Imperatives for Developing My Transformational Leadership Potential: Some Plans Essay

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The word leader first appeared in the English language in the 1300s; it stems from the root leden meaning to travel or show the way.  The term leadership, however, followed only some five centuries later.  One can sift through many definitions of the term leadership and fail to find a single common denominator that will unite all of them. This may be because there are so numerous, varying usages of the term in equally numerous and complicated situations.  However, for purposes of this paper, the following definitions used in many leadership studies were adopted:

Leadership was broadly defined by Yukl (1989) as influencing task objectives and strategies, influencing commitment and compliance in task behavior to achieve these objectives, influencing the culture of an organization.  In simpler terms, leaders influence the actions and behaviours of their followers to obtain a shared vision or aim.  According to Deming (1992), leadership must come from top management and leaders must possess profound knowledge. By profound knowledge, Deming meant that one must have knowledge of systems, variations (statistical thinking), theory, and psychology.

Leadership is quite different from management; leaders grow from mastering their own conflict which arises during their developing years using internal strength to survive. On the other hand, managers tend to perceive issues as positive progressions of events which must be planned, organized, scheduled, and controlled.  In order to create the proper thinking perspective, leaders must aggressively investigate and act on the current market to create opportunities.  Effective leaders are those that are capable of assisting their organization/country manage change and steer it towards success.

Past Work Experience

I have had the opportunity to work with a local company; at peak work periods, I am tasked to manage a small team of 4 staff. Some of the responsibilities involved in this role are delegation of work; prioritizing tasks based on urgency and importance; reporting regularly to my superior for updates and new directives; and updating my superior at the end of the day for concerns and accomplishments. Moreover, it requires me to plan and manage my own time. Effective people skills are as critical as the management of tasks in a team leaders role. It is necessary for me to create and manage smooth working relationships with line managers, colleagues, and team members. I am also expected to manage their performance by clearly explaining to them standards of work and behavior.

An Assessment of My Leadership Style

I personally want to develop a transformational leadership style that is more dynamic, innovative and accepting of change than that espoused by a management role. Tichy and Devanna (1986) assert that managers engage in very little change but manage what is present and leave things much as they found them when they depart. Transformational leadership, they declared, focuses on change, innovation, and entrepreneurship. They assumed that transformational leaders begin with a social fabric, disrupt that environment, and then recreate the social fabric to better reflect the overall business climate (Bass, 1990).

They argue that there are four suggested personal characteristics of a transformational leader: (a) dominance, (b) self-confidence, (c) need for influence, and (d) conviction of moral righteousness. These are the traits that I have to focus on in undertaking my development plan. Transformational leaders are expected to deal with the paradox of predicting the unknown and sometimes the unknowable.  These leaders change and transform the organization according to a vision of a preferred status. Leaders then are change makers and transformers, guiding the organization to a new and more compelling vision, a demanding role expectation.

Studies have been carried out in many different countries, and research in this area also shows that transformational leadership is closer to perceptions of ideal leadership than transactional leadership.  As Hartog et al (1999) note, being perceived as a leader is a prerequisite for being able to go beyond a formal role in influencing others.  They hold that leadership perceptions can be based on two alternative processes.  First, leadership can be inferred from outcomes of salient events, and attribution is crucial in these inference-based processes.

For example, a successful business turnaround is often quickly attributed to the high quality leadership of top executives or the CEO.  Leadership can also be recognized based on the fit between an observed persons characteristics with the perceivers implicit ideas of what leaders are (Hartog et al., 1999). This again points to the fact that an effective manager is not only focused on delivering tasks, but on handling his people well. This is especially true among people in the organization who put high premium on a managers interpersonal skills.

The first step I will consider in my developmental plan is to maintain my enthusiasm and motivation of my team towards their work. Concurrently, I will also aim to develop my leadership potential. I will concretely undertake this by developing a strong mentoring relationship with my superior. Empirical research from both educational and industrial settings suggests that students and employees both have increased probability of success if they have had a mentor. While mentors are effective for everyone, sometimes organizations implement mentoring programs to support particular parts of their populations, often newer employees.

And while mentoring programs are always established with the best of intentions, their results are often mixed (Werner, 2004). To make the most of my work exposure, I hope to establish a strong mentoring relationship with my superior or with an expert in my field to develop my competence further. Coaching and mentoring is a very effective way of developing my leadership potential because it does not only develop me in terms of technical expertise, but it will also allow me to actually experience how these experts undergo the coaching and mentoring exercise.

Skills Acquisition

Skill acquisition acknowledges that proficiency and expertise are a function of the exposure to a variety of situations. These circumstances become experiences for the learner to elicit apt responses. Bandura (1977) emphasized that most learning transpires by observing and modeling behaviors. Information is then stored and coded cognitively and utilized as guide for action. He further noted that the development of a realistic learning setting incorporating environment, behavior, and thought promotes the acquisition of complex skills. Moreover, simulation can help in providing this realistic exposure for neophyte professionals (Bandura, 1977).

