance to change all the time. But when it got down to it, that was the part that they were struggling with the human part and the leadership part of that human part. And so I really got interested in that and thought, okay, how do we crack that code? And for me, it got very simple. I say that change is an individual sport played in pairs and small groups that leads to something system wide as opposed to starting with something system wide and hoping all the individuals will follow along. So a bit of a different end of the spectrum to focus on systemic change, not starting with the system. That’s where I come from. That’s the philosophy behind the things that I do.


What is digital transformation?

Tim Ellis [00:04:09] Fantastic. So where does digital transformation fit into this? Is it a big part or is it how do you see it? What’s the what’s your definition To ask a very obvious question, but how do you see digital transformation?


Michael Leckie [00:04:21] Yeah, digital transformation is transformation in a digital context. All transformation. But digital happens to be one of the biggest contexts because the movement of the technology has outpaced the organization. There’s some of my analyst colleagues when I worked at Gartner would say that there’s three things that have to line up for transformation. The first one is the technology, which they said is by far the easiest part and the one that generally leads. And then second was the culture and the organization, the people or the society. And third was the really tough one, the regulatory environment. But when I looked at that, I thought, yeah, digital transformation is most of the transformation I’ve been involved in has been driven by digital because it’s created new threats, it’s created new opportunities. It used to be that the barriers to entry were much higher, and then we saw those barriers not drop, but shift. When competitors stopped entering the space we were in and created a brand new space near Amazon when they first started selling books, they didn’t enter the bookstore business, they entered the selling books business and they kept expanding that business, just the selling business. And so they saw the world differently and changed it. But it brought a brand new threat. And so most people were like, The threat is coming from a digital space. We are transforming the digital way, which is probably right because the technology was a huge advantage. For me digital transformation is merely just transformation, but digital is the main driver, the main context or one of the main facilitators of the transformation or change.


The Six Capabilities required for successful transformation 

Tim Ellis [00:05:52] You mentioned in your book there are six capabilities that you should focus on to successfully transform. Again, very people orientated. Do you want to run us through what they are sure.


Michael Leckie [00:06:03] And they’re by no means brand new concepts you’ve never heard before. I just packaged them in a way that made sense to me. But the first one is exploring before executing, which generally says that before we in olden days we could design the great plan, the great strategy up here, and then everyone would just execute the heck out of it. And that’d be great. But now the problems we’re facing are changing so fast, we need to basically wake up in the morning and say, Hey, has anything shifted that means what we’re executing on needs to shift a little bit? So we have to explore that before we just move into execution mode. An interesting thing, by the way, when I first phrased these six, I said exploring, for example, over executing. And I can tell you that just those three words, probably a half a dozen CEOs I talked to, they just stopped and they couldn’t listen anymore because they were so frightened of the idea that something was more important than executing because executing execution. And it is you have to execute, but you can’t continue to execute while the strategy or the focus of it gets old. So exploring before executing, learning before knowing, simply saying that knowing is no longer enough and we can’t know enough anymore and we can’t know everything. This great research like this, work on this and humility is the new smart I think it’s great where he says that most things we know today have a three year shelf life which is a bizarre statement, but just saying that all the things we think are true end up being less true very quickly as time goes by. So we have the capacity to learn and relearn and learn more. It’s that capacity to learn as opposed to capacity  to know that is an advantage changing before protecting it. Just saying that, look, while some things have to be protected again, we need to stop and say, but is there opportunity to make some changes and is this protection now locking us into something that is not allowing us to compete or stay current? Pathfinding before path following, which simply says that it’s not about somebody saying, “here’s the path to the yellow brick road and here’s where every brick gets laid.” It’s not about giving them the path and making them build it. It’s about saying, Hey, “here’s where we need to get to. We don’t know what the path is going to look like. So let’s get some brick layers to figure that out.”  And as you go along, figure out the best path and what the best path was last month, it may shift a little bit. You may go in a slightly different direction, Go this way, go that way. That’s okay. You find the path and you know the destination. Don’t just follow it set before you. The fifth one is what I call innovating before replicating or scaling. That was simply because so many organizations I worked with everything was about does it scale? Does it scale? And if we didn’t know it was going to scale, why we even do any of it? But we didn’t do any of it, we didn’t know if it worked. And so really having that innovative mindset that says we are going to work at figuring out what is the thing we need to do next, what is different, how does it need to change before we worry about scaling it? The scaling of the replicating machine can be built and that’s good. Again, be another runaway train. And then the last one is what I call a borrow from the great Ed Schein, and I call it humanizing before organizing. Well, and why I say humanizing before organizing is that Ed talks about the fact that people are not their roles and we treat in organizations. We treat the roles many times as primary and the humans are secondary. So you’re an accountant, Level two. Great. If you leave, I’ll get a new account, level two and everything will be the same. The person is fungible. The role matters. Well, that’s not the case at all. Because if the first account level two has great relationships, understands is flexible, gets along with people, but still makes sure they have integrity in what they’re doing, that’s great if the next one is my way or the highway, and if I don’t like you or don’t talk to you, the entire thing breaks down. And so it’s the person that matters. So the humanizing, the building relationships, the understanding what people want and how they work and so we can best organize to get work done is much more important than creating an organizational structure and assuming the people are fungible. So those are the things exploring before executing, learning, before knowing, changing, before protecting, pathfinding, before path following, innovating, before replicating and humanizing, before organizing.

