The most powerful formula for creating long-term, high-impact organisational change

A change leader looks into a mirror

More than a hundred years ago, Leo Tolstoy wrote:

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”

Now this article in McKinsey Quarterly discusses how anyone who wants to change an organisation must first learn to look inside and change themselves.

Years of working in leadership and cultural transformation, the authors say, have convinced them that:

“… organizational change is inseparable from individual change. Simply put, change efforts often falter because individuals overlook the need to make fundamental changes in themselves… Organizations don’t change — people do.

To create lasting organisational impact it is therefore necessary to:

“Look both inward and outwards… Integration of looking both inward and outward is the most powerful formula we know for creating long-term, high-impact organizational change.”

Inner Leadership agrees — this is why the book was written.

But we find the authors’ approach for putting this approach into practice overly-analytical and slow.

The authors recommend two skills people can develop and four ways to put them into practice.

First, they recommend developing what they call ‘profile awareness’ and ‘state awareness’. By profile awareness they mean awareness of our own habitual thoughts and emotions and the ways these impact others. By state awareness they mean understanding the emotional states that are driving us when we take actions.

Then they offer four ways to convert this increased awareness into organisational change:

  1. Understand whether you are most comfortable as an archetypal CEO (inspirer), CFO (analyst), CHRO (enabler), or COO (implementer) and learn to switch between these inner aspects of yourself 
  2. Act on your awareness of your own emotional state to reduce the times when you take unhelpful actions 
  3. Translate this greater self-awareness into better understanding of the organisation — and use that to shape change
  4. Realise that organisations don’t change, people do: so move forward one person (or group) at a time

While this kind of analysis and categorisation is what we might expect consultants to recommend, not everyone is comfortable with this approach: not all of us think analytically. And surely what is most needed in a time of change is not more analysis (which slows the process down) but rather more ways to get to good results faster?

The means that Inner Leadership’s recommended approach for building lasting organisation change is similar but different:

  1. Increase self-awareness, yes — but do this in ways that enable people to become more of who they are, not more like a McKinsey consultant. Give people the skills to connect more deeply with who they are and what matters most to them, to become more confident in their own values and priorities, in their own language, and on their own terms.
  2. Give people the tools to become more aware of the assumptions they and others might be making during times of change. Show them how to test and resolve these assumptions.
  3. Give people the tools to become more innovative in a crisis: expand their range of options for moving forward, and for choosing the best option.
  4. Help them inspire themselves and other people to make the chosen way forward happen and to manage the inner emotional processes that inevitably accompany change.

This approach to Inner Leadership creates people who not only know how to survive change but also know how to use change to become stronger.

People who know how to use change to become stronger can create organisations that know how to use change to become stronger.

We believe this is ‘the most powerful formula for creating long-term, high-impact organisational change’: enabling people to become not McKinsey consultants but more dynamic, capable, and inspired versions of themselves


Inner Leadership is a framework and tools for building inspiration in times of change.

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