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Staying Strong as a Transformational Leader: What Does it Take?

Growth - transformational Leadership

Growth - transformational Leadership In our world today, leaders often find themselves faced with the most daunting challenges: From the need to make decisions faster or lose an opportunity to turn a profit without compromising quality. Gone are the days where “steady as she goes” was an option. Today, the next best thing comes to the leader who connects the dots from several information streams faster than her competitors. And, the speed at which leaders need to pass along such information is equally faster compared to even a decade ago. Clearly, leaders who have mastered how to work with changing plans and shifting priorities, as well as able to make decisions under unpredictable circumstances will thrive from those who struggle. So, what does it take to master the ability to deal with what reality is asking of us today while staying humble and persisting against the odds?   In addition to considering how to modify certain personality traits known to influence TLBs, I suggest time should be spent in cultivating the following three essentials. These essentials find support in the scholarly literature, and confirmed by working closely with leaders worldwide: (1) Discerning Judgment; (2) Growth Mindset; and the (3) Power of Choice. These three elements combined allow you to surf instead of fighting the wave of unpredictability and change. In fact, all of Papillon MDC Inc.’s Leadership Programs aim to nurture and support these essentials that contribute to character and ways of being mindful.

Discerning Judgment

To recap, TLs exhibit natural tendencies to want to work with people in a manner that builds their confidence and motivates them to believe in putting forth their best efforts. Moreover, research shows that leaders who demonstrate higher moral reasoning are more inclined to demonstrate TLBs. Moral reasoning reflects how people think about their interaction with their social environment, which requires that they leverage problem-solving strategies. It would therefore seem reasonable to assume that TLs would know how to deal with right vs. wrong issues, as well as know when to make changes and to do so in the most effective way. A right vs. wrong issue is when the situation clearly calls for a decision or an action that will restore stability or set people back on track. There is clearly a right way to do things because doing it any other way would be wrong. Leaders tend to experience these types of situations on a daily basis. However, the greatest challenge in any given business environment is to get people to work together and to manage perceptions of power. Being in a position of power complicates responsibilities. In some situations, TLs will find themselves having to deal with responsibilities that conflict with each other. Sometimes, they will find that a set of responsibilities bestowed upon them in their role conflicts with their personal values. No matter how the TL looks at these situations, there is at the core a conflict of moral claims. No decision is a wrong decision. That’s because these situations ask that you move past the right vs wrong way of thinking and see them as a right-versus-right scenario. To make this change requires strengthening your discerning judgement by looking at issues in light of personal and organizational values since the decision taken will not only shape your character but also that of your organization. Discerning judgement also includes the element of self-regulation where you remain mindful of when to ask questions, when to make statements, and when to listen.  Hence, you quickly come to appreciate that “Saying the right thing at the wrong time makes it the wrong thing”.

Growth Mindset

To deal with change effectively, TLs have had to intellectually stimulate people to think differently about their situations as well as inspire motivation to keep moving forward with steadfast determination. And, although no research has been done in this area, we surmise that the TL may be more inclined to focus on the process of winning rather than trying not to lose. This focus is described as having a growth mindset, and it has received considerable attention in the educational literature. Research by Carol Dweck shows that our mindset predicts whether we succeed to expectations or we give in to our mistakes and fail to meet expectations. Basically, if we believe we can manage through obstacles and that our way of thinking is not fixed (as some believe that intelligence is fixed), but rather malleable by the focus we decide to take, we actually have a greater chance of succeeding despite the odds. Moreover, when we tell ourselves that our steady effort will pay off and that we can benefit when we ask for support from others, we are more likely to cultivate a growth mindset. The effects are cumulative with every new challenge being seen as an opportunity to exercise our skills and to learn as opposed to turning away or giving up at the first feeling of potential failure. Applying this knowledge to TL, if you cultivate a growth mindset you are likely to notice when your leadership behaviors are more effective in challenging situations; thereby, adjusting your approach as opposed to giving up. Moreover, when you cultivate a growth mindset in how you manage right vs. right scenarios, you also inspire others to think more broadly and more deeply about complex issues. Indeed, part of the process of nurturing a growth mindset requires an out-in approach along with an in-out. The out-in makes reference to you noticing what the context (and people) is asking of you, and putting in the effort required to respond to the best of your abilities. The in-out approach is a personal reflection of how you internalized the effects of your actions and decisions on the people. Did you see the experience as one of learning and growing or one of failure and disappointment? Cultivating a growth mindset has you noticing the inner dialogue that colors your personal reflection, and making a choice to change it. Hence, the choice to become more transformational in your leadership style is about making the choice to practice the TLBs from a growth mindset standpoint.  

The Power of Choice

Some leaders may naturally feel a pull toward demonstrating TLBs. But even transformational leaders have bad days! Nowhere in the quotes stated at the start of this paper or in any of the articles reviewed is there mention of transformational leaders being extraordinary people. These leaders were seen as being transformational by their followers. Being seen as transformational did not imply perfect scores on measures of TLBs. It simply meant demonstrating more of these behaviors, which invariably meant they demonstrated less of other behaviors. Hence, TLs make decisions to do more of the same, and it was noticed by their followers. Therefore, they chose to demonstrate TLBs more often than not. To our knowledge there is no research on the trajectory of transformational behaviors and whether they increase or decrease over time in the face of varying circumstances. This would involve identifying people very early on their professional career, following them for years to come, and charting their behavioral scores along transformational behavioral scales. It is safe to say that if we were to study transformational leadership from a longitudinal perspective, we would learn that leaders do lose sight of who they want to be from time to time. Floundering or meandering here and there would be part of their process of learning, growing, and becoming better leaders. Hence, choose to accept that even when you begin to work on your TLBs, and make them more consistent, there will be times when you won’t be as effective as you would have liked. Acceptance is a personality trait that goes well with a growth mindset. Finally, as you make the choice to commit to the practice of TLBs, and choose to be accepting of when you derail off the path, there will be people who will not welcome your new behavioral habits. It is here that you make the final and last choice to flex your style. Flexing your leadership style to accommodate what people need will go a long way to gaining the trust and confidence necessary to pave the way for them to grow at their own rhythm and in their own way.

References for the Transformational Leadership Series

  • Bass, B. (1985). Leadership and performance beyond expectations. New York: The Free Press.
  • Bass, B. M., & Avolio, B. J. (1990). Transformational leadership development: Manual for the Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire. Menlo Park, CA: Mind Garden.
  • Bass, B. M. (1999). Two decades of research and development in transformational leadership. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 8(1), 9–32.
  • Bass, B. M., & Avolio, B. J. (1990). The implications of transactional and transformational leadership for individual, team, and organizational development. Research in Organizational Change and Development, 4, 231–272.
  • Bommer, W,. Rubin, R. S., Baldwin, T. T. (2004). Setting the stage for effective leadership: Antecedents of transformational leadership behavior. The Leadership Quarterly, 15; 195-210.
  • Burns, J. M. (1978). Leadership. New York: Harper & Row.
  • Collins, J. (February, 2001). Level 5 leadership: The triumph of humility and fierce resolve. Harvard Business Review 79(1):66-76, 175
  • Deinert, A., Homan, A. C., Boer, D., Voelpel, S. C., & Gutermann, D. (2015). The Leadership Quarterly, 26; 1095-1120.
  • Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Ballantine Books.

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