Transformational Leadership Improvement

 April 20, 2021

Blog post authored by:
Keith Gammill, Manager Of Client Services
Manufacturing Solutions

Why do so many leadership development efforts fail to deliver the results the business sponsors want? I mean the significant “who are you and what have you done with my old leader” kind of improvements. In short, transformation. I’ve been a student of this topic for nearly 30 years now, with over 20 years of that leading teams in industry and the last seven focused almost exclusively on working with others to improve their leadership. During that time, I’ve come to the conclusion that in order to achieve transformational leadership improvement, there are five common obstacles that must be addressed. At AEDC Manufacturing Solutions, we’ve developed a process for addressing each of these obstacles.

I’m going to share how we do this through the lens of a fictitious production line leader. We’ll call her Fran Lee.

Fran began at Shotz Bottling Co. 10 years ago in the bottle capping department, workingMS blog picture as a production helper. She is a quick learner. Within a few years, she was running one of the fastest bottle capping machines in the department. Before long, she was promoted to supervisor of the department.

Fran works hard and knows the equipment and processes in the bottling department better than anyone. Fran is on Shotz Bottling’s “high potential” list, and her manager Mike thinks she is capable of doing his job. Mike believes the company must invest in Fran’s leadership capabilities to prepare her to take the next step.

Mike recognizes that he is an expert in filling and capping bottles but not on developing leaders. He remembers a blog he read on a leadership development process that addresses many of the obstacles he typically bumps up against, so he called the AEDC Manufacturing Solutions team to help. With their help, he laid out a roadmap for Fran’s development.

Step 1: Developing Learning Tension and Support

The first thing Mike did was meet with Fran to discover her interests and desires for her career at Shotz. Fran stated that she was interested in moving up to his role someday. Mike shared that the company was getting ready to offer some leadership classes and that he would like Fran to participate. Mike let Fran know his expectation was for her full engagement with both the training sessions and the in-between session work. Fran agreed, expressing her appreciation for the opportunity. They worked together to establish some high-level goals for Fran’s development. By communicating his expectations and working with Fran to set goals, Mike demonstrated his support for her growth and created a sense of learning tension in Fran that will help her stay focused and achieve her goals.

Step 2: Identifying the “What”

Fran worked with Mike and her Manufacturing Solutions coach to develop a competency model with key actions for her leadership. They then set up a 360-degree survey process to get feedback on her current use of these competencies and key actions. Fran invited Mike, a few other supervisors, and three or four direct reports to give her feedback to focus her improvement efforts. At first Fran thought some of the feedback was a little surprising, but she recognized how helpful it was to hear from others on the areas that needed improvement. Fran now had a clear picture of what she needed to work on.

Step 3: Determining the “Why”

Working with her Manufacturing Solutions coach, Fran developed a future vision for her leadership. Next, she worked with her coach to develop some mid-term and short-term goals to help her move toward her vision. Once that was done, the things that kept her from achieving those goals (Obstacles) came into focus. Now Fran had her “Why.” She had context for why she needed to take a little bit of time each day to work on her leadership skills and apply the techniques she was learning in class.

Step 4: Overcoming Fear and Insecurity

Fran was getting some hands-on experience working with the new skills, tools, and techniques in the classroom training. But using those new approaches out in the “real world” with her team members seemed a lot more intimidating. Fran found it helpful to work with her coach on this step to create little “experiments” that helped her overcome the obstacles keeping her from her goals. Her coach also helped her prepare for needed conversations with team members ahead of time to build her confidence and lower the risk of failure. Calling them experiments made them feel less risky because the real goal was to learn something new!

Step 5: Achieving Focus

The last – and most daunting – obstacle Fran faced in her development was finding time to work on her leadership development goals while still doing her “day job.” In her first coaching session, Fran’s coach talked about “spending time in the wedge.” He drew a circle and then a narrow wedge inside the circle. He said the wedge represented proactive improvement activities and the goal is to spend a little time in this wedge every week – ideally, every day. Fran found that by setting a few goals for her leadership and working on only one or two at a time with coaching support, she could make slow and steady progress that added up to significant improvements.

Spend time in the wedge

Soon Mike and Fran’s team began to notice a change in her. Fran seemed less frazzled. For the first time, her team felt like Fran was listening to them. Rather than telling her team what to do, she sought their ideas and supported them in implementing their suggestions. Fran discovered that by directing less and supporting more, she accomplished more. Her team was much happier and more engaged. Turnover, which was always one of her biggest challenges, was lower now than in recent memory. Fran thought to herself, “I wish I’d known all of this two years ago. Why doesn’t everyone do it this way?”

As you can see, Fran is well on her way to transformational leadership improvement. Although Fran is not real, her story represents the process that Manufacturing Solutions has developed to help hard-working leaders in our state improve their leadership. The investment that leaders like Fran make in improving their leadership represents better results for the business and better quality of life for the teams they lead.


If you are a leader who has tried the typical approach to leadership development, we’re inviting you to consider a better way. You can sign up for a webinar we are hosting on Transformational Leadership Improvement on April 29th, 2021. We will have a few real-world leaders like those Fran represents participating in the webinar. Button

We’ll also be conducting a four-part Leadership Essentials virtual training program utilizing this approach in May and June. You can sign up for that program here.

Keith Gammill   Blog post contributed by:

Keith Gammill
Manager Of Client Services
Arkansas Economic Development Commission
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