Mainstream view around Leadership is limiting. The world is changing more rapidly than most of us humans can adapt. And amidst the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA) we all face, it is clear the conventional thinking about leadership needs to be updated. Much of the focus on leadership today revolves around creating High-Performing Teams, building effective Strategic Governance, and gaining Stakeholder Influence. While all these factors are necessary and vitally important, they are not sufficient anymore for successful leadership.
Leadership intrinsically is about change; how we deal with change determines leadership quality and impact. However, most leaders have been trained to be transactional about change. They are taught to (and judged on how well they can) solve the problems immediately at hand, accomplish goals and hit targets, responding tactically to external circumstances, and motivate through rewards and punishment. Again, being able to lead in this way is necessary for some leaders. But for organizations to thrive in the emerging world, today’s significant change calls for transformational leadership – a leadership that can transform both organizations and individuals, at the very core. And instead of looking for a solution that can easily be brought in from outside, leaders have to look inside. Fundamental change starts within and requires leaders not just to rethink how their organizations work, but how they work, how they think, and how they feel. We have to decide who we want to be, and become as leaders, and what higher purpose our projects will ultimately serve.
At root, Transformational leadership involves shifting perspective, adopting a more intentional and conscious inside-out strategy. We have to evolve the way we think about leadership to focus not on just present issues and facts, but also on future potential and emotion. Transformational leadership means integrating rational and emotional forces and engaging the larger intuitive mind and heart intelligence to see problems and possibilities in new dimensions. Rather than focus exclusively on short-term problem-solving, the potential-based approach leads people to focus on hidden opportunities, to see solutions disguised behind challenges. Put another way, instead of putting out the forest fire, imagine how you could design and maintain a forest and its ecosystem so that it is more resistant to fires.
Transformational leadership is about creating the optimal conditions for the greatest potential to unfold out of individuals or a situation and helping those we serve perceive possible ways the potential could be realized, and then choose one best way. Transformational leaders realize that they have to get ahead of the problem mindset. They proactively create safe spaces for new ideas and practices to emerge. Rather than resist change, they embrace it. Instead of using carrots and sticks, they motivate by encouraging others to transcend their own self-interest by appealing to a higher calling to serve others, organization, society and humanity. Far from being static and fixed, a transformational culture constantly evolves based on intuitive thinking, trust and discovery, and operates with a higher level of mindfulness and authenticity.
A transformation leadership strategy rests on three pillars: Emotional intelligence, Wisdom, and Courage.
Leaders have long understood the value of emotional intelligence to building a higher level of consciousness in business. Emotional intelligence is mainly cultivated by self-awareness, trust and empathy. It enables leaders to read context and potential at the same time.
Being mindful, turning a focus inward to monitor our inner thoughts, emotions, values and behaviors allows leaders to consciously choose reactions. And when leaders have knowledge of their internal compass, it enables them to think clearly, make effective decisions, and build strategies that are not simply responses to crises. Trust – the ability to respect and have faith into others, to accept failure as essential for creativity and to embrace vulnerability as a precondition of authenticity and real strength – builds emotional commitment and creates a safe space for growth and innovation. And when leaders are able to place themselves in others’ shoes – to ask, listen, and appreciate – empathy drives higher levels of engagement in every function, from product design to customer experience.
Wisdom, in this context, means the ability to know now what is right for the long term, to integrate rational and emotional intelligence, and to connect strategy with a higher purpose. When leaders develop the capacity to focus concerns beyond self, and beyond the here and now, they are better able to develop a more expansive vision that embraces a greater mission for the business. In ordinary times, leaders must be able to draw on intuition and their larger sense of responsibility for the whole. What is less understood – and most needed – is for leaders to access their deeper wisdom in more challenging times.
Purpose, self-awareness and wisdom are worthless unless we can summon the capacity to act. Courage is ultimately being willing and able to embrace fear, to be who you are, and to leap forward – without knowing the outcome. Having courage means to speak your mind and act from the heart. Acting as a transformational leader means committing to move outside the comfort zone, stop playing safe, and play to win – by embracing vulnerability, choosing growth over fear of losing status and power, and contributing to make a difference every day.
At some level, this prescription sounds simple and intuitive. And yet, it is actually difficult and intensive. Leaders must be ready to engage in what we call deep work to connect purpose, expand their vision and embrace change to grow and act with courage. Transformational leaders must get in touch with who they are as human beings, identify their unique purpose, clarify the impact they want to have on business and society—and then link them all together. They must tap into their organizations’ collective wisdom, build a higher level of consciousness so that it can realize its potential, and march boldly into the future. And they must summon their colleagues and employees not just to make a profit, but to make a difference.
The reality for leaders is that evolving in this manner is not really a choice. In today’s VUCA world, leaders are expected to fill a highly demanding role. They must Reduce the Fear of the Unknown, by empowering leadership in everyone, Create Certainty from Uncertainty, by investing in trust and openness, and with their organizations Make a Difference in the World, …daring to become the change the wish to see, through the power of small choices every day. The good news is that by adopting a Transformational approach – and by leading with Emotional intelligence, Wisdom and Courage – leaders can develop, step into the full magnificence of their light and position their teams and organizations for growth and success. A professional coach can certainly partner with you on this leadership journey and help you gain new perspective and focus.
According to the Building Strong Coaching Cultures for the Future, a 2019 study from the International Coaching Federation and the Human Capital Institute (HCI), providing leaders with coaching and tools/ resources to become effective coaches is key to facilitating the development of a learning organization to grow and change in support of long-term engagement and performance of its employees.
If you need support on your organisation’s and leader’s coaching journey, do contact us at ICF and our team of volunteers in the UK will be happy to help.