Do you have some examples of successful transformations?

Tim Ellis [00:10:12] That’s off pat that’s good. So have you seen this? Does this work? Have you seen organizations where they’ve managed to achieve this successful transformations? Have you ever seen that? Yeah.


Michael Leckie [00:10:23] Yeah, it’s a great question. It’s one I get asked because I’ve been working with this kind of theory and models since I wrote the book for maybe the past. So I had a little bit of beef, I guess a little bit of a power blip here in the Pacific Northwest, But I’m working with this for the past year or so. I don’t have a longitudinal study of its impact, but I can tell you that these are techniques that I brought into organizations over time where they certainly have in piecemeal, I’ve seen make a difference. But what also has happened to me is I’ve seen so much of what doesn’t make a difference that it’s convinced me quite a bit that there’s something else we need to be focusing on. And I have seen organizations that there’s people always ask me, give us an example of a great success story in digital transformation. And they’re hard to find. They’re really, truly hard to find. One company I do mention, and I need to go back and see how they’re doing because things can change over time, where there was a company actually in the Portland, Oregon area called Can be a health that completely reinvented themselves, moving from basically an insurance claim payer and somewhat, you know, structure to a platform that is individual centered that stays with them throughout their life and their health, no matter who the carriers or providers are – great vision. And they have really taken on a lot of these things. And one of the things they really had to do is they had to get real clear on this is who we’re going to be now and who we were before won’t they really cut it. And they looked at all the people and they said, here are the we know we have the right roles, but are of the people in those roles, really engaged, really signed up for this and they had to make some hard choices. And people who work there a long time who said, I just don’t believe in abandoning what we’ve built and moving to this new thing is right. I don’t like it. They need to leave the organization. So yeah, I have seen them have an impact. I have some organizations. We’re doing a lot of work now. There’s only much I can say about it, but one of the things that we’ve done is we are what we do is we turn these in its simplest sense and I will wax on forever. But we take one of the capabilities of states and learning before knowing. And then we say, okay, so what are some of the behaviors that look like learning before knowing? And what are the simplest behaviors to articulate and share is the asking of a question. So each of these has approximately five key questions that if they’re asked and answered in an organization and continue to be asked and answered, drive us towards considering our assumptions and saying, do we need to make a change or a shift here is that behavior of asking questions. And so I have several organizations from small private equity backed firms all the way up to, let’s just say, one of the biggest retail companies in the world, a Fortune 20 company that is using these questions as the behaviors that’s building their change capability muscles in individuals and small groups.


How important is it to have the right strategy?

Tim Ellis [00:13:17] So this gives you the capability within the organization to effectively execute on the strategy. So in terms of where transformations are successful, how much is dependent upon having the right strategy? So one is capability, the other is the direction, where to play, how to win. So if you get that bit right, what’s the impact of a successful transformation in that sense?


Michael Leckie [00:13:40] Yeah, I mean, obviously a good strategy is critical, but you need to have a strategy where I think strategy falls short or maybe gets too big is when we don’t leave it at the strategy and then allow a healthy dialog for how is that interpreted on down the organization and share that back up. If the strategy … I worked with the company, it was a newsprint company out of Canada that doesn’t exist as such anymore. I know it’s a different name, but at the time this company, had to be consolidated, had a goal to be the world’s finest manufacturer and marketer of papers for communication. So it was a real clear strategy and goal and they knew what kind of finest meant, how they their culture worked and how they operated. But what that looked like in in the sales and the manufacturing and the inside service and whatever it may be, all was subject to interpretation and then all of it filtered back up and we had an ongoing very open dialog which made it a very successful company as it transformed. Other companies have a great strategy. but they’ll say, Now here’s the strategy. Let us all tell you what to do, and you just follow the steps. Don’t worry about the strategy. Worry about the to do’s that we’ve interpreted come from that strategy. Not trusting the people to engage in that conversation, not listening to what they say. And that’s where I think execution and strategy get disconnected. I think execution has to be created closer to the source of what’s being executed and not articulated from the level of the strategy, if that makes sense. But strategy is absolutely critical. If you don’t have one, you don’t know where you’re going. So a capability like you pathfinding over path following, it’s like, why do pathfinding? But I have no idea where we’re going, so how can I find a path to get there?