Because I have gone past beyond being a novice, now is the perfect time for developing strategic leadership skills. I will also be able to add on to my networks by attending conferences related to my field to be able to build and establish peer contacts. I will also endeavor to build relationships with members and managers of other teams within the organization.

The following soft competencies have been recommended areas for leadership development by the Development Dimensions International website (2005): master at managing through ambiguity; inspires confidence and belief in the future; have a passion for results; are marked by unwavering integrity; set others up for success; have strong rather than big egos; and have the courage to make big decisions.

Mastery at managing through ambiguity. Build a culture that embraces change; constantly set clear goals and expectations; are able to manage across boundaries (and lead others to do the same); show connections between individual accountabilities, team goals, and organizational vision and strategies; sets out a clear course even though it may change frequently.

Inspires confidence and belief in the future. Are able to articulate a vision depicting what they want their organization; exudes calm and projects optimism in the face of uncertainty; can engage and inspire employees in their work connecting their needs and values with those of the institution.

Passion for results. Set clear accountabilities and high expectations for themselves and for others; hire, promote and reward high performers; keep themselves and their employees focused on the top two or three customer-driven priorities; take action on those who do not fit or who are consistently not performing; establish critical measures of success and make sure they are visible to others.

Marked by unwavering integrity. Serve as a moral compass for others; keeps promises and commitments; walks the talk; gives straight, honest feedback; leads through values; acts promptly when their own or the integrity of their organization is compromised.  

Set others up for success. Coaches others to succeed before they have the opportunity to fail; truly enjoys seeing people learn and grow; rewards and recognizes success; views failures as learning opportunities; shares (rather than hordes) talent for the good of the organization.

Have strong rather than big egos. Humbly shares credit with others; never shoots the messenger they encourage the sharing of bad news; are always asking how can we do things better?; blame themselves before pointing a finger at others; knows themselves and are guided by strong personal values; listens to understand; recognizes that they, more often than not, are not the ones with the right answers.  

Have the courage to make big decisions. Addresses issues or problems quickly; takes actions that are right, even when they are unpopular they act on conviction; stands by their decisions once they make them even if circumstances cause them to change course later; takes a longer term view consistent with a future vision (, 2005).

Soft skills are as equally if not more important than technical skills, in the development of leadership potential. These competencies must also be integrated into my success competency profile and adequately addressed through formal classroom or on-the-job training.

Naturally, to be able to identify which leadership areas I need to focus on, I need to use reflection.

The main approach is to develop fully into a transformational leadership role. With transformational leadership, the followers feel trust, admiration, loyalty and respect towards the leader and they are motivated to do more then they originally expected to do. Leaders transform and motivate followers by: (1) making them more aware of the importance of task outcomes, and (2) inducing them to transcend their own self-interest for the sake of the organization or team and activating their higher order needs.

In contrast, transactional leadership involves an exchange process that may result in follower compliance with leader requests but is not likely to generate enthusiasm and commitment to task objectives. Therefore, my staff need to feel that I can empathize with them, are able to give them feedback while maintaining their self-esteem, and also solicit their ideas on important issues.

Transformational and transactional leadership are distinct but not mutually exclusive processes. Transformational leadership increases follower motivation and performance more than transactional leadership, but effective leaders use a combination of both types of leadership.  Such is the argument of  Gary Yukl (1989).  He defined transformational behavior as idealized influence, individualized consideration, inspirational motivation and intellectual stimulation.

Yukl theorized that transformational leadership probably involves internationalization because inspirational motivation includes the articulation of an appealing vision that relates task objectives to follower values and ideals, it therefore also involves personal identification.  Yukl (1989) described transformational leadership as a process of micro-level and macro-level influence. At the macro-level, transformational leaders must take charge of the social systems and reform the organization by creating an appropriate power situation. At the micro-level, transformational leaders must attend to the personalities in the organization to facilitate change at an interpersonal level.

One other way of developing my leadership potential is by regularly reflecting on areas for improvement. In this area, the feedback of my superior would serve as critical input.

There is now broad agreement on four key attributes, therefore, known as the four is of Transformational Leadership (Avolio et al., 1991; Bass & Avolio, 1994b). Inspirational leadership means the arousal and heightening of motivation among followers that occurs primarily from charismatic leadership and individualized consideration is evident when subordinates are treated individually according to their needs. Intellectual stimulation refers to the leaders influence on followers thinking and imagination (Bass, 1985, pp. 62,82 and 99). And, finally, idealized influence is the identification with and emulation of the leaders mission and vision.

Apart from focusing on my own leadership needs, I would also like to assist in the drafting of Career Management plans of the members of my team. I would also like to ensure that I continuously serve as a model and inspiration for them in terms of giving support, praise and encouragement to all team members. Moreover, I will work for the implementation of retention strategies among the team members I work with through career development,  flexible work, induction, partnership and staff involvement, and pay and rewards.

Some Comments on the Transformational Leadership Framework / Theory

In contrast with leader emergence which deals with the likelihood that a person will become a leader, leader performance involves the idea that excellent leaders possess certain characteristics that certain leaders do not. For example, an excellent leader might be intelligent, assertive, friendly, and independent, whereas a poor leader might be shy, aloof, and calm. Research on the relationship between personal characteristics and leader performance has concentrated on three areas: traits, needs and orientation. In relation to transformational leadership framework, I do agree that the leader must possess certain characteristics to transform the organization. But this is not all there must also be ample consideration of other factors such as subordinates ability and organizational climate.

