[Anti-] Transformers: “Leaders in disguise”

What stops innovation and transformation most in your business?

Written by Neal Archbold, CEO of MyPulse

Earlier in May 2022, I did a quick LinkedIn poll asking my 4,500 connections “What stops innovation and transformation most in your business?”

46% of respondents said: “Leadership behaviours”. That is not good reading. In fact, it’s pretty damning.

These results (albeit from a small sample) covered roles in Finance, Sales, Product and technology and across sectors including healthcare and financial services.

However, as a CEO of a business myself, this is something that made me reflect on my own style of leadership and what I myself get right and wrong when it comes to innovation within a leading digital business. 

Please note, this is not a “leader bashing” blog – as we all are trying our hardest to inspire and motivate teams. I have therefore chosen to write this blog in the spirit of learning and sharing and to also spark ideas and thoughts from you, to continue my own development.

The wish to innovate is a power for good in businesses and something we all inherently understand and strive towards as leaders. From my experience, it is often the leaders themselves and their behaviours within businesses that become the biggest blockers and demonstrate the most destructive attributes to those trying to embark on a digital transformation journey. Given the regulatory and status quo challenges in the healthcare industry, it may be even more difficult for leaders to offer employees the autonomy and empowerment to make real change.

As a child of the 80s and with no better genuine link between the word “Transformation” and the 80s cartoon “Transformers” being quite similar, I would like to explore the villains that have plagued the wise and righteous objectives of the “goodies” the Autobots.

Let’s talk about the Decepticons, who have some amazing similarities to certain business personas I have encountered (and probably displayed) over the years. As said, I am still learning too and my desire for this blog is for us all to look at these characters and see if we can reflect on times when we all have demonstrated such behaviours – intentionally or not – and how that could have impacted innovation in our own businesses. 

For those that don’t know or share my passion for 80s cartoons, the scourge of the honourable Optimus Prime and the rest of the Autobots; the Decepticons time-after-time battled the forces of goodness and progress. As with any good kids’ story, the “goodies” won in the end (which should give hope to innovation teams) but some of these adversaries encountered along the way certainly didn’t make these easy…

Let’s Meet the Decepticons [Anti-Transformers]:


Our first “innovation adversary” comes in the form of BARRICADE. The ultimate bad-boss! He was known for public dressing down of people, standards that were so high they could never be met, a deceptive persona (he pretended to be a civic-minded police car) and willingness to turn every conversation into a fight.

Having experienced leaders with this toxic leadership approach personally, it is simply not conducive to innovation and transformation. It causes business culture to retrench into BAU-type decision making and an unwillingness to ‘stick your head above the parapet’. Watch out for Barricades and don’t be one yourself!


BREAKDOWN has an acute case of paranoia. He genuinely believes that things, both living and inanimate, are watching him. He doesn’t like to stand out in a crowd and dreads being different and garnering attention. 

I completely understand cautious progression and optimism through small meaningful steps but large gut feel leaps into the unknown are not the best course of action! However, leaders who fear change, fear ambiguity, fear standing out and dread the perception of others will strangulate the braveness, creativity and entrepreneurial ‘gusto’ to drive businesses forward.


For FRENZY it’s not about any quantifiable cause, or goal, or purpose at all. It’s about violence, fear, destruction, and mayhem. Frenzy lives to fight. He lusts to destroy with an intensity that borders on insanity. War is his fuel, his oxygen.

The leadership trait of Frenzy is to disagree for no reason, challenge for no reason and in a way that goes beyond professional. We all know a Frenzy. As a leader, avoid being one at all costs! 



The last “villain” on display today is the wonderfully named SHOCKWAVE. Unlike the others, Shockwave held a very senior rank in the Decepticons and was held in high regard by many: feared and revered in equal proportions. Described as “deadly efficient with a cold devotion to logic.”

Now I would struggle to argue that efficiency and logic aren’t important tools for business leaders and are also necessary when driving forward innovation. So (I hear you cry) why have you made this an example of villainous behaviour?

Firstly, with Shockwave, his efficiency and logic were blinkered to the extreme. All he looked for was evidence to support his ambition and a ruthless desire to get to his outcomes. This won’t always work in innovation. The perspectives, inputs and shared experiences of all are needed. A strong north star and single-minded objective is key, but without the collective lived experiences and shared wisdom of the core team: you will end up focused on the wrong thing. Now I know I have personally got this wrong before!

 Secondly, logic is brilliant – I am an accountant so I can’t avoid thinking this way occasionally – but sometimes transformation and disruption need a different and non-linear perspective. Creativity, looking at things from new angles drives genuine step change….if Apple hadn’t created the iPod, the logical progression today would be CDs that would be the size of 5p pieces!

My recommendations


  • Be self-aware of your own behavioural impacts on transformation
  • Build small and aligned team
  • Complement your team with external stakeholders/experts that increase the drive and alignment

Externally; when looking for the right partner to achieve your transformational goals, look for a team who:

  • Has experience of driving change
  • Makes small meaningful steps
  • Has a human-led approach
  • Is a critical friend and adviser
  • Makes positive and collaborative input

* Some of this content was originally  written when Neal was working at Etch UK and thanks to the Seth Campbell and the team there for allowing the article to be reused.