In my previous post, we looked at two very different ways of seeing the world of work: Transactional and Transformational.
So the next obvious question is why don’t more companies teach their leaders to be transformational?
Organizations have grown skilled at developing individual leader competencies, but have mostly ignored the challenge of transforming their leader’s mind-set from one level to the next. Today’s horizontal development within a mind-set must give way to the vertical development of bigger minds.
___John McGuire and Gary Rhodes Transforming Your Leadership Culture, Center for Creative Leadership
The challenge is that being transformational is not a skill. It’s a way of making sense of the world.
So it is not a question of adding more skills and competencies. What is needed is a different way of thinking.
As human beings and as leaders, we can develop ourselves fundamentally in two different ways. We can add skills and tools to our toolbox, if you like. We often call that horizontal development.
The other dimension of our development is vertical. It is about our growth as human beings. We go through different stages of growth from when we’re born; and these stages are, first and foremost, about how we understand the world. How do we make sense of what is happening around us?
These vertical developmental stages are very apparent when we observe small children, in whom each stage happens over a relatively short time. So, we easily notice the difference.
With grown-ups, it’s slower, and at some points, most of us stagnate at some levels.
It was the Swiss child psychologist, Jean Piaget, who was the pioneer in this area. His work has since been followed-up by researchers such as Jane Loevinger and later Susanne Cook-Greuter.
More recently, Bill Tolbert and Robert Kegan at Harvard, have both worked on grown-up vertical development and what that means in a leadership context.
Kegan describes that grown-ups typically have the possibility to develop in three overall stages. The first one he calls ‘dependent and conform,’ the next one ‘independent and achievement-oriented,’ and the last one is ‘interdependent and collaborative’.
Depending on which of these stages of development you find yourself in as a leader, your approach to a number of classical leadership competencies will be very different.
If we take some of the typical issues that we identify as leadership competencies, they could be strategic thinking, change management, conflict management, and leadership across boundaries.
And depending on where one is in one’s development, one will approach each of these very differently. In the figure below, you will see illustrations of the three developmental levels and how they are handled at each level.
Dependent – conformer
Independent – achiever
Interdependent – collaborator
|Strategic thinking||– Short-term view
– Tactical tasks
– Black and white
– High need for certainty
|– Medium-term view
– Sees is parts of the system
– Sees is some patterns and connections
|– Long-term view
– Sees many shades of grey
– Sees many patterns and connections
– Accepts uncertainty as the norm
|Leading change||– Change to come from above
– Needs and trusts authority to give direction
– High need for certainty
|– Has own views about best change
– Sees the mechanics of change needed
– Success is achievement of individuals and teams
|– Change is a collaborative process
– Comfortable with ambiguity
– Success means realisation of a shared vision
|Conflict||– To be avoided
– Authority is in charge
– Feels torn by conflict
|– Worked out behind closed doors
– Produces winners and losers
|– Healthy view together more viewers
– Something to be encouraged
– Increases learning and performance
|Leading across boundaries||– Trusts analysing people you know
– Them versus us
– Distrust of outsider
|– Able to think from others’ perspectives
– Horse trades for favours
– Focused on success of own self
|– Sees the world through others’ perspectives to understand more
– Shares knowledge across boundaries
– Works in partnership with other functions
If you look more closely at the matrix, you will also see that this is where we find the key as to why we are not seeing as much transformational leadership as we maybe would like.
It’s only at the third stage of development in Kegan’s model, the one that is called ‘collaborative and interdependent,’ that the leader has a mindset that enables a transformative approach — the short explanation as to why this is so, is that, in the two earlier stages, the leader is often more concerned with himself.
The first stage, the dependent stage, is all about fitting in and conforming to the prevailing culture.
In the next phase, independent and achievement-oriented, it’s all about the leader being so oriented towards his own achievement that he risks falling into the trap that it’s all about his project: Better results, market share, new products, or whatever. The leader really wants to succeed personally, often in order to further his career or qualify for a bonus, or whatever. But, because it then becomes all about him and his project, he often doesn’t manage to get everybody else with him. (Followers will engage around ‘our’ project but will tend to disengage if it is just about ‘your’ project.)
It’s only when you, as a human being, have developed to the stage where you are more inclusive and collaborative, have a higher tolerance of others, and are not as focused on yourself – and your personal success – that you actually are capable of inspiring everybody else around you to contribute to what everyone will see as ‘our’ project.