Tim Ellis [00:15:29] Yeah. No, it’s interesting. Well. To some extent, it depends on engagement. People need to understand the strategy and the purpose and their part in it and therefore engaged. So you get the discretionary effort from people the whole time. And your strategy may well very change depending upon the feedback you’re getting from people within your organization. Do you see that? Yeah.


Michael Leckie [00:15:50] A couple of things that come to mind there. One is, first of all, talk about this talk idea I call the Five Questions of Transformation, but is that we forget that when we go through a process to come up with a strategy, a direction, something we’re going to do, there’s a lot of different possibilities and options. And we work them through and we go through all sorts of processes, maybe with some consulting firm to figure that out. But then when we get to the point where we have it, we’re like, okay, we’re set, and then we give it to everybody. Here it is, It’s done. Accept that as the way to go. And they’re never given the same chance. We had to question, to wonder, to doubt, to think about other things. But somehow we believe that they’re going to instantly say, Oh, thank you for the strategy on high. I immediately bowed out on its feet and people don’t because the strategy has been in place before, has probably worked well enough because they’re all still there and they’re all still employed and they’re all still making money and they’re all still getting along just fine and getting their bonus. Oh, well, what about this new thing? I need to think it through. So you really need to give people time to to disbelieve that strategy. Yeah. Sorry. The part of your question was what I’m forgetting.


What is an expirational leader and why do you need one? 

Tim Ellis [00:16:54] I’m not entirely sure actually. Yeah. So I was going to ask you, this is obviously quite a challenge from a leadership perspective. You wrote a piece a while back, the Leading Edge Forum. You were talking about the expirational leader. So I’m interested maybe to explore what you mean by that and who might be best suited to take on this challenge.


Michael Leckie [00:17:11] It was interesting. I did that to work in in conjunction with LEF (Leading Edge Forum)  there and one of the things that that they had also looked at was that people who are brought in as change agents or to drive change oftentimes really struggle to be the one that then implement or stay with that change long term. When we’ve moved through the change process and now we’re into sort just the bits substantiated in the organization part. A lot of times it’s hard to be that change agent and then be the change and be the just the manager or the leader going forward because you’ve had to push, you’ve had to break some glass with some people who didn’t want to go where you’re going. You’ve had to you’ve had to cause disruption, you’ve had the costs, the awkwardness and even conflict in an organization to get there. And as we all know, that can impact your political capital, all sorts of things. And it may make it difficult. And so it may be that person is the one who has the right to drive the change. But then their success after the change is there is in question. And so we talked about why don’t we just assume that’s the case and think about bringing in someone whose role is specifically has an expiration date on it. So we made up that term, called it the ‘expirational leader’, and said that you want to come in, you want to drive that change with the knowledge that I’m not here to bring in my agenda because I’m not going to stay. I’m not saying this because it benefits me. I’m not going to stay here for a set period of time. And by the way, I don’t have to worry about keeping the job and making everybody happy. And so I won’t compromise myself in the process because I’m not going to stay. Now that requires you to get your human resources team to actually think through the value of making sure that when that person leaves, they’ve got a long runway so they don’t feel like they have to stay. And so part of the cost built in to bringing that person in is paying them for time. They’re going to be gone so they can move on to the next role and do that again. But in organizations where they have brought people in and specifically they’ve said, I’m going to drive this change and I know that I’m not going to stay where that’s public, or at least with the leadership team you have tend to be more effective. They tend to be less compromised and they tend to drive it a little bit faster and harder because they don’t have to stay. And when when you think about how humans work, we’re very tribal and we find a tribe that keeps us safe. We don’t want to mess with the tribe. And if you’re driving change, you’re messing with the tribe. Now, the tribe needs it. The tribe needs to change and grow, but you’re still messing with them. And in some ways they’re going to start to reject you in the little ways over time. And that’s okay. I think we should just acknowledge that and move forward. So we created that concept and I do some work with a colleague of mine, Terry Waters, who wrote the article with me, and he’s been a CEO at a number of companies and we’ve done some consulting work which will go in and he’ll do operational and I’ll do the cultural and people and we’ll be expirational leaders We’ll go in, will help put everything in place knowing that we’re going to leave and that’s the agreement and give them what they want and then they can take it and own it from there. And it’s it has proven to be more effective because we’re allowed the thought that we allow ourselves to do what needs to be done because we don’t have to worry about being there in three years. We just have to worry about getting where they need to go.

Find your Expirational Leader – for transformational leaders with impact – talk to The Digital Transformation People and secure the leadership your business needs.

The capabilities required to be an effective transformational leader

Tim Ellis [00:20:29] Yeah. So what sort of capabilities does somebody that’s going to come in and perform this role need to do it successfully, do you think?


