How to Become a Game-Changing Leader

To successfully lead major organizational transformations, executives need to align purpose, performance, and principles within their companies. Doing so isn’t easy — and requires mastery of a wide range of leadership skills.

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In recent years, we have come to believe that it is increasingly important for business leaders to learn how to build companies that are simultaneously purpose-driven, performance-focused, and principles-led. We developed this point of view from two quite different perspectives: One of the authors is an academic and adviser to C-suite executives on building enterprise leadership capability, and the other is an executive, board member, and CEO coach who, as CEO and president of Ford Motor Co. from 2006 to 2014, led a successful turnaround at that company.1 (See “About the Research.”)

At a time when the pace of change in business is faster than ever, we believe that building organizations with these three characteristics is no longer a choice. Being performance-driven is clearly essential to success; continuous disruption, rapid technological innovation, and turbulence require that today’s leaders build agile organizations with resilient employees in order to achieve superior performance.2

But focusing on results alone is not enough. Demographic, cultural, and technological changes have led to a workforce that demands a set of operating principles characterized by core values such as transparency, trust, inclusion, and real-time collaboration to help guide behaviors and decision-making in companies.3 Finally, studies have shown that millennials are deeply motivated by corporate social responsibility and a compelling sense of purpose.4 Together, these forces make the case that companies that fail to aspire to align purpose, performance, and principles will also fail to attract the best talent. Furthermore, to achieve the kind of transformations that today’s fast-moving economy often requires of businesses, executives need engaged, committed employees who have opportunities to contribute their knowledge. Purpose and principles can help engage employees in support of high performance.



1. See B.G. Hoffman, “American Icon: Alan Mulally and the Fight to Save Ford Motor Company” (New York: Crown Business, 2012).

2. J. Manyika, M. Chui, J. Bughin, R. Dobbs, P. Bisson, and A. Marrs, “Disruptive Technologies: Advances That Will Transform Life, Business, and the Global Economy,” McKinsey Global Institute report, May 2013,

3. C. Turco, “The Conversational Firm: Rethinking Bureaucracy in the Age of Social Media” (New York: Columbia University Press, 2016); and R.D. Austin and D.M. Upton, “Leading in the Age of Super-Transparency,” MIT Sloan Management Review 57, no. 2 (winter 2016): 25-32.

4. See, for example, D. Finn and A. Donovan, “PwC’s NextGen: A Global Generational Study,” PwC research report, 2013; “Engaging and Empowering Millennials,” PwC research report, 2014,; and “The Deloitte Millennial Survey 2017,”

5. D.A. Ready and E. Truelove, “The Power of Collective Ambition,” Harvard Business Review 89, no. 12 (December 2011): 94-102.

6. D.A. Ready, “Getting Employees Excited About a New Direction,” Nov. 20, 2015,

7. See for a detailed history of Four Seasons Hotels.

8. D.A. Ready, “Leading at the Enterprise Level,” MIT Sloan Management Review 45, no. 3 (spring 2004): 87-91; and J. Birkinshaw, N.J. Foss, and S. Lindenberg, “Combining Purpose With Profits,” MIT Sloan Management Review 55, no. 3 (spring 2014): 49-56.

9. L. Bossidy and R. Charan, “Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done” (New York: Crown Business, 2002).

10. D.A. Ready and M.E. Peebles, “Developing the Next Generation of Enterprise Leaders,” MIT Sloan Management Review 57, no. 1 (fall 2015): 43-51.

11. D.A. Ready, “How Storytelling Builds Next-Generation Leaders,” MIT Sloan Management Review 43, no. 4 (summer 2002): 63-69.

12. D. Ancona, T.W. Malone, W.J. Orlikowski, and P.M. Senge, “In Praise of the Incomplete Leader,” Harvard Business Review 85, no. 2 (February 2007): 92-100.

13. R. Goffee and G. Jones, “The Character of a Corporation: How Your Company’s Culture Can Make or Break Your Business” (New York: Harper Collins, 1998).

14. D.A. Ready and J.A. Conger, “Make Your Company a Talent Factory,” Harvard Business Review 85, no. 6 (June 2007): 68-77.

15. N. Nohria and R. Khurana, eds., “Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice” (Boston: Harvard Business Press, 2010).

16. D.A. Hofmann, “Overcoming the Obstacles to Cross-Functional Decision Making: Laying the Groundwork for Collaborative Problem Solving,” Organizational Dynamics 44, no. 1 (January-March 2015): 17-25.

17. M. Goldsmith and M. Reiter, “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful” (New York: Hyperion, 2007).

18. H. Gregersen, “Bursting the CEO Bubble: Why Executives Should Talk Less and Ask More Questions,” Harvard Business Review 95, no. 2 (March-April 2017): 76-83.

19. D.A. Ready, L.A. Hill, and R.J. Thomas, “Building a Game-Changing Talent Strategy,” Harvard Business Review 92, no. 1-2 (January-February 2014): 62-68.

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Comment (1)
Jayakumar.K.M. Nair
Thanks for the article.

Change is essential, change is unchangeable and change is permanent. 

Basically there are 6 pillers of the platform of change
P - People
P - Purpose
P - Principles
P - Practice
P - Performance  
P - Profit of performance

Link them strongly and you will have a CHANGE.

J K M Nair/CEO and Director - Training Solutions International .  You can follow me at twitter or fb or to my site at