One of the most debated, described and defined aspects of managerial competence, leadership continues to claim the attention of practitioners and theorists alike. Leadership, essentially a synthesis of arts, reflects individual experience, understanding, values and capabilities, interacting with situations where, realistically, there is rarely an ‘ideal’ solution. The recognition that transforming a business is something of an ‘heroic journey’ explicitly and implicitly acknowledges the key role of leadership in today’s world as a determinant of success, in an organization’s change, progression and development.
The quality of that leadership is itself largely determined by the leader’s effectiveness as a coach and mentor who can grow the skills and confidence in others, necessary to shape tomorrow’s businesses, organizations and successes. To develop leadership one must work at developing himself. The transformation of the self is central to the leadership development process. Meeting Peter was a very profound experience for me.
I met Peter, CEO of a large healthcare management organization, a year ago. The CEO had recently been picked by the Chairman of the Board to head up the organization of approximately 20,000 employees. Everyone knew him, and it appeared that he was well-liked by employees and generally trusted. Peter is someone I totally admire. He is someone who always makes sure employees all know why they are part of the organization.
The terms ‘charismatic’ and ‘transformational’ are used more or less interchangeably in much of the literature. Distilling a large literature on the ‘ transformational leader’, the notion can be broadly captured by reference to six elements:
an heroic figure (usually with attributed past success stories);
a mystic in touch with higher truths;
a value-driven individual rather than one who is apparently purely self-serving;
someone who is perceived to ‘know the way’;
an individual who has a vision of a more desirable and achievable future;
and finally someone thought to be capable of caring for and developing followers.
All six points reflect attributes of personality and behavior of Peter. Peter has an approach which aspires to significant organizational change through engaged and committed followers. It was John McGregor Burns (1978) who emphasized the meaning and significance of transformational leadership by contrasting it with transactional leadership (Orlikoff 2000). This theme was picked up and elaborated by Bass (1990). According to Bass, transformational leadership has four components:
individualized consideration (the leader is alert to the needs of followers and also takes care to develop them);
intellectual stimulation (the leader encourages followers to think in creative ways and to propose innovative ideas);
inspirational motivation (energizing followers to achieve extraordinary things);
idealized influence (offers followers a role model).
The core of Peter’s model is cantered on the concept of developing oneself to develop others. Specifically, as Peter matures and gains moral perspective, he invests more time and energy in promoting the development of others versus satisfying his own needs. As Avolio and Yammarino (2002) note, through the accumulation of developmental experiences the moral structure of an individual can be enhanced providing sufficient structure to assess complex moral challenges. This basic premise is at the core of what drives transformational leadership to the highest end of the full range of leadership.
In his daily work, Peter identifies developmental opportunities, where there is scope for:
Challenge, and the breaking of new ground.
Work that makes a significant, demonstrable contribution to the business.
Bigger/wider leadership roles, preferably the earlier the better within the leader’s career progression.
Shifting gear and moving up into more strategic roles/tasks and relationships.
Moving and operating out of existing ‘comfort zones’.
Multi-disciplinary and cross-functional working.
Building stakeholder coalitions and alliances, supply chain projects, involving suppliers, deliverers (own organization) and customers.
Acquiring new contributive competencies which will test and enhance both skill and will.
Working on specific role/task assignments in other comparable, but noncompetitive organizations.
Making keynote presentations at major events, where there is a sense of occasion and opportunities to establish reputation and credibility.
Leading (preferably) or acting as a member of jointly run projects with a leading business school, professional body or significant consultancy group.
Setting up and managing increased outsourcing for supportive activities. In effect, leader learning development (like so much interpersonal skills training) is about building competence – and confidence – in three related areas of activity.
On the reasonable assumption that competence – like charity – begins at home, the first priority in Peter development is learning to manage oneself. This includes not only the development of effective self-management skills, but also acquiring high levels of competence in the three primary areas of know-how identified as:
Peter’s personal skills and leader competencies form an appropriately strong base for developing consistently sound working relationships with others. Particularly important are the following interpersonal competencies:
Self awareness and awareness of others.
Listening and questioning skills.
Working as a partner (primus inter pares) as opposed to ‘leader’.
Collaborative problem solving.
Empowering and delegating skills.
I identified five significant distinguishing characteristics which differentiated Peter from the less effective:
He is neither ‘perfect’, nor perfectionists in their demands of others.
He quickly learns skills which he does not possess personally.
He sees management as essentially a team effort.
He strives endlessly for improvement – to him, the game is not over until it’s over.
He admits his weaknesses and learns from his mistakes, but differentiates himself from the less successful.
The leadership theory proposed by Peter is based on the relationship and interaction between the leader and the follower. Under transformational theory, the leader and the follower may possess their own motivations for the interaction, but together they realize a common goal and are changed by the process. The change, or transformation, in the participants is found in the unity of purpose that raises the goal beyond individual satisfaction to a higher level. Peter’s theory is consistent with transformational theory. Collaboration cannot be achieved without the team members reaching a consensus and perhaps giving up something of themselves and changing in the process. Collaboration cannot be realized without facilitation, communication, information, participation, and expectation.
Understanding something of the dynamics of group behaviour and the processes underlying transactions between people, is fundamental to effective leadership (Orlikoff 2000). There are no panaceas or cure-alls, but informed awareness of what is really going on, in behavioral terms, within and between groups helps to give managers – and others – a clearer idea of how to handle relationships in more productive ways. Peter believes that a business needs at least three interrelated forms of leadership:
One which brings about requisite task performance and goal achievement.