Michael Leckie [00:20:38] Oh yes, great question Tim. I guess the first one’s going to sound weird. You need to be willing to not be universally loved. You have to be okay with that. And for many of us, we find that very threatening because again, we’re trying to fit in and stay. And so you need to be willing to be different. You need to be willing to be the person who leads the awkward discussions. You need to be the one who is saying, So I’m going to point out what didn’t happen here. You need to be the person who can. I’m going to hold you accountable, not to create blame, but because we need accountability. And so it takes a real, I think, a real clear mission and then I guess the character to stick with that mission. But I think that most people. I think most people would have it in them if they felt safe enough to do it. A lot of the things that we hear a lot of talk about psychological safety and I think it’s a great talk and I think that’s a tremendous amount of intelligence in it. And if we make them feel safe. To push, to challenge, to disrupt, to create awkwardness, then they’ll do it. If we don’t, they won’t. And they won’t just default to it. And we have to do a lot more to create it than we think we do. And quite frankly, coming in from the outside to be that inspirational leader is so much easier than trying to drive it from the inside. Now you need allies on the inside and people you can work with. But breaking free of the tribe and the cultural chains is very difficult because it feels very personally threatening to me and my livelihood. Most of us, thankfully in our organizations, don’t face life and death every day. We used to back in the days when we were less sophisticated and we’d be living, you know, in huts or caves and but our life or death nowadays in many ways is, do I have a job and a well-paying job that takes care of what I need? That’s what feels like life or death to most of us. And you talk to anyone who’s been fired from a job, it’s devastating and it feels shameful and terrifying to people. Now then they usually get through it and then they clinging to that new job. And if it happens again, they have the same fears all over again. And so you have to be willing to understand that the world you’re in now is going to be a little bit less stable and that you’re going to be going from piece to piece. And that’s why one of the things I say is that someone comes in to be an expirational leader. You’re going to have to make sure that you have the third area full time. They need an off ramp so they can leave and go elsewhere and feel safe enough to be safe while they’re there, if that makes sense.


 The role of the CEO

 Tim Ellis [00:23:12] Yeah, it does. It does. I presume that the authority and credibility ….the credibility they need to have but also the authority  conferred by the board and the CEO to give them that support as through the process.


Michael Leckie [00:23:23] Yeah. It’s hard to. It can be hard because the CEO also wants to preserve some of her or his connection to the tribe. And so you can’t fully align. You need to align enough and you need to support it. And you basically if you’re a CEO and you hire someone like this, part of the understood agreement is you’re hiring the driver of this who’s also going to be the sacrificial lamb of it. And so you’re taking some of that, the blame for change, which is good, but still causes pain. And you’re taking it and you’re putting it on somebody else who’s going to take that in and deal with that and they’re going to have greater consequences that we’re going to minimize by how we treat them. Yeah, I think there’s a side note, but I think one of the most fascinating things about what we’ve done with CEO compensation and by the way, I believe that the CEO job is incredibly difficult. I’ve worked with a lot of them and you are people think you’re at the top of the pyramid and they don’t even think about the pyramid that’s sitting on top of you, of investors, shareholders and all the politics of it. And you’re being mean, which is why, you know, they are compensated well, but we make some of those compensation so outsized that there is no way to gracefully exit a CEO role when it’s time to leave, because it’s just the differentials between that and even the people below are usually four or five, ten times what they’re making. It’s just you have to have that job again. And so we’ve made it a we’ve made it a destination that when people get to, they feel like they have to stay forever, even when it’s no longer their time. And for every leader in every organization, your time comes and goes. And we’ve all seen organizations where leaders have hung on too long and just kept the organization where it was and the world passed it by, which can be a real difficult thing with change. And if I was talking to a board of directors today about an organization needed to change, I’d be saying, Well, maybe we need to look for our next CEO and figure out if they’re going to drive change, how we’re going to let them leave and still be able to stay at a level they’ve gotten to, if at all possible, because they’re never going to want to leave. And they might run the first change. Great. And then they’re going to get to this point. Now it’s I’m so invested in where we got when the next change comes along. And they’re like, No way, I’m not making that change. It’s brought us here. Here is where we need to be, where are you going to be? And then they become the very problem they’re brought in to solve.


The challenges of being a C Suite executive leader and how can a executive coach help

Tim Ellis [00:25:41] That’s interesting. So you work, you do executive coaching with some very senior people who. What perspective do you have on how it feels to be that person? What sort of problems do they bring to you and how do you help them address them?


