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Jump Ahead of the Curve

Access Continuum’s COVID response toolkit for leaders, teams and organizations

Continuum Consulting Services LLC

Have you ever wondered how some leaders, who undoubtably have an overflowing workload, still find time and energy to enjoy life with family and friends or engage in their favorite hobby or sport? They typically are the same leaders whose people clamored to be on their team, consistently obtain profitable business results and have enviable levels of employee and customer satisfaction ratings. Who are they and how do they do it?

They are leaders committed to, and intentional about, being less transactional and more transformational in their day-to-day interactions. 

Transactional and Transformational Leaders

All leaders focus on the tactical matters of their responsibilities to some degree each day; in fact, there are some whose leadership time and energy are predominantly transactional. They can be counted on to get the work done, no matter what. Yet when leaders are more concerned about checking the box, they spend a lot of time in the weeds micro-managing. This leads to higher levels of burnout and feeling as though they can’t gain a sense of balance in their life because they are “doing” all of the time.   

A project team in one of Continuum’s Emerging Leaders programs clearly learned the difference between transactional and transformational leadership when their Working Scholars project came to a screeching halt due to COVID-19 budget cutbacks. The team had already invested many hours above and beyond the demands of their day jobs to co-create a strategy that would launch the program company-wide. They had already implemented newly learned leadership tools to enroll co-workers in the program and had checked all the boxes on their project management list when the company pulled the funds. The decision stopped them in their tracks for weeks, and the team resigned themselves to failure.

With a little coaching, the team reengaged and moved beyond the tactical aspects of the project. They realigned on the core objectives and recommitted to why the project was so important to the hundreds of co-workers who had enrolled to be Working Scholars. They began innovating ways to drive the project forward despite the setbacks.

As emerging leaders, they experienced the importance of pivoting when faced with challenges that didn’t appear on their to-do lists and creatively collaborating to breakthrough barriers. In the end, they transformed the project to rescue the core purpose and discovered alternative funding sources.

Today, the lives of those enrolled in the Working Scholars program are being transformed through education they would not otherwise have been able to obtain. The organization also benefits by gaining higher qualified team members and emerging leaders who are more consistently integrating their leadership lessons learned, transforming other aspects of the business.

The Project Team were transformational leaders because they did more than make the program better, they made a better program, delivering results that exceeded the original goal.

Five ways to be a Transformational Leader

  1. Catalytic leaders unleash the potential of their people and intentionally build a culture of engaged and valued team members who are able and eager to effectively execute a strategy. A well-made strategy, the transactional part of business, is more easily accomplished with a culture of people who feel treasured.
    In his new book, The Open Organization, Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst makes the case for catalytic leadership saying catalytic leaders earn their right to lead by encouraging more and judging less which inspires and enables their teams to work at their best. The 3 Pillars of a Catalytic Leader
    When a leader explicitly and genuinely values their people on a regular basis, in nearly all transactional interactions, it is like making a deposit in a savings account. The return on the investment comes through when the chips are down. When times are rough, they can count on their people to go above and beyond to get the work done. 
  2. Transformational leaders are purpose-driven and forward thinkers, able to encompass the complexity of the entire system in which they are leading. They are like a river flowing downstream, where the water always finds a way to fulfill its purpose by flowing towards its destination, over, around, or through the barriers in its way. Forward focused leaders always find a way to fulfill the purpose and meet the core objective. By leading with purpose, they give others a reason to be part of something bigger than themselves ensuring team loyalty.
  3. As forward-focused leaders, they are nimble, innovative, and able to pivot during turbulent times by making sense of the multi-faceted and multi-dimensional aspects of the situation. Keeping their eye on the desired destination, they focus on what is possible and look for what is already working and do more of that. Sensemaking skills can be the difference between an organization's ability to survive, die or thrive.
  4. Leadership is all about choices, and the choices leaders makes for themselves impact those around them. Transformational leaders are intentional about choosing their mindset because their thoughts impact what they say and what they do.
    Steve Vannoy, a retired business executive and founder of The 10 Greatest Gifts I Give My Children Project and author of a book by the same name, is a transformational leader in many ways. Most notably is how he and his wife Barb continue to enhance their marriage simply by how they choose to focus their time, energy and intentions. When faced with challenges that have caused other couples to turn against each other and eventually break up, he and Barb chose to intentionally focus on how they move through each day in a way that builds and strengthens their relationship. They have overcome significant hurdles and they continue to grow more deeply in love with one another every day.
  5. Leaders know the difference between change and transformation. Change such as reorganizing roles or upgrading the pay scale is a transactional way to fix a problem in the past. Transformation is a continuous improvement by utilizing capabilities in a different way to create a better future. Transactional steps may change a process, but it may not transform people’s behaviors; in fact, they will most likely resist the change. John Palinkas, recently wrote in CIO Insight, “Change uses external influences to modify actions, but transformation modifies beliefs, so actions become natural and thereby achieve the desired result.” The result of the change is that the organization, team or yourself, became a better version, not a different version. The caterpillar transforms into a butterfly, not a better caterpillar.

Call to action

The COVID era affords us all the opportunity to pause and reflect, reassess and renew. One renewal is to shift to be more transformational as a leader for yourself, for the people you lead and serve, for your business and for the planet. You can choose to go through the motions while waiting for life to return to pre-COVID normal, or you can be catalytic and transform the circumstances into something better than what we had pre-COVID. In doing so, you may just transform your organization to be a business for world benefit.

Lisa Marie Main, co-founder and partner for Continuum Consulting Services, is an accomplished leader, trainer, consultant, executive coach and facilitator of interactions that lead to alignment and results-based action for business and organizational leaders around the world.