Transformation is almost a buzz word at the moment. Somehow though I feel we have lost sight of what transformation means. Search on Google and transformation is defined as “a marked change in form, nature, or appearance”. If you accept that everything is changing (at an increasing rate) then probably the operative word here is “marked”. The change must be noticeable and significant. Transformation is something of a signpost: things were a certain way before the transformation and a certain way after the transformation. The result is a new state of being in and with the world.

Does it mean everything is different though? Does transformation mean the past is left behind and a new future created? Actually if you think about it, some condition of the past (and perhaps the conflict and discomfort associated with it) creates the environment for the transformation to happen. More than that, for it to have any sense for us, the transformation lives on a continuum, it is a part of an evolving story. For sure it is a significant part of the story, it’s the chapter you don’t want to miss, nonetheless it is still part of the story.

In our world, we expect a great deal of our leaders. We expect them to create “a way” for the organisation, a winning way (think of the “GE Way”). We expect them to be bold and we expect them to have a pervasive impact even though they are one person amongst many. With these pressures it can be easy, particularly for new leaders, to behave like the past is left behind and the story starts today. I have been guilty of that myself. In trying to promulgate a new way, a better way, it is so easy not to acknowledge where the organisation has come from; those aspects that have served the organisation well as well as those aspects in need of reform.

Even in an organisation that is now faltering, powerful memories exist of how that organisation came to exist and thrive. These memories, almost always point to latent strengths, powerful drivers of change, that are already there, waiting to be reignited. Leaders who tell the broader narrative of the organisation not only connect to people by recognising their story, but also can awaken a deep capacity. Just as the Mad Hatter reminds Alice of her “muchness” from her first time in Wonderland, leaders can remind us of our own “muchness” and in doing so build collective confidence to take the leap of faith required for transformation.

When we engage people through the story, we start to create the frame of mind for the individual transformation that lives inside every major transformation.