Book Summary: “Transformational Leadership” by Randy Dobbs

I was thrilled when I learned that Randy Dobbs, a friend and mentor from my days at General Electric, was writing a book about his leadership experiences. In the early 1990s I worked with Randy at GE Motors in Ft. Wayne, Indiana and then again at GE Medical Systems when I was in Philadelphia and he was in Atlanta. Randy was also an important advocate in my securing funding from GE so that I could attend the Wharton School of Business and get an MBA.

Randy’s book, Transformational Leadership, is aptly titled because not only does Randy have a track record for transforming organizations for improved results but also for having a transformational effect on people’s lives. Randy demonstrated his transformational “touch” throughout his tenure at GE, as CEO of Philips Medical Systems, North America and then as CEO of USIS, a leading global security services provider. His book is a mixture of real life stories of his personal achievements and travails along with information-rich examples of his professional successes and challenges. Here we review the five skills sets that Randy uses in defining transformational leadership:

1. Build a culture

2. Improve esprit de corps

3. Communicate issues and actions

4. Change the financial results

5. Leave behind a cadre of future transformational leaders

Build a Culture

Randy writes that “In many respects, cultural change is the best return on investment for a transformational team’s senior leaders. You can communicate, get feedback from the organization, bring in the best senior leaders, and gain buy-in for your vision, but until the culture changes, you will not achieve lasting transformation.” Randy’s key to creating cultural change is implementing the vision for the business, and he lists two factors that must be clearly addressed to fully gain the organization’s trust in the leader’s vision and cultural direction:

1) The vision must be clear, appealing, and doable.

2) The leader’s position must be just as clear as the vision, and his commitment to that vision must be unquestionable as the catalyst for cultural change.

The basis for driving sustainable cultural change is a vision statement, a mission statement, and the supporting strategies that employees can understand and buy into.

Improve esprit de corps

Instead of talking about employee morale, Randy prefers to think of it as esprit de corps – a French term that literally means “spirit of the body,” but refers to the spirit of a group as a single body. Randy writes that “This means that everyone in the organization shares the same vision, and feels enthusiastic about being part of that vision and working toward clearly defined collective goals. In simple terms: Once you establish a culture, you must establish esprit de corps so that people in the organization will buy into that culture.” Accomplishing this will help leadership win people over on an ongoing basis, which is critical to maintaining accountability, focus, and momentum toward achieving the company’s goals.

Communicate issues and actions

Randy writes that “if you want the single biggest key to effective transformational leadership, you have to drive the communication process.” In other words, “Leaders don’t just talk about communications; they must force communications to happen for the good of the business.” This builds trust and commitment among those you are tasked to lead. Another communication lesson for leaders is to “Never assume everything you say is as clear to others as it is to you.” Randy exemplifies this by sharing about himself with his employees so that they understand who he is as a person. Randy has found that this openness helps people get more comfortable with him and helps them embrace him as a leader.

Randy has utilized a variety of methods to foster communication and understanding, such as numerous new manager assimilation sessions, frequent town hall meetings, regular newsletters and Letters from the CEO, and an open-to-everyone “AskRandy” email message program. In the first two months as CEO of USIS, he received about 200 AskRandy emails from employees. These messages not only provided him with critical insight about the company, but was an effective way for him to communicate with his new employees (he answered all 200 emails personally).

Change the financial results

Randy relates that Jack Welch once said to him, “There isn’t a single GE shareholder who’s enamored with revenue. All they care about is earnings.” And no one ever engaged Randy as a transformational leader to drive better communication, build a senior leadership team, create a vision, or change a culture. “The only reason to engage any business transformational leader is to achieve the financial results!” He writes that it’s critical to stay focused every day, every week, every month, and every quarter on how the transformations affect bottom-line results.

Leave behind a cadre of future transformational leaders

Transforming a business requires the right people, and it is especially critical to have the right people on the senior management team with the right skills to drive the necessary changes.

The primary attributes that Randy is looking for in the leaders on his transformational team are:

1) People who can see the changes he is outlining for the business as an opportunity for the business, for their own financial success, and for their career development.

2) People with a strong belief in themselves and confidence that his vision of the future isn’t the only vision for overcoming the challenges they face. People need to bring something to the party.

3) People who want to build an organization in which they are respected. People who build a dynamic, successful organization because they have earned the respect of their team.

Randy adds that in addition to the many managerial-type aspects, “the leaders who really transform organizations go way beyond this. They appeal on a deep emotional and spiritual level to workers’ most fundamental human needs:

  • Feeling important;
  • Making a difference;
  • Being part of something successful and worthwhile.”

In this book, Randy deftly blends his personal and professional experiences such that it is clear that he pours his heart and soul into every endeavor and that his personal values shape what he does “on the job.” It’s no surprise that so much of what Randy has accomplished as a leader has been truly transformational.

by Kevin Brimhall

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