“The most powerful formula for creating long-term, high-impact organisational change” (McKinsey)

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 have convinced the authors 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.

They say that 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.

So how can we achieve this combination of inner and outer change?

The approach the McKinsey authors recommend is for people to develop two new skills and put them into practice in four ways.

They call the first skill ‘profile awareness’, which means becoming aware of our own habitual thoughts and emotions and the ways these impact other people. They call the second skill ‘state awareness’, by which they mean understanding the emotional states that are driving us when we take actions.

Then they offer four ways to convert these two types of increased awareness into organisational change:

  1. Understand which archetypal role you are most comfortable in and learn to flex between them: CEO (inspirer), CFO (analyst), CHRO (enabler), or COO (implementer)
  2. Use 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 other people in the organisation — and use that to shape change
  4. Realise that organisations don’t change, people do: so move forward one person or one group of people at a time

This analytical approach is exactly what we might expect from consultants. But not everybody thinks analytically so making everyone in an organisation think this way is likely to be difficult and slow. And in a time of change, surely what we need is not more analysis but more ways of taking better actions faster?

This is why the Inner Leadership approach to building lasting change has a different focus:

  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.
    Don’t ask people to work out which of four boxes they feel most comfortable in and then learn to become better at roles that make them feel uncomfortable. Instead, give people the tools to understand more deeply who they are and what matters most to them. Help them to become clearer and more confident about their values, their purpose and priorities, expressed their way, in their terms. And to become and be themselves more fully, in ways that benefit and develop them and their organisation.
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  2. Give people the tools to become more aware of the assumptions they and others might be making during times of change.
    These underly the “habitual thoughts and emotions” that the McKinsey authors talk about. And so showing people how to identify, test, and resolve their assumptions not only identifies these habits it also provides a way of keeping them when they are useful and changing them when they are not.
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  3. Give people the tools to be able to find more options to move forward, to find the opportunities in a crisis, and choose the best way forward.
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  4. Help people to inspire themselves and each other to make that chosen way forward happen, better, faster.

This, surely, is the desired outcome: not more analysis but better actions, implemented faster and with more enthusiasm.

We think this is approach is more direct than McKinsey’s’. It expands the range of options for action and builds the inspiration and momentum make those actions succeed. It doesn’t bog the organisation down in analysis.

This approach creates people who not only know how to analyse change but also know how to take action to use change to become stronger, antifragile.

And people who know how to use change to become stronger 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’: not to make people to become more like McKinsey consultants but to enable people to become more dynamic, more capable, more inspired-inspiring versions of themselves.


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

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You can buy the book here and the workbook here.

(And remember: you don’t learn to swim by reading about swimming, you also need to practice.)

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