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Transformation Activators: Shaping Healthy or Toxic Cultures



"Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek"-Barack Obama

When we began this conversation about transformational trauma, we started from a lens of those that are experiencing the trauma, and explored the fact that transformation can be uncomfortable and evoke fear and practices that can contribute to limited impact and innovation. Consequently, raising an important conversation about the role, effort, and ongoing responsibility of leadership to use this challenge as a proxy towards activating teams and shifting organizational cultures towards the optimal goal of transformation healing. But we missed a critical piece of this challenge that often gets overlooked or dismissed. The importance of acknowledging that transformation trauma not only has a significant impact on those individuals, companies, communities, and processes experiencing the change. It also impacts those leading this type of intense, jolting, and rapid moving change towards a desired “state of being” and shared vision.


This awareness raises a set of fundamental questions:

  • What trauma is experienced by individuals leading this work?

  • What on-going work do they have to do internally as a result of initiating such trauma?

  • How are they being complicit in shaping a toxic culture that perpetuates trauma, when they are not doing their own internal work?

  • What type of ongoing growth do they need to experience to keep the line of sight clear and create healthy organizational culture in the midst of the transformation?

  • How do they sustain themselves as they work toward shared goals?

  • What lessons are they learning that could help others to shift to transformation healing?


Here are a number of golden nuggets and lessons that I’ve found over the course of my career. These insights can assist and sustain leaders that are charged with guiding teams and companies through this process of embracing, resisting, challenging or stopping transformation.


  • Don’t take things personally. Address conflict immediately and utilize a solution-focused approach that resists the act of putting individuals/teams into boxes that generate inaccurate and false narratives.

  • Lead with compassion. Anchor your actions in the belief that modeling a way of being, is grounded in respect for staff and teammates that sets clear expectations, taps into the strengths and passions of others, and moves staff into positions that leverage their best strengths-yielding greater impact.

  • Be prepared to meet and provide intentional support, coaching, and resources to teams/colleagues wherever they are on the lifecycle of transformation-whether they are embracing, resisting, challenging, or stopping the transformation process.

  • Communicate often, consistently, and openly. Be prepared to create the space for questions, brainstorming towards solutions and alternative paths, and pausing as needed in order to find ways to move forward without allowing you or your team to be paralyzed.

  • Know your non-negotiables, and continue to work to align your values and actions- both personally and professionally.

  • Practice self-care, which includes permission to reset, seek respite, and reflect.


Transformation trauma must be seen from various perspectives in order to support the most healthy and impactful cultures and ecosystems for social change and thriving competitive marketplaces. When organizations adopt a posture that supports individuals, teams, and employees experiencing change as well as those that are charged with moving change forward, they set the stage for a culture that can support transformation healing. This type of transformation allows companies and organizations to retain their top talent, deliver results that are surpassed by none, and allow senior level leadership to lead with compassion while expecting outcomes and accountability.


So, when you’re at work with colleagues, having kitchen talks with your spouse or partner, working through a strategic planning process, or sitting with family and friends-let’s challenge ourselves to see the work of transformation as cyclical, not traumatic- but as the ongoing effort that is vital to arrive and grapple with change. What will we stop, challenge, resist, or embrace?


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