For nearly eight decades, Textron, Inc.—known as the original conglomerate—operated like a classic holding company. It had owned businesses as diverse as a lingerie factory, a steel mill, and a cruise ship. “Each business had to make their numbers, and ownership was pretty much hands-off. There was no enterprise-wide activity, no synergy, among the businesses,” said John Butler, executive vice president of administration and chief human resources officer of Textron.

In 2001 that began to change. CEO Lewis Campbell, along with 20 executives from across the businesses and corporate functions, formed the company’s Transformation Leadership Team (TLT) and began to take an enterprise-wide approach to leadership. The Center for Creative Leadership’s (CCL®) program for senior executives, Leadership at the Peak, was quickly tapped as the front-line resource for TLT members.

Taking an Enterprise View Today, the company is a highly focused enterprise with nine business units that include brands like Bell Helicopter, Cessna Aircraft, and E-Z-GO golf cars, as well as several industrial businesses and Textron Financial. Evidence of a streamlined, networked enterprise is abundant and continuous improvement is a way of life. For instance, Textron went from offering 154 separate U.S. healthcare plans to one with three options; from running 1,800 payroll systems to one; from operating 88 data centers to three.

Five years ago, Textron promoted only 6 per cent of its top 175 executives from within the businesses. In 2006, that rate had improved to 74 per cent. Recently, when Bell Helicopter won a number of accounts, it needed to ramp up to deliver. “Bell had to have the resources,” Butler recalled. “We saw the call to action and quickly moved talent into Bell from the other organizations. The other businesses didn’t balk; they saw this as the right thing to do. We would not have had those experiences five years ago.” “Through a lot of hard work on the team’s part, they really came together to lead in new ways to give them the business results they wanted,” said CCL’s Dave Loring.

The culture of “lone wolf” leadership that defined Textron at the corporate level also played out within individual Textron business units. For example, Textron Financial Corporation, a provider of financing services for 28,000 businesses in 470 industries, has a highly segmented operation. Again, CCL has made a difference with a series of three leadership sessions for the Senior Leadership Team (SLT). The SLT/CCL Leadership Development Program combined a range of solutions, including personal coaching, to accelerate leadership and support key goals. The program has helped to build a more collaborative, enterprise-minded approach to leading the Textron financial business. An initial evaluation showed that the program’s impact was clearly felt at the individual and interpersonal level, according to CCL’s Jamie Gurley. “All SLT members perceived that the CCL program has made them more effective leaders. They gained key insights about their own behaviors and the impact they have on others. At the same time, they began to see the value in the diverse perspectives and skill sets of their peers.”

The program set the groundwork for improved relationships among members of the SLT. While much of their work continues to be independent, they have taken steps toward more open and collaborative relationships. They report more effective communication and interaction across the senior management team: “There is an increased ease of doing business now. An ease of sharing best practices. A heightened sense of being able to reach out,” noted one member. After completing the program, SLT members also showed an increased ability to give feedback and to coach and develop others.