How Going for Breakthrough – and Transformation – Raises the Bar on Business Results, Culture and Leadership

What is Your Definition of Success?

Each of us, as leaders, wants our organizations to succeed. We may define our success differently – profitability, earnings, market share, year-over-year growth, customer satisfaction, or product innovation – but we all have a set of metrics we pursue. 

What is your definition of success? And even more importantly, how far are you reaching outside your organization’s current comfort zone of capability and performance? Your level of “reach” is critical because it sets the stage for how much you can achieve during transformational change.

Setting the Bar Too Low

Most people, many executives included, set the bar too low. This is a natural tendency because we all want to succeed and not fail. So, we unconsciously set our vision and goals lower than we could achieve. This raises goal attainment, which our egos like, but it lowers the performance of ourselves, our people, and our organization. We end up settling for less.

Related Video:
 How to Break Through Limitations and Barriers to Achieve the Extraordinary


Going All In 

The other option? Go all in. Declare and pursue breakthrough-level results and the transformational change required to deliver them. Commit to taking on the highest mountain you can conceive, and align everything in your organization to climbing that mountain and achieving “breakthrough.”

What is Breakthrough?

Common definitions of breakthrough include:

  • Overcoming an obstacle to make a significant achievement
  • A sudden dramatic increase in knowledge, understanding, performance, or outcome
  • An important discovery or development that helps solve a massive problem or challenge

Fundamentally, breakthrough means reaching for the stars; going for what others only dream about. It is putting yourself, as a leader, on the line and pursuing an outcome that on the surface seems outside the reach of your organization. This takes courage and know-how.

Download Worksheet: Identifying the Breakthroughs Your Are After

Unleash the Human Potential in Your Organization

When you set the bar high, it unleashes the human potential in your organization. Going for breakthrough calls forth many of the very changes in people, culture, and the organization that are required to produce breakthrough. It causes people to:

  • Dig deep within themselves to find more of their true capabilities
  • Bust out of their old mindsets and think more creatively and operate more efficiently
  • Collaborate and work together across boundaries as the huge challenge requires cross-boundary support and insight
  • Communicate more openly and share information and power
  • Commit and align to priorities, and focus on what is mission critical
  • Innovate and create the new solutions that the breakthrough requires

A great example of this phenomenon occurred in 1962 after president John F. Kennedy declared to the world that America would “send a man to the moon and return him safely.” At the time, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was an average government agency performer. Soon after Kennedy’s declaration, it became a stellar performer as its new breakthrough required a transformational change, and it delivered it. The level of openness, collaboration, cross-boundary support, and innovation sky-rocketed in the agency, and the nation achieved its goal.

Why Leaders Avoid Going for Breakthrough and Organizational Transformation

Over the past forty years of advising senior executives, we’ve seen increasing reluctance in executives to go for breakthrough. We believe several factors are at play:

  • Most have been part of or led numerous failed change efforts, and they don’t want to repeat the failure.
  • The marketplace has become increasingly complex and chaotic, creating confusion and lack of alignment in leaders that is resulting in setting lower targets that do not require the same degree of cultural and organizational transformation.
  • The road to achieving breakthrough has become increasingly non-linear with no direct line of sight at the start about how to get there, so leaders cannot rely on their traditional tools of project management and change management.

The net result is that leader’s lack of understanding about how to achieve breakthrough has resulted in a lack of leadership courage to declare and commit to breakthrough. 

What Does It Take to Achieve Breakthrough?

Achieving breakthrough requires a change in:

  • Mindset and worldview
  • Behavior and skills
  • Systems, structure, business processes, and technology
  • Culture

Leaders need to know how to lead transformational change, and few do. With research consistently revealing that 60-70% of all change efforts fail, the path to success is clear: we need to build change leadership capability in our leaders. Only then can they declare breakthrough, AND deliver the organizational transformation required to achieve it.

Declaring breakthrough without knowing how to lead transformational change is problematic. Rather than unleash people’s performance, it causes resistance, frustration and low morale, and sets the organization back.

But when you – as a leader – can back up your declaration to achieve breakthrough with competent and conscious change leadership, you are able to design and implement the required changes in ways that turn the potential you have unleashed in your organization into high-level performance. The result from you leading transformational change: your organization achieves its breakthrough and puts your “man on the moon.” 

Related Video:
 How to Break Through Limitations and Barriers to Achieve the Extraordinary

Download Worksheet: Identifying the Breakthroughs Your Are After


About the author

Drs. Dean Anderson and Linda Ackerman Anderson

Drs. Dean Anderson and Linda Ackerman Anderson are are the pioneers of Conscious Change Leadership and are known as the “masters of transformation”. For the last four decades they have continually challenged mainstream thinking about leadership, transformation and human performance to the C-suite of Fortune 500 companies and traditional global organizations like NATO.