Michael Leckie [00:25:54] Yeah, I don’t know if they’d say it, but when you get to know them, they’re really lonely. I had a mentor or a boss of mine when I got him. Jean Claude Casavant said to me the higher you go.. it was the  first time I got promoted like a VP level job. And he said, remember, the higher you go in an organization, the harder it is to get anyone to tell you the truth. Surrounded by people. And everyone has some sort of agenda. When you’re at the pinnacle of power in any kind of structure. And so getting the truth is really hard. And without truth, what data do you have to make good decisions? And so they can be lonely. Those that means they will take in confidence and finance in the organization who then maybe get outsized in the power they have because of the access. And that can be challenging. So one of the things that I know that I and we my colleague Mark Bowden, we also do some two on one coaching we provide is we provide a safe place and a place for they don’t have to be so lonely. They can think through their thoughts out loud. They can wonder about things and not worry about, I think, how am I going to do this? People are going to hear that in the organizations she doesn’t know how to do this, how are we going to get somewhere? What’s going to happen to me? Am I going to lose my job as a company guru? I better move somewhere else or catastrophizing of thought. So you can think out loud. So I think the loneliness is one. I think that the gist. Being able to find again, a place to process without judgment on every word you say. We forget that human beings are human beings and they’re fallible, and they say one thing and it can change the valuation by millions or billions of dollars. Things can go up and down in the stock market. There’s all these consequences. And you have to be a, you know, an or a politician and an actor now and be good on camera. And you have to be thoughtful and sensitive and have diversity and be strong and strict and drive to be this list of things that’s impossible to be. And one of the reasons I have a job is because it’s impossible to be a senior leader in a CEO in most organizations without help, without someone else just helping you think. And it’s funny what we do. We don’t give lots of advice and say, Do X, Y, or Z. We do a lot of asking question and saying, okay, what’s the outcome you really want here? Okay, are you sure? What else might be the outcome you want to talk through? Let’s make sure. Okay, How might we get there? Do you have the relationships for that? Do you have the knowledge for that? What do you have to learn? How are you going to make that happen? We let them think through and we let them struggle. My friend Bob Moesta says that there is no group of that struggle. And so one of the things that we do is we create a safe, struggling place for a C-suite executive. And that’s not my pitch for business. I’m just saying it. That’s what needs to happen. And it’s really hard to find that safe, struggling place with others in your organization and even those with others outside your organization because the stakes are so high. And so sometimes just creating that safe, struggling place through someone who helps you do it, you know, is what you have to do.


The role of humility in effective leadership and can it be learned?

Tim Ellis [00:28:54] Well, it’s interesting. So one of the key things that people talk about now in terms of effectiveness, the transformation that that was engaging with people is humility in leadership. And I’m just wondering, is that something that that the people that you choose as leaders or who become leaders, who will be successful at transforming their organizations effectively and bringing their people along with them, is humility something that they come with? It’s naturally who they are. Or is it something that they can learn .. humlity?


Michael Leckie [00:29:30] Oh what a great question because it’s funny because you need both humility and strength, right?


Tim Ellis [00:29:33] Yeah.


Michael Leckie [00:29:34] The come from opposite sides.  I believe humility is absolutely learnable. It may be harder for some than others if they’ve never spent any time in a place of humility. Humility, really simple. And if you think about what is humble mean, people who are humble don’t believe or act like they know everything, right? Yep. And so then the simple formula is what’s the behavior tied to humility? It’s not believing you know, everything. It means you’re going to ask some questions, you’re going to be open to ideas. But it’s one of those things where you think about asking the questions. Some people never ask a question because they want to put forth the image that I know everything. Yeah. And then some ask questions like the question becomes, I don’t know what to do here. That just shows a fear and weakness. There is holy cow we’re in trouble. Yeah, but the person is. They don’t know what to do here. What are the options? Let’s start solving this problem. What’s the next thing to do? Give me your thoughts. What do you think? Whose voice is missing? Who shall we engage in this conversation? People who are willing to create that space knowing that in the end of the day, the buck still stops with them. They’re probably going to make the decision and they’re going to, they’re not going to give up that strength and that power to do that. That’s what they were hired for. But they are going to engage. And, you know, I had a great lesson about this in leadership because most of us tend to lead one of two ways more telling and just being strong and doing it and everyone follow or being real. ..let’s do this as a team. let’s all figure it out, guys. And I’m generally, naturally more on that side than the others. But it’s not it’s not that the answer lies in both of them. And I’ll never forget having a team that I managed of a fairly senior people. And when I was having the conversation about something, we were working on a key core aspect of our strategy, and I was just keeping it open for debate and letting the debate go. And we had a couple of meetings and I started to sense there was some real frustration. And finally at one point I thought, I have to do something different here. And someone in particular as we move forward, except they throw a new thing in pull us back and at one point said, okay, so I’m going to I’m going to pause. I think this has been great. I mean, I appreciate what you’re saying. I hear what you’re saying. I disagree. And so this is what we are going to do. And I made a decision, but thanks for all your input. But this is what I want us to do. And by the way, and if any of you disagree with that, I totally respect that. But then this is not the right place for you in the team. We’ll find a respectful way for you to exit the business. And I thought I was taking a real chance and being real. And I had so many people come back to me, say, thank you. We needed you to, at this point, stop the democratic process and move us forward. And the person who was happiest was the person I called out. And they thank you for that, because all of a sudden I realized that I was not being who I wanted to be, and my motivation for what I was doing was wrong. And I needed that call out. And we’re still great friends and they stayed in the organization. Were very effective. It’s one of those things that humility is really important, but it’s really easy. It’s just a matter of being comfortable with, I don’t know, and knowing that you need to still move forward and making the steps to move forward. I’ll say whether you love him or hate him, he’s certainly controversial even more nowadays. Elon Musk What I love is that like in their Space X project to go to Mars, they’ve said we have about nine or 10% of the technology to get there. Long ways off. No idea how we’re going to get there. It doesn’t mean they are setting goals every year that they don’t know how to achieve to advance that forward. He made a comment, he said at space X, we specialize in turning the impossible into the merely late. And I love that because it’s we’re not going to accept that it’s impossible. We’re going to work to have you think about our modern organizations. If you had a leadership team that was willing to sign up for goals they actually didn’t know how to achieve, They’d achieve a lot more and be much more innovative. Most of the time they now sign up for the goals they know how to achieve because they know that will trigger the bonus, because they know they’ll get the payout and then they’ll be able to take care of the family and buy the car and whatever it is. And so we set all these performance goals and performance metrics to ‘meh’ level and we try to gloss them up a little bit. But that’s all we do. We’re not one to take on things we don’t know how to do. Now. That’s where humility comes in. Humility says, I don’t know how to do this, but we’re still going to do it. So let’s get going to them and figure it out. I think that’s the humility you’re looking for.


