Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Moms as Leaders

The first leader we ever have in our lives is our mother and they not only shape and form us during our initial years many of us have the extreme good fortune of having them as an example and also to guide and lead us as we become teens, adults, and into parenthood ourselves.  Mom's, just like any other group of leaders, lead in a variety of ways - some are dictators, some are enablers, some are confidants, some are best friends, some are absent, while some are charismatic. Whatever the leadership 'type' our mothers are we understand that the intent of their efforts is always in our best interest and that the best mom's find a balance and combination of several leadership styles.

When looking at mother's as leaders it is easy to see that just like organizational leaders they are required to wear many hats and to lead in different ways depending on the person and the context. My sister and I were raised by the same mother but we both had different experiences growing up. Not only because we are different people with unique personalities but because of the circumstance and context of each situation we were in. Leaders need to be able to read and react while at the same time staying true to their core values and their beliefs. Do I think my mom ever changed her core beliefs? No. Do I think my mom changed her delivery or leadership style given what was going on at the time and understanding how I or my sister would react? Yes. As a consequence it doesn't take much to understand why she is such a good leader and mother!

Now as I have my own children I can reflect on this leadership dynamic first hand. My wife as a mother to our kids is something I am in daily awe of. Let's be honest; in this analogy of families and organizations kids can be the worst employees ever!! They don't always listen, they have their own agenda, they typically react poorly when they don't get their way, they wake you up in the middle of the night to tuck them in... ok, that last one is a bit annoying but they sure are cute when they are sleepy. In light of all this complexity my wife is able to filter through the sometimes madness and understand that teaching, guidance, and empowerment are far greater (and more effective) than dictating, coercing, and demanding. Of course there is a fine balance here but what impresses me most is the ability to see past the given moment and understand the greater picture. Good leaders can do that and typically they do so naturally even unknowingly. My wife sometimes questions her parenting skills / tactics in real time but as we discuss she comes to realize that by empowering our kids to make decisions and to deal with the consequences of such we are best preparing them for real life. By letting them fail she doesn't fixate on any shortcomings but allows them to learn from the result and build on it as an experience. She doesn't excuse the poor behaviour to simply avoid confrontation but attempts to understand the root of the behaviour to see if  she can't determine the source.

The parallels between motherhood and organizational leadership can be a bit of a stretch but fundamentally they are the same. Leaders must understand not only the individuals they are leading and know the factors that will best motivate, how they best learn, and how they will most likely succeed but they must also understand the context and situation in which they are dealing with. Along with all of this mom's do all of these things with spilled juice on the floor, spit up on clothes, little to no sleep at times, making meals, cleaning the house, part time taxi driving, walking the dogs, and of course dealing with the incessant questions of curious minds wanting to know everything about everything all of the time.

So here's a toast to all mom's for all their efforts, all their care, and all their love. Your 'job' as a leader is the most under appreciated and under recognized form of leadership in the world but you a truly the most impactful. Thank you, thank you, thank you.


Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Servant Leadership (Part II)

Investigating the perceptions, applications, and knowledge of servant-leadership allows for opportunities to not only validate and confirm the concept but it also allows for a critical analysis based on reality and not just theory. Seeking out other leaders to not only help further define and understand servant-leadership but to critique and ask deeper questions is a process that can only benefit the individual seeking more knowledge on the subject.

I was able to interview an individual I saw as a strong leader who also embodied many servant leadership characteristics. The intent of the interview was to investigate ideas and concepts of servant-leadership and compare them from a more theoretical perspective to actual circumstances and situations to better understand the dynamics of this leadership style. The individual I interviewed was David - teacher, principal, coach.

Servant-leadership is so much more than simply a management tool. Being a servant-leader is a lifestyle and a world view. Without having ever specifically discussed the concept of servant-leadership with David prior to my request to interview him I was very confident that he was aware of the philosophy either directly or indirectly. I mention indirectly because if he had not formally been introduced to the works of Robert Greenleaf and others I knew he held similar values, was morally conscious in both personal and professional matters, and was successful but very humble.

Among other questions and ideas (which will be explored further at a later date) our discussion surrounded around the idea that servant-leaders lived more balanced lives in terms of incorporating and balancing facets of their lives such as personal or family, professional or business, and faith or spirituality. I was most looking forward to this area of the interview and I was not disappointed as this solicited the most conversation. To summarize briefly a conclusion was reached that typically individuals who embody the leadership characteristics of a servant-leader are more likely to have personality characteristics that also dictate how they live their daily lives. We discussed that though each person and each situation are different it is most likely the case that servant-leaders are more apt to have balanced lives as they are conscious not only of their behaviors but they are also able to see their lives in a larger context and incorporate the needs of others at the same time as assessing their own. In this way we agreed that leaders capturing servant-leadership characteristics were better suited for more balanced and healthy personal, social, and professional lives.

