Organization & Leadership Consulting

The Skills of A Turnaround Artist


For as long as I can remember I have been frustrated by ineffective organizations. My first such memory was around age ten when my family moved and we tried a new church down the street. I didn’t like it. Something about that congregation felt wrong to me. I begged my parents to return to our former church, which we did.

Since that day, it has been my pursuit to try to figure out just what is wrong with organizations that have lost their effectiveness. Eventually, this became my research focus of my doctoral work as I investigated the dual questions of what goes wrong in dysfunctional organizations and what skills are needed to fix it. In studying countless successful and unsuccessful turnaround organizations, I determined that leaders need a unique skill set. In the next set of posts to this blog, I will explore these skills one by one. I invite you, dear reader, to join in the conversation and expand our collective insights into this important topic.

Becoming a Strategist

The first essential skill of a turnaround artist is that of a “Strategist.” Much like a chess master who constructs a mental plan of attack, so too is the strategic turnaround leader. Chess masters build complex mental models with an opening, a middle game, and an end-game plan. They are continually thinking in advance what will be their next move as well as contemplating the possible moves of their opponent. Then, when the opponent chooses a move, the strategic chess player reacts proactively and dynamically.

The fluid, strategic turnaround leader does not sit back and wait for things to happen. Turnaround leaders move and adjust continually until their ends are achieved. One of my personal leadership axioms captures this skill by saying: “Leaders are always one-half step ahead of the people they lead.” Too far ahead and people do not see you leading. Too reactive and your team won’t see you as a leader. One-half step ahead is just about right to maintain a dynamic pace of leading change and transforming culture.


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