Traits. The idea that certain traits are associated with effective leadership is appealing, but in 1964, a review by Heslin and Dunphy indicated that only two traits intelligence and interpersonal adjustment have consistently been related to leadership performance.

More recently, it has been proposed that good leaders need to possess only one stable trait adaptability or self-monitoring (Cohen & Bradford, 1990). Thus, good leaders will constantly change their behaviors to meet the demands of the situation or person with whom they are dealing. Support from this theory comes from a study by Caldwell & OReilly (1982), who found that field representatives who dealt with many different types of people were more effective if they were high self-monitors. Similar results were found with Zaccaro, Foti & Kenny (1991).

The concept of self-monitoring focuses on what leaders do as opposed to what they are. For example, a high self-monitoring leader may possess the trait of shyness and not truly want to communicate with other people. He know, however, that talking to others is an important part of his job, so he says hello to his employees when he arrives at work, and at least once a day stops and talks to each employee. Thus, the leader has the trait of shyness but adapts his outward behavior to appear to be outgoing and confident.

An interesting extension of the trait theory of leader performance suggests that certain traits are necessary requirements for leadership excellence but that they do not guarantee it (Simonton, 1979). Instead, leadership excellence is a function of the right person being in the right place at the right time. The fact that one person with certain traits becomes an excellent leader while another with the same trait flounders may be no more than the result of timing and chance.

Needs. A personal characteristic that has received some support to a leaders need for power, need for achievement, and need for affiliation. Research by McClelland and Burnham (1976) and McClelland and Boyatzis (1982) have demonstrated that high-performance managers have a leadership motive pattern, which is a high need for power and a low need for affiliation. The need is not for personal power but for organizational power.

This pattern of needs is thought to be important because it implies that an effective leader should be more concerned with results than with being liked. Leaders who need to be liked by their subordinates will have a tough time making decisions. A decision to make an employee work overtime, for example, may be necessary for the organizations survival, but it will probably be unpopular with employees. Leaders with high affiliation needs may decide that being liked is more important than being successful, causing conflict with their decision.

Needs for power, achievement and affiliation can be measured through various psychological tests. The most commonly used is the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT). The TAT is a projective test in which a person is shown a series of pictures and is asked to tell a story about what is happening in each picture. The stories are then analyzed by a trained psychologist who identifies the needs themes that are contained in the stories. Obviously, this technique is time consuming and requires a great deal of training.

Task vs. person orientation. Over the last 45 years, three major schools of thought Ohio State studies (Fleishman, Harris & Burtt, 1955), Theory X (McGregor, 1960) and managerial grid (Blake & Mouton, 1984) have postulated that differences in leader performance can be attributed to differences in the extent to which leaders are task versus person oriented.

Person-oriented leaders (country club leaders, theory Y leaders, leaders in high consideration) act in a warm and supportive manner and show concern for their subordinates. Person-oriented leaders believe that employees are intrinsically motivated, seek responsibility, are self-controlled, and do not necessarily dislike work, Because of these assumptions, person-oriented leaders consult their subordinates before making decisions, praise their work, ask about their families, look over their shoulders, and use a more hands-off approach to leadership. Under pressure, person-oriented leaders tend to become socially withdrawn (Bond, 1995).

Task oriented leaders (task-centered leaders, theory X leaders, leaders high in initiating structure) define and structure their own roles and those of their subordinates to attain the groups formal goals. Task-oriented leaders see their employees as lazy, extrinsically motivated, wanting security, undisciplined, and shirking responsibility. Because of these assumptions, task-oriented leaders tend to manage or lead by giving directives, setting goals, and making decisions without consulting their subordinates.

Under pressure, task-oriented leaders tend to produce humor (e.g. tell jokes and stories) whereas person-oriented leaders tend to appreciate humor (e.g. listen to others jokes) (Philbrick, 1989). I feel that the best leader who may undertake transformation in the organization ought to be both person and task-oriented. In effect, in being a transformational leader, I should put premium on both person and task orientations, exhibiting each one with equal strength or emphasis.

Interaction between the Leader and the Situation

Apart from just focusing on the leader, I feel it is equally important for him to consider the complexities of his situation so that he may have a better grasp of how it is to transform the organization. In line with this, I should also be able to focus not only on developing myself but also consider the characteristics of the situation which I find myself in.

One of the more recent research on this area is the situational theory of Geier, Downey and Johnson (1980) who believed that the leader has one of six behavioral styles, namely, informational, magnetic, position, affiliation, coercive or tactical. Each type is only effective in a particular situation, or in what researchers call an organizational climate.

These researchers further say that based on the organizational climate, a leader with an informational style is best fit in ac climate of ignorance; those with magnetic style in a climate of despair; those with a position style in a climate of instability; affiliation style in a climate of anxiety; coercive style in a climate of crisis; tactical style in a climate of disorganization. This suggests