The role of motivation, measurement and rewards  in digital transformation. 

Tim Ellis [00:33:53] So how do you break that issue them with people? It’s difficult to separate the personal motivation, the personal need for safety and comfort and of career. And stepping into big transformational change is a personal risk as well. So how do you how do people do that to move the organization forward, not just for digital transformation, but sustainability, transformation? These are the big things that organizations now need to do. How do we get it so that people are actually focused on noble purpose rather than how do you separate the short term gain? Personally, the need for recognition to do something, as you say, to make an organization good?


Michael Leckie [00:34:31] Yeah, yeah. It’s really hard because so many of these short term things are institutionalized by the stock market and practices we have just in organizations from time immemorial now. But one of the things the Gartner team a few years back, I was talking to Chris Howard, my friend who’s was chief of research there, and he said that they did a big CEO study and they asked how many of them were involved in some sort of digital transformation or transformation project. I was like 90 plus percent. He said, Okay. And how many of you are actually changing your core business metrics? And it was under 10%.


Tim Ellis [00:35:03] Right


Michael Leckie [00:35:04] I was like, okay, we’re going to do this brand new thing. It’s going to be totally different and it’s going to change everything Great And how do you measure success? Oh, same old way, man. Come on, that’s already established.


Tim Ellis [00:35:15] So it’s not successful. Yeah. If you do the things you’ve got to do to come up with something new. Yeah. You’re still going to get fired for not hitting your metrics.


Michael Leckie [00:35:22] That’s right, in fact, you might fail might not hit your metrics, might lose all these things that you get your money, your bonus, whatever, because you did the right thing, It will still say, Hey, go do the right thing. People like you use me. So I think the response is you have to look at how you gauge and measure success and you have to start to shift that. And it’s not something that is is immediately easy to sell. One of the questions I have in the book is do I have the stomach for the long game? But if you look at some of these companies that people emulate, you take Jeff Bezos again. Love him or hate him, love or hate Amazon. You can’t deny it’s a monster now. It’s huge. It’s unprecedented. But Bezos is willing to play a long game and think about this. And I was at GE and going through transformation. There is no way Jeff Immelt could have gone to the street and said, we’re in this massive transformation. So I expect we’ll probably just lose money for the next five years now as opposed to make it. But we will gain a huge market share that will make us predominant in digital, industrial and they will boom right then because it’s like, No, I need my $0.03 a quarter dividend. That’s what I’m here for. Jeff Bezos could say, Hey guys, here’s the stock. We’re going to go ahead and put an IPO out there, by the way. Least five years. We’re just going to lose money. If you don’t like the idea, go somewhere else. And many people didn’t. Those people who did are doing very well nowadays. But he had a long game vision. We have a short term world. We have a short term stock market. We have short term compensation systems. It’s just all based upon, you know, quarters and months and a year. And so it doesn’t give us the chance to truly have that vision many times. So you’ve got to look at how you’re measuring it and you’ve got to make some real thoughtful changes. And that involves a lot of people making change, that involves your HR comp team being able to look at things differently. They’re very in a comfortable rut and they repeat the same mistakes over and over again, and the organization’s a huge disservice, but putting them in a comfortable place. But the reason they do that is because and i’m cynical here, it’s because the top executives are still getting paid well and they’re paying me well for saying you need to be paid this well. And so it’s a vicious cycle of a closed circuit of taking care of each other. There’s no motivation. So it’s really hard to your point for people at the end of their career to get motivated to do something entirely different. So a lot of those folks, I think at some point we have to say, this is not your leadership task. How do we bridge you to what your expectation was and literally put that in right now into part of our cost of transformation? Part of the cost of transformation is elegantly moving people out who will support the transformation and bringing in people who won’t.