One to generate and maintain the commitment of its members.
Another to ensure continuity of congruence between the requirements of the task, and people’s needs and expectations (Schein 1985).
Peter has ability to overcome or compensate for (transform) organizational and individual limitations. He motivates others to do more than they originally intended and indeed often more than they thought possible. Team spirit is aroused. Enthusiasm and optimism are displayed. Peter enables his staff to overcome, to break through, to see beyond the limitations of their organization: he stimulates his ‘followers’ efforts to be innovative and creative by questioning assumptions, re-framing problems, and approaching old situations in new ways’ (Ackoff 1999). Peter is unique leader, on whom organizational success depends (and who therefore receives a considerable share of the benefits of that success).
Peter seeks power not for self-aggrandizement but in order to share it. He empowers others to take an active role in carrying out the value-based mission or vision defined by him. That vision is based on what the organization and followers need, not what the leader wants personally. Thus, Peter appeals to followers’ values, emphasizing that certain important values serve as the common basis for our ideals and goals.
Peter transforms organization by first using his cognitive power to understand complex causal chains and then acting to design outcomes that will benefit the organization and advance his vision. While a substantial degree of cognitive power is required in order for Peter to be effective, such effectiveness results as much from his success in developing followers’ cognitive abilities as from the exercise of his own. Peter with the degree of cognitive power required for a top-level position makes important long-term strategic decisions.
But how much do these decisions affect what actually goes on in the organization on a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly basis? It is the thought and action of managers and employees at lower levels that most affect current and short-term future operations. The finest long-term plan and the wisest long-range actions will surely fail if those who must act today and tomorrow are not capable of doing so. Thus, it is more important for top-level leaders with great cognitive power or vision to help followers expand and improve on their own vision than it is for leaders to simply exercise their cognitive power (Smith 2000).
Peter empowers others to define organizational policies and develop programs that are explicitly based on the values and beliefs contained in the philosophy that in fact put those values and beliefs into organizational action. For example, hiring and promotion policies should take into account values consistent with those in the organization’s philosophy as well as applicants’ knowledge and skill. Reward systems and bonus programs must be based on the values of cooperation and innovative action instead of on competition over a limited pool of resources.
Finally, Peter inculcates values and beliefs through his own individual behavior, his personal practices. He models organizational values and beliefs by living by them constantly and consistently. That is why his leadership behaviors that were described earlier are extremely important. Many people think of these behaviors as tools with which leaders explain their vision to followers and convince them to carry out that vision. Although this is not totally untrue, the far more significant reason these behaviors are important is that leaders use them to demonstrate and illustrate the values and beliefs on which their visions are founded.
That’s why Peter takes so much time and effort – and why he is good manager with strong management skills. He uses everyday managerial activities – a committee meeting, for example – as opportunities to inculcate values. In a meeting the leader may guide a decision-making process while making it clear that final authority and responsibility rests with the group. By so doing, Peter takes what might otherwise be a bureaucratic process and instills the value of empowerment into it. Whenever possible, he overlays value-inculcating actions on ordinary bureaucratic management activities. Without a sound base of management skills, this would not be possible.
Ultimately, examination of Peter’s leadership leads to the recognition that transformational leaders’ own personal behaviors play a large part in shaping organizational culture. This comprehensive theory goes beyond behavior to incorporate personal characteristics. Even more, it includes the organizational context of transformational leadership – that is, culture building. Peter refers to the challenges as trigger events in our lives that oftentimes have a profoundly positive effect on our development. So how do we create the challenges that you must confront to develop into the full person you can be and to achieve your full potential?
I am still searching for that in myself, and I hope you will do the same each and every day, because that is the way to develop leadership—each and every day we emerge, we get better, we know more, and we can influence people more effectively. Peter had a profoundly positive impact on my leadership development. I have chosen a developmental goal for myself, based on my primary style of leadership. After having examined Peter as a transformational leader I have tried to capture the whole process of personal and leadership development in a simple model. Let me explain. The top left-hand part of the model represents what we come into the world with our talents and strengths. Building on those capacities or attempting in some cases to break them down, we have life experiences that shape our development, that comprise our life stream.
On the bottom left, we have the context in which we are currently operating and there we specify the importance of the vision and culture to nurturing leadership development. The rest of the model represents what we typically focus on in terms of leadership development, including enhancing our self-awareness of where we are and where we should focus our energies, then focusing those energies by regulating our development and then finally being consistent in our efforts to call it self-development. A number of important individual and contextual factors feed into self-awareness, but we must go beyond simply being aware to enhance leadership development.
Ackoff, R. L. (1999). Transformational leadership. Strategy & Leadership, 27, 20–25.
Avolio, B. J., & Yammarino, F. J. (2002). Transformational and charismatic leadership: The road ahead. Greenwich, CT: JAI.
Bass, B.M. (1990). Leadership and Performance beyond Expectations, New York: Free Press.
Orlikoff, J. E. (2000). A board as good as its chair. Trusteeship, 8(4).
Schein, E. H. (1985). Organizational culture and leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Smith, C. J. (2000). Trusteeship in community colleges: A guide for effective governance. Washington, DC: Association of Community College Trustees.
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