e-book The Transforming Leader: New Approaches to Leadership for the Twenty-First Century

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Obama had a background in community organizing and a degree in law, not economics, yet, as President, the challenge he faced required him to lead an effort to restore prosperity to the country. Similarly, CEOs of global companies who have determined that they can save costs by having various parts of products produced in different areas of the globe and assembled in still other places find that political events like the Arab Spring and its destabilizing aftermath or natural and other disasters anywhere a tsunami in Japan or a building collapse in Bangladesh can disrupt the supply chain in so many different ways that that it is impossible to model them all.

The old expectation that a leader comes into a role with a vision and a plan and that his or her success is measured by the ability to implement it is simply outmoded. Moreover, as educational psychology expert Robert Kegan has concluded discussed In Over Our Heads: The Mental Challenges of Modern Life , most of us do not have the cognitive complexity to support success in this modern world.

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At the same time, many psychologists also have deconstructed the simple notion that any of us seeing the same factual phenomenon say, a car accident will report it the same way. Rather, what we believe to be the truth even in such seemingly objective situations is determined in part by our angle of vision—where we sit or stand—and in part by the mental models we already have operating in our heads. Therefore, success requires harvesting collective observations and interpretations and then sorting through multifaceted data before making decisions. At the same time, 21st century social science posits that top-down approaches to social change are now anachronistic.

Chaos and complexity theory as well as social networking theory suggest that change can start anywhere in a natural or social system. These ideas shift us out of the model of leaders and followers into exploring the phenomenon of shared leadership. Indeed, all those involved in shared leadership are leaders within their own span of responsibility.

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In the context of shared leadership, success at any level requires listening—and diverse involvement—even more than speaking. Many companies have realized that having executive teams of entirely privileged white males is not the ideal way to anticipate the tastes and preferences of a diverse customer base. The fates of both reflect ambivalence in the electorate about what leadership should be. Both traditional and emerging sets of expectations are currently coexisting.

In this transitional time in our country, communities, and organizations, people still crave the great leader who will save the day while the rest of us can sit back, analyze, criticize, or just complain. Yet, for young people, at least, who can and do organize a protest through communication by text messaging or tweeting, traditional ideas of hierarchical leadership seem antiquated and outdated. However, they do value mature leaders who can mentor them without herding or controlling them.

Indeed, the young realize that, particularly with new technologies and the resulting changes in how things get done, mentoring needs to be reciprocal. And, it became clear that the time had come to move past simply recognizing the individuals with traditionally viewed leadership abilities—which often reflected attributes possessed only by privileged middle-aged white males—and to give up teaching leadership skills based on those rather stereotypical and limited qualities. Instead, the new focus in leadership development needs to be on enhancing broader leadership capacities, ones flexible enough to meet unforeseen challenges as well as available to both genders and to people from diverse backgrounds and ages.

The following are just a few of our findings. Your email address will not be published. Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment. By Carol S. Pearson, Ph. Twenty-first century transforming leaders: Model openness to new ideas, curiosity, and ongoing learning, engaging and learning from experts and also from the people charged with implementing solutions.

Carol S. Pearson, Ed., The Transforming Leader

This requires letting go of certainty, while also engaging in collective processes, to expand the understanding of oneself and others. What is trust in an organization?


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An irrelevant social variable? Or does it have a direct correlation to the financial performance of a company. A key data point? Employees working in high-performing companies believe their leaders and managers to be highly trust-worthy. Internal and external trust drives engagement, retention and financial performance - and its a fundamental part of fulfilling a transformation vision. Like trust, accountability has a direct impact on any company's performance.

Organizations that actively ingrain accountability into their culture outperform their competitors. And without accountability, change efforts fail or fall significantly short of the desired results.


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  5. Successful leaders create the cultural experiences that reinforce the beliefs and mindsets required for people to proactively take actions - actions that drive the transformation results. No transformation vision will succeed if the leaders don't have a passionate belief in the mission. They first have to transform their mindsets to align with the vision before they can inspire others to change their ways of thinking. Successful transformation happens when the majority of people in the company have aligned beliefs - and when proper mindsets fuel consistent action.

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    A core reason why organizational transformation efforts fail is because leaders jump right in and start in the middle of the process without gathering important data and feedback from inside and outside the company. No mission plan is perfect, but a data-driven approach that involves feedback from as many people as possible accomplishes two things: 1 Leaders have critical "intel" they may not usually have access to, and 2 they gain buy-in because everyone has a voice in the planning process.

    This part is key.

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    Many leaders either under-communicate a powerful vision for transformation, over-communicate a poor vision or transmit misaligned messaging. Leadership alignment must first be in place before an early-often-always approach to communicating the vision can happen. Communication should happen through both formal meetings, newsletters, digital tools and information purposeful story-telling channels. Successful change happens when the majority of the people in a company have their hands on the rope and are all pulling in the right direction.

    Engagement is key. This is both a leadership challenge and opportunity. Leaders and managers who can master employee engagement are more likely to fulfill their change visions. One big obstacle standing in the way of successful transformation is what I call change battle fatigue. Most change efforts take longer and cost more hard and soft costs than leaders and managers anticipate. Fear and fatigue set it. The solution? Celebrating quick wins, constant transparent communication and purposeful story-telling.