When discussing how one learns and further understands servant-leadership David responded that seeing a servant-leader in action and having someone to be an example is invaluable. He also said that being led by morality and ethics is something that either comes naturally or is something that one must be conscious of at all times in order to make decisions. Regardless, holding a servant-leader world view is crucial to comprehending the complexities of the philosophy and is much more beneficial than simply theorizing about it.

I encourage you all to not only look inward at your leadership style and characteristics but to actively seek out leaders whom embody servant leader values and tendencies. No leader is perfect of course but it is typically evident that those who are conscious of their leadership and the subsequent impact on others are mindful of their actions. Are they truly a servant leader? I'm optimistic (though not naive) to think that there are servant leaders in all of us - we need to help one another discover the power of service as a leader and in doing so can create strong relationships, strong and balanced work places, and balanced  lifestyles. Understanding servant-leadership and learning about the concept is important but actually experiencing it is crucial to fully comprehend and embrace the practice. 

Does anyone have any servant leadership examples they can share?


Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Servant Leadership (Part I)

The servant leader is servant first. It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. The best test and the most difficult to administer is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And what is the effect on the least privileged in society; will they benefit or, at least, not be further deprived? 

Robert K. Greenleaf

The concept of servant-leadership is one that is both extremely basic and complex at the same time. It is basic in the sense that the foundation of this philosophy is essentially found in morality and treating others with dignity and respect. It is complex in the sense that the traditional model of management and autocratic leadership is so entrenched in our society that making the transition to servant-leadership is far greater than simply making the decision to lead as such. The actual translation of knowledge to action is imperative: Just because you may know or understand the principles of leadership it does not mean that you will act upon them.

Assessing where you are as a leader can be both a daunting and a humbling task but hopefully one that results in a rewarding process. Doing so allows one to take an inventory of the characteristics one embodies and can help speak to the successes and failures you experience as a leader.

In the coming blog posts we will explore the characteristics of servant leadership in greater detail and hopefully give exposure to this leadership philosophy to those who have never heard of it or further the understanding of its ability to empower both the leader and the follower.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Transformational Questions

Questions asked and my answers to them.

Q: What is transformation and why is it important to leadership? 

Transforming leadership is ultimately allowing others to increase their motivation, reach their full potentials and to inevitably become leaders themselves. A transforming leader needs to begin with some sort of insight into the motivation of the follower, and builds on it to raise the motivation and to expand the consciousness of the follower so that in the end the follower becomes a leader. This is important to leadership as it provides an active engagement of individuals to share insights and to share and learn together in order to fulfil ones potential. A  leader who can lead from personal authenticity is much more likely to get better production of individuals than one who leads from a script.

Q: What is the difference between transformation and other types of change? 

Change through transformation is more authentic, more lasting, and more sustainable. The change that comes about through transformation may be better internalized and bore from personal conviction rather than change through simple persuasion.

Q: How is your experience of transformation manifest in a personal sense and in an organizational sense?

 In a personal sense I have learned that the questions or problems that friends or family have do not always require an answer or solution. I am a ‘problem solver’ and my instinct has always been to help when needed but I have learned that by simply being a support and being a sounding board often times these individuals will come to terms with their problems on their own and be better served by doing so instead of following someone else's directions or suggestions. This spills over into my professional career and working with staff members who encounter problems. Guidance, trust, and strong relationships facilitate genuine and authentic growth as opposed to direction and coercion.

The greatest gift of leading in a transformational manner - by empowering and guiding others to come to their own solutions, is that you yourself finds great satisfaction in helping facilitate this growth in some manner but also you realize that you have grown by allowing others to grow.


Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Role of Power

Power comes to anyone who controls the tools of coercion but authority comes only to those who are granted it by others (Palmer 2004). This statement and definition is just one of many when describing power yet is very powerful and insightful when attempting to understand transformational leadership. Coercing someone to change is a temporary means to an end. If the follower does not believe in the authority of the individual leading them the relationship is one dimensional and cannot be expected to grow beyond a transactional level. Burns (1978) tells us that all leaders are actual or potential power holders, but not all power holders are leaders. The difference is found in how it is that they approach leadership and the manner in which they utilize their power. It is important to note here that power requires both the leader and the follower for it to be manifest. It involves the intention or purpose of both power holder and power recipient; and hence is collective, not merely the behavior of one person. This point is crucial in understanding the dynamics and many layers of the relationship between leader and follower and how the motivation, needs, and desires of both factor into this dynamic relationship. Leaders of course play a very significant role in this relationship as they are ultimately tasked with deciphering the purpose of the relationship and following through with an approach that affects the greatest and deepest transformation. Leaders address themselves to followers' wants, needs, and other motivations, as well as to their own, and thus they serve as an independent force in changing the makeup of the follower’s motive base through gratifying their motives (Burns, 1978).