What capabilities and attributes to look for in senior and future transformational leaders

Tim Ellis [00:38:00] So speaking of which, bringing people in, how do you identify future leaders who are what would you look for if you were bringing in future leaders?


Michael Leckie [00:38:10] Yeah, great question. We do it all the time. One of the first things you to do, I think, is you understand what it is you’re offering. I do work  work with gentleman I mentioned in Bob Mester who created jobs to be done. theory of product innovation with Clay Christensen. Yeah. Bob and his little company, The Rewired Group, does some amazing work. And recently we’ve been doing is looking at in general like positions in an organization as a product and understanding what product is required by the market. What are the jobs that this position or job is doing for people, and how do we explain that to them in their terms and change the job to meet what they need? And maybe there’s three or four types of things like that. So when you’re looking at those leaders, you have to be thinking along the same lines as what is the job I’m hiring them to do? And oftentimes we don’t because being a CEO especially is the mystery. It’s why the best way to get a CEO job somewhere is to have failed. In the CEO job somewhere else. Doesn’t matter that  you, failed or succeeded. It matters that you held the title because yeah, there’s no one. There’s the board, but there’s really no one else. And it is a mystery as to what the job is all about and how do you do it really well. And there’s no manager to tell you what to do. We need to be a lot better at saying, Look, here is what the job is about. Here’s the kind of the key goals and outcomes. And then I think you start to look for my bias. We look for some of these change capabilities. Do they have a track record of exploring over executing or learning before knowing or changing before protecting? Do they show an affinity for those things? And do they also have the ability to say, Here’s what I’m really good at and here’s what I’m not good at, and so I’m going to need to bring those people in. And the last thing is, and this is going to sound incredibly self-serving, but I’m going to say it anyway, Are they willing to ask for help? Yep. I have one client I worked with who is incredibly successful, and one of the things that he did, which was challenging for him to do, but when he started with the new company as he was starting, is going through the process and they’re doing the paperwork that had the big search and all that, and they made the selection, negotiated all the compensation. And he said, By the way, I need to know in the budget that I’ve got budget for my executive coach because I’m not coming in here without them. And a lot of people like, oh, are you weak? You need an executive coach. But he’s no, I don’t care what you think about it. This is the person who helps me think. And he was willing to say from the beginning, Great, I’m glad you hired me. I think I’m a great for the job. I think I’m going to just kick butt at it, which he is. But I also need help and the humility of being able to ask for help from your own people as well, your own organization, but elsewhere is a real, really good sign. So when I talk to people, oftentimes when I’m doing interviews for CEOs or C-level executives on behalf of a company, I will ask them about tell me about some of the best help you’ve received lately. And if they can’t come up with any and really, I don’t ask the question this way, but it’s like the inference is when’s the last time you asked for help? And if they don’t have an answer to some of the best help they’ve received or it was something that clearly they didn’t ask for or didn’t want, I’m worried about someone who doesn’t have a track record of asking for help.


Beyond executive coaching, sharing knowledge and giving back

Tim Ellis [00:41:20] That’s a great insight. That’s an interesting way to look at at it .. that’s good . Michael, you’ve talked a lot about when we first talked, you talk about you want to give back. You’re working with very senior executives where they take up a lot of your time, but a lot of the learning you’ve done is something which is you certainly write about, you write very eloquently about it, but you’d like to give back to people who perhaps can’t afford to spend the time with you that they’d like to. So how are you doing that? Obviously, you’re in the community learning platform in The Digital Transformation People. So how should we work together to get your message out to some people who could really benefit from?


