Part 2 - The Priorities of Transformational Leadership

The emotionally intelligent leader is effective in self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, social skill and communication.

Tall order? Christopher Rice, President & CEO of BlessingWhite Consulting, gives us heart: “To succeed, leaders need to focus on four priorities.”

Only four? “Too many leaders end up with too many priorities, sabotaging their strategy and confusing their followers,” says Ram Charan, who shares his thoughts on leadership – how to identify, coach, and develop employees with leadership potential and how to nurture leadership in oneself in a recent “HBR IdeaCast” (episode 27) on iTunes.

“Having too many priorities is the same as having no priorities,” he continues.

Let’s now explore what the four priorities are…..

1. Executive, develop thyself.

Expectations of leadership have risen beyond the capabilities of most senior executives. The best leaders know they need to be compelling and inspirational, but they are often challenged by how to do it. What does this transformational leadership take?

Cast an objective eye.

Know how you measure up to today’s higher standards and what impact your actions have. It’s easy to dismiss feedback as grumbling, since the most annoying employees are the first to point out your flaws. It is critical, however, that you listen, not argue. In fact, invite them to give you feedback. There are now coaching courses you can undertake as a manager or leader to learn how to give (& receive) feedback more effectively.

Take time to reflect on what drives you personally.

Personal values fuel confidence and effective communications. To be an inspirational leader, you need to be inspired yourself.
Do you truly know what values drive you? There are now personal development coaching and training programs in the marketplace that can help you elicit (and even re-align) your values to your organizational (or personallife) vision.

2. Correct cultural corruption.

Compliance with the new laws and regulatory requirements might keep you out of jail and your firm out of the headlines, but it won’t build a sustainable, high-performing organization. Cultural corruption isn’t about breaking the law. It’s about bad business practices that undermine commitment. It’s about the chasm between leaders’ talk and actions. Prevent your high performers from bolting toward the door:

Watch for the little things that don’t seem right.

Audits and culture scans can identify practices that may support short-term financial gain at the expense of productivity and engagement. They also measure pride, a prerequisite to retention and high performance. Transformed leaders need to scrutinize the company they keep and do business with entities aligned with their values.

Pay attention to behavior not rules.

A culture that operates with ethical intent at every level is created by transformed leaders who model desired behaviors, not by employees who follow policy. Paperwork that satisfies the scrutiny of regulators won’t inspire the contribution you need from every employee.
Encourage people to do the right thing, even when no one is looking.Frances Frei, associate professor in the Technology and Operations Management Unit at Harvard Business School, commented that “one of the more counterproductive things a manager can do is ‘Don’t bring me problems – bring me solutions!’ …. what you’re saying, in effect, is ‘of all the problems you find, I only want to know about the ones you can solve’.”

“Create a culture of accountability that doesn’t limit recognition only to those who find both the problem and its solution. Of course you want to reward creative problem solving. But you also want to celebrate the person who brings a problem to light, however big or small. That person is as much a part of the solution as the people who actually formulate the fix.
“The bottom line is that you can’t improve performance if you’re not solving problems, and you can’t solve problems you don’t know about.”

Earn trust every day.

In a well-managed organization, only half the workforce will say they trust senior leaders, yet most executives rate themselves as trustworthy. This intent/effect gap results from employees drawing conclusions with minimum information— what is said in a meeting or a decision communicated through the ranks—not the other 90 percent of what leaders do each day. So, transformed leaders need to explain the decision-making process and motivation for their actions.

3. Drive productivity and innovation through engagement.

Transformed leaders need to own employee engagement because engaged employees are more productive, treat customers better, innovate, and stay. Don’t confuse employee engagement with satisfaction and assume that a few HR initiatives can give poor employee survey scores a boost. Engagement goes beyond satisfaction to reflect contribution. Engaged employees are committed and aligned to apply their unique skills to contribute to priorities.

To boost engagement leaders should:

Get rid of disengaged subversives (usually 8 percent of the workforce).

These employees may not have started out so alienated; bad practices or poor leadership may have pushed them over the edge. They undermine productivity by dragging everyone down around them. They’re a threat to the bottom line.

Provide meaning.

It’s up to leaders to help their people find meaning at work. That meaning can take the form of personal connection with ambitious goals or achievement of more personal career aspirations. Transformed leaders need to articulate goals, paint a compelling vision of the future, and help employees to connect the dots.

Make sure you are engaged.

Disengaged leaders lack the clarity of purpose or energy to engage others. Executives must be clear on the strategy and their top three priorities before they can align everyone else. And if they can’t articulate why they show up at work, they need to stop “doing” and think about what matters most to them.

“Executing priorities requires constant repetition and disciplined follow-through to ensure that everyone understands them, buys into them, and is following them without deviation.” Ram Charan added.

4. Make talent management a business priority.

Transformed leaders need to have the right people in the right jobs focused on the right priorities—and ensure that employees have the information and support they need to align their interests and career aspirations with the organization’s goals. That dual focus can reduce unwanted turnover and create a sustainable competitive advantage. To achieve it:

Don’t “manage” your top talent.

These people have marketable skills, and so if they have their fate decided by a succession planning committee or a well-intentioned manager, they may head for the door. Top talent demand to be involved. They have their own ideas for moving forward. The best leaders offer desirable stretch assignments and special projects and encourage innovation and risk-taking. Align individuals’ initiative with organizational priorities, and then get out of the way.

Develop the pack.

Many leaders provide elaborate high-potential programs and only mediocre development opportunities for the rest. That’s a shaky foundation. Transformed leaders need to tirelessly align and coach team members. Consistent high-performing businesses hold leaders accountable for developing team members. Leaders who actively coach are well-positioned to quickly redeploy talent to meet shifting business requirements.Learn how to coach as a leader.

Next month: Are you boosting your team’s creative efforts?


Harvard Management Update, March 2007.
Four Priorities – Build Bonds with Stakeholders. By Christopher Rice, President & CEO, Blessing White, 2007
Leadership Behaviours Profile. Team Management Services, 2007

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