Burns, J. (1978.) Leadership

Palmer, P. (2004). A hidden wholeness: The journey toward an undivided Life

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Transformational Leadership Defined


Leaders are often asked to facilitate change and to foster the growth of the individuals of an organization as well as the organization itself. More times than not however the sole focus is on the tangible outcomes and this is typically profit based and is deemed a success or failure based purely on that result. Any positive changes or growth of individuals is typically an indirect by-product as the focus is more greatly placed on the organization as a whole and not the individuals who reside in it. The typical relationship between leader and follower is made up of exchanging one thing for another and not mutual elevation (Burns, 1978). With a lack of this mutual benefit it creates a divide and a gap between leader and follower. It also creates a gap for the leader between who they are and what they have become. In his book, A Hidden Wholeness, Parker Palmer (2004) tells us that ‘as we become more obsessed with succeeding… we lose touch with our souls and disappear into our roles”. This internal disconnection of who a leader truly is explains why most leadership is transactional and not transformational.

Defining transformation

Transformational leadership differs from other leadership methods in that the transformational leader looks to the motives, needs, and potential of followers to elicit both personal and organizational growth as opposed to simply trying to obtain tangible results directly related to change and progress. Burns (2003) argues that facilitating change; a characteristic of transactional leadership, is simply substituting one thing for another and simply is a give and take or to simply pass from one place to another. To lead in a transformational way requires a more profound alteration and “It is to cause a metamorphosis in form or structure, a change in the very condition or nature of a thing, a change into another substance, a radical change in outward form or inner character”. Ciulla (1995) further explains that “Transactional leadership helps leaders and followers reach their own goals by supplying lower level wants and needs so that they can move up to higher needs”, while alternatively “transforming leaders raise their followers up through various stages of morality and need. They turn their followers into leaders and the leader becomes a moral agent”.

Transformational leadership is founded in morality and is focused not only on the end results but the process and journey of growth and the fulfilling potential. Carey (2010) explains that “Transforming leadership motivates followers toward end-values such as justice and equality, while transactional leadership is more concerned with honesty and loyalty”. Honesty and loyalty are certainly important attributes of both leaders and followers but transformational leadership takes these characteristics to a higher level of understanding and perspective. Burns (1978) speaks to this point further by stating that “transforming leadership ultimately becomes moral in that it raises the level of human conduct and ethical aspiration of both the leader and led, and thus it has a transforming effect on both” .

Carey differentiates transactional leadership from transforming leadership in that “The transforming leader starts with insight into the motivation of the follower, but builds on it to raise the motivation, to expand the consciousness of the follower, so that follower becomes leader”. It is with this understanding of the differences between transformational leadership and transactional leadership are found.

Are you a transformational leader or a transactional leader? Reflect on this question by examining the relationships you have and the motivations you have for building these. Are they grounded in your benefit, the benefit of the other, or are they mutual? My next post will explore the role of power and the pathway to becoming a transformational leader.

Burns, J. (1978) Leadership

Burns, J. (2003) Transforming leadership: The pursuit of happiness

Carey, M. (2010) Transcendental precepts for transforming leadership

Ciulla, J. (1995) Leadership ethics: Mapping the territory. Business Ethics

Palmer, P. (2004) A hidden wholeness: The journey toward an undivided Life

Friday, May 2, 2014

Finding the Social Balance

A balanced approach taken by leaders will provide the most consistent results. Being too social or too engaged in co-workers personal lives can have a contrary effect if the proper balance is not achieved. Staff members may perceive their leader as more of a friend than a superior at inappropriate or inopportune times.

On the other hand, a leader who has little or no social interaction with staff members can be seen as cold and distant and therefore loyalty, morale, and motivation can be greatly diminished. This is just one example of taking leadership principles to one extreme or the other and reflects that a balance must be sought and obtained in order to lead effectively. There are no clear parameters here as the variables are in abundance and impossible to define or categorize. Some individuals may respond more effectively when given autonomy and freedom where as others may do much better with clear and concise direction. Some staff members may seek attention and personal involvement from peers and leaders while others are more interested in completing objectives and keeping their work lives and personal lives as separate as possible.

The effective leader is able to determine the best approach for situations as well as individuals. The effective leader clearly comprehends that the same approach that worked previously with one staff member may not work with another or even again with the same. It is this ability to be consistent in disseminating and personifying core values while all along picking and choosing the best possible way to implement and engage subordinates to get the very best out of them and make them feel valued and appreciated.