Leadership that Transforms

by Burrs, Dr. Linda Wednesday, October 13, 2010
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In the eighties, Hasbro© began marketing and selling an original and innovative toy that changed shapes, functions, and missions upon command. These toys were a huge hit with children and some adults as they took regular toys like cars, trucks, and planes and transformed them into mission centric forms known as Transformers. Their slogan, “more than meets the eye” offered the idea that what was seen was not all there was. The leader of the Autobots was Optimus Prime and the Decepticons’ leader was Megatron. When transformed, Autobots and Decepticons created new approaches, new weapons, and new strategies for staying competitive with each other in order to win battles.

Today, organizations are looking for innovative and original-thinking leaders who can successfully use their leadership skills and abilities to interact within the culture of organizations to transform upon command.

Given the competitive nature of doing business, it has become a fact that leaders who have not developed the necessary leadership skills required to exercise influence with others to accomplish today’s demanding goals, do not meet business initiatives or revenue objectives. Leadership is more than what typically meets the eye. At the surface, leadership appears to be about title, power, and status but beneath the surface, it is about relationships, influence, and transforming for change. Leadership Transformers …more than meets the eye.

Leadership has probably received more attention from scholars, researchers, and social scientists in the last twenty years than any other subject. Libraries and bookstores are crowded with books, journals, CDs, and tapes on the elusive, misunderstood, and seeming inconsistent theories and definitions of leadership. Given the fact leaders create reality for followers, it seems imperative that this phenomenon called leadership be explored, evaluated, and understood as much as possible.

Leadership Defined

Historically, research studies focused on leaders and too little attention was given to followers. For too long and too often, followers were considered as persons without vision, motivation, talents or skills. Today, the study of leadership has evolved to be more inclusive of followers and their needs. It has also become important to recognize opportunities that may be used for both the leader and follower to partner in working together as much and as often as possible.

There seems to be no hard and fast rules that may be universally applied with the support and backing of research that would suggest there is one best way to lead. Some describe leadership as an intellectual human competence involving a set of skills for problem solving. Margaret Wheatley suggested leadership principles may be grounded in a new science founded in chemistry, biology and physics and is based on systems theory. Frances Hesselbein declared “leadership is a matter of how to be, not how to do it”. Others have said leadership is based on specific standards of values which are built on respect for others.

Leaders As Transformers…More Than Meets The Eye

Leadership is about transforming people, ideas, concepts, resources, and cultures into meaningful, functional, and practical realities. Transformational leaders invoke new realities and concepts in order to create passion for the vision and encourage the release of energy for work toward accomplishing the goal. Leadership is about transforming relationships. One thing is sure, if leaders are unwilling to give up their traditional mental models or reevaluate the emotional connection to which they have become accustomed, followers often fail to embrace the vision and consequently remain untransformed.

For all intents and purposes, leadership is an emotional and cognitive relationship between leader and follower. A leader’s influence is much more useful when there is a positive force or energy followers may tap into as they support the leader. It has also been said that leadership may also be seen as a gift followers bestow on those caught in the act of leadership. This would suggest that there is much more interconnectedness in the leader / follower relationship than initially meets the eye.

Leaders must have followers who accept and believe in their abilities and vision. Leadership is power and when used properly may effectively create the type of influence that leads to transformation of attitude, strategy, and behaviors. Leadership that transforms is influencing and energizing and is how leaders and followers learn to dance.

Leaders are humbly aware that how they go, so goes the vision and so goes the organization. Leadership influences followers to perform and sets the compass and the climate of the culture. Leaders practice leadership through a variety of actions and activities. Leadership is a social force for reality setting and does not occur in a vacuum. There has to be someone to lead.

Transforming Through Values Based Leadership

We know from past experience that leadership creates a value system from where the organization chooses to build a coalition to support their mission. It is also true that the leaders’ values set the tone for followers. Leaders and followers often have conflicting values which may interfere with successfully accomplishing change initiatives. There are many that believe it is also leadership’s role to find creative ways to release the energy of followers. This release of energy may be done only through a values based leadership approach. Successful leadership is measured by the success of the followers and trust in the process of leadership. Leadership founded on the values of morality and trust is often a very powerful medium.

Transforming Power of Trust

Central to the process of successfully transforming followership is trust in leadership’s willingness to lay aside self-interests and rally the troops around the shared vision. To build trust requires openness, honesty, and integrity as a daily part of the exercise of leadership. Trust, integrity, and respect also builds participation and cooperation between leadership and followership Respect for others leads to encouraging everyone to participate in the decisions that affect their work and the right to have a say in how it gets done.

Transforming Through Communication

Building trust begins with effective communication skills. Communication should be a part of every leader’s development plan. Communication should be clear and often. Communication is the glue that helps make transformation stick (Davidson, 2003). When communication is shared frequently, clearly and forthright, followers positively respond to the relationship thus supporting transformation.

Cultural Transformers

Cultures motivate followers to expend effort in a socially accepted model to accomplish the cultures collective goals. Learning to lead to a vision is important, however, learning to pursue a shared vision is imperative for leaders and followers to overcome self-interests and the inertia of the status quo found in many cultures. This attempt by the culture to maintain its stability presents significant challenges to transform the culture. When working within cultures, it may be necessary to select a vision that may be shared based on the values inherent in the culture. Transforming cultures requires developing problem solving skills and conflict management expertise. These vital skills help form a clear assessment of strengths and patterns that are preventing transformation.

Competitive pressures and pressures from followers to be involved in meaningful and fulfilling work have led to the trying out of more creative and innovative leadership applications that result in more follower participation. Leaders should diligently and consistently work to release the self-leadership energy with each follower through transformation within the culture.

Emotional Leadership That Transforms Leaders

Leaders who understand the science of moods also understand how important it is they maintain an appropriate level of energy within their organization. Research suggests that a leader’s emotional style also drives everyone else’s moods and behaviors – through a neurological process call mood contagion. Goleman et al (1994) suggested there are five questions leaders should ask themselves to determine their emotional leadership level. They are: 1) Who do you want to be, 2) Who are you now 3) How will you get from here to there, 4) How can you make your personal change stick, and 5) Who can help you? The state of the mind of the leader affects the follower in very clear and distinct ways. Energetic and passionate leaders positively infect those around them. This becomes critical as leaders increase their efforts to transform followers into leaders.

Leadership is not a task that can be managed alone. “The cloak of leadership is heavy and needs to be shared. No one person can lead or energize an organization” (Plamondon, 1996, p. 278). Strengthening one’s emotional leadership skills is incumbent upon a leader being honest with themselves by knowing their limitations and being willing to share the cloak of leadership. The outcry in organizations today appears to be for leadership that matters and leadership that cares. The call is for leaders with a moral compass that works full time … not here and there and for leaders who are collaborative healers who can embrace life and live their values without losing faith. They realize that every person is a promise and their job is to help them deliver on the promise. Leadership may never be defined to everyone’s satisfaction. I believe that at best, each leader and their followers may establish their collective legacy where everyone may begin practicing leadership that transforms … regardless of title or job.

Everything is changing in organizational life and leaders must get and stay prepared, not in the traditional way but in a more fluid, open, and less controlling way. Global competition has forever changed how businesses operate and how they are organized. Leaders have to take responsibility for creating new relationships that are inclusive, meaningful, and supportive for every member of the organization.

I personally believe when a leaders’ behavior erodes the human spirit, it crushes the seeds of creativity, withers the fruit of innovation on the vine, and depletes the energizing force by destroying the natural passions of an organization’s members. These lessons will continue as long as there are those interested in learning them. As leaders evolve through growth into wholeness, individual gifts will also unfold that will allow us all to appreciate the call of leadership.

Preparing talented, energetic, and passionate followers for the mountain of challenges they will face become the primary focus for the leader who desires any hope for success. Leadership is finding passion, energy, and joy in the transformation. Leadership Transformers … more than meets the eye!