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Transformational Leadership

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What are your staff doing when you’re not around?

As a leader with (or without) direct P&L accountability, your task is to act strategically and tactically to increase profitability while enhancing your customers’ experience, in a market economy where your business win/loss ratio is a moment-to-moment measurement, and your competitors are evolving as we speak.

Look up the word transform in your dictionary and you will come across interpretations that include change, sometimes dramatic change, in form, function, appearance, and value. So here is the challenging question: is your leadership transformational? In Leadership: Theory and Practice, Peter Northouse writes, “Transformational Leadership is a process that changes, and transforms people. It is concerned with emotions, values, ethics, standards and long-term goals.”[1] Bringing about transformative change in our team-members is not going to happen in a workshop.  It is not going to happen by discussing product features, compensation structures, or feedback on completed tasks. Such transactional leadership is of value, but it will not tap into the emotions, values and deeply held morality of a person in such a way that they are literally moved to a new plane of consciousness and ability in their work.

In my experience, to be a transformational leader is to become completely engrossed in the lives of our staff; in their motivations, emotions—in their purpose at work. Such an environment is intentional, intense, and requires a deep level of permission and trust. This happens in waves, and such waves cannot be condensed or skipped. And here is the part that requires our greatest discipline: we need to know when to leave people alone—to be absent—to let them process and work through lessons on their own. Transformative change, in my experience, simply cannot occur while we are standing there, with someone, in the moment. Transformative change requires us to create a movement—a flow—where we move into a discussion that introduces new concepts, offers alignment with personal goals and values, and then we must leave people alone to allow the process to happen. When we re-engage we begin by seeking permission to move the dialogue ahead.

Trust me that you will know when the transformation has occurred. Your team, and you, will be working at a level that none of you has witnessed before; and much of the change will have occurred when you were not around!

Published with acknowledgement to Thomson Carswell, publishers of the 2nd edition of Sales Force Management in the Financial Services by Paul K. Bates, from which parts of this article were drawn.
[1] Northouse, Peter G., Leadership: Theory and Practice 6th edition, Thousand Oaks CA: Sage, 2013.
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