Michael Leckie [00:41:52] Definitely, I’m excited about the great audience that you’ve created and in the platform Tim and to be able to be a part of contributing to that and creating videos or hosting and having dialogs. I mean, so I had this conversation with somebody recently who’s thinking about making a move, and I’ve talked about that video was about making the leap to entrepreneurial, and they said, You must be really busy. And I said, No, I’m not super busy. I don’t work as many hours as I did when I was in a corporate job. And they said, Why’s that? And I said, it’s because I have far less useless meetings to go to because I’m not in the corporation. So those useless meetings aren’t in my calendar, I do as well and better financially, but I don’t have as much work to do. Now the work I do, I need to be on for, I need to be completely present. So it’s hard and you can’t do it ten, 12 hours a day. But you have those spaces. What those spaces do is they create the ability. I think for any of us who are in a role like mine, working for yourself is they create spaces to to join, to give back, to engage in dialog. We have an hour on the calendar this morning to have this dialog. It’s not a hard hour for me to find. I can find an hour easily. And as far as giving back and one of the one of the motivations behind it, and of course it’s not free, but one of the motivations for writing the book was there’s a limited audience that can hire me to help them implement the kind of things that are in this. But anyone could read it. And I thought, I’m going to be on this planet for a short period of time. There’s only so many people I can physically connect with or virtually connect with and have a conversation, but through a book or through videos or courses, and I think you’re probably going to host some will probably develop some for your platform, which is great. But you can go and you can see there’s free courses I have online. I do a lot of video, I do a lot of my YouTube channel just to try and keep a conversation going and make some contributions there. And I do. I’m always careful when I say this. I do take on some pro bono work as well. And you say they have to be careful because you can get overwhelmed with that. But I always have one or two pro bono coaching things or pro bono support things going on for organizations. And I guess the last thing is,  you look for opportunities in the paid work you’re doing to do something good. So the client I mentioned who’s in the retail space and they have a lot of big distribution centers or things that come in and go out to the retail establishments. And during COVID, like most places, they were woefully understaffed and couldn’t find people yet they’re actually pretty good jobs. They’re hard jobs. You might be running a pallet jack in a refrigerated warehouse, but it pays well. It’s got great benefits. It’s a union job, it’s got great retirement. There’s a great future in it for a good living. And one of the things that we’re exploring now is we’re in the I happen to live in the Portland, Oregon area, and the Northwest has always been a fairly open and liberal area, but it also has, you know, a homeless problem that’s been exacerbated by what’s gone on in the economy. So one of the things we’re looking at is can we actually take people who are homeless and instead of giving them a handout, bring them in, help them find a place, pay for a place to live, pay for transportation, pay for childcare. Can we invest money that we’re investing in firms that bring in outside labor forces who charge a 200% premium to do that and invest that ourselves in getting people off the streets into a home and productively working. And can we beyond that, can we identify people in our population that we know were there who were once in their shoes, who are willing to talk about their journey? Can we provide a social support system inside the organization? Can we make it something that we’re proud of? Can we say, Yeah, we’re a big part of our community. It’s not only through the things we provide to our community, but it’s about changing people’s lives literally in our community. And it’s a slow process and a corporation, but step by step, we’re moving forward and we’re hoping we can do something. And that’s one, by the way, that in my work with this client, all the work I do on that project, I don’t bill them for that’s just my give back that I put in place. And so there’s oftentimes opportunities. You have to be careful how you structure it, but there’s opportunities actually to give back when you see an opportunity, a client organization like a consultant.


Where to find more from Michael Leckie

Tim Ellis [00:45:56] Now. That’s brilliant. That’s really good, Michael. You mentioned you I think you your Web site is what, .. people can find you there.


Michael Leckie [00:46:03] Yep absolutely, that’s got links to everything.


Tim Ellis [00:46:07] Very active on LinkedIn too


Michael Leckie [00:46:09] So yeah yeah very active on LinkedIn  and we also have also a website. It’s just called which is more …. my talks about my work in my business that I do. The TalktoLeck is because I’ve had a lot of conversations started through LinkedIn and YouTube, and when I go speaking on engagements, they’re public or private, and that’s where I try and put the content and things that are oriented towards what have I learned or what have we learned in working with senior clients that may apply to anyone or may be useful to anyone? So it’s just it’s all brilliant free content. There’s nothing that’s charged for there at the moment, I don’t believe, and it’s just a way of staying connected and communicating. And of course everything is on LinkedIn and YouTube are probably the best places to find me online.


Tim Ellis [00:46:51] Fantastic. So just finally, is there anything that I should have asked, would I have noticed that perhaps would be relevant at this point?


Michael Leckie [00:46:58] Gosh, I know. Yes. Such good questions. We’ve had such a good conversation. No, actually, nothing. Nothing leaps to mind. That was a great conversation. And I love your questions. I think they’re really insightful. And just to say that I’m happy to be engaging in the platform, I get a lot of people connect and we all connect through LinkedIn and things, and I think you reached out, I know it was via LinkedIn or something, but I’ve been really impressed with what you’re doing, with what you’re building on the platform and the community, and I think there’s a lot of value there for organizations that are dealing with transformation that are either getting nothing or getting something high priced from a big consulting group that only goes to a few senior executives. I’m not even sure how active it is. So I think you’ve got a great space to fill there. And I am I’m thrilled to be to be a part of it and contribute in any way I can because it’s a great platform.


Tim Ellis [00:47:44] Fantastic. Michael, thank you very much. That’s really nice of you to say. And yes, I’m looking forward to working with you more on this.


Michael Leckie [00:47:49] Absolutely.


Tim Ellis [00:47:50] Yeah. Thank you very much. And we’ll speak again soon.


Michael Leckie [00:47:53] Yeah. Thank you. Always a pleasure. And thanks, everyone for listening. Have a great day. And if you can, buy The Heart of Transformation ……….  So take care of yourself.


Tim Ellis [00:48:02] Thank you, Michael. Bye.


You can reach Michael Leckie on LinkedIn, his website and on

Tim Ellis is the Founder & CEO of The Digital Transformation People

Thank you to Fei Wu  of Feisworld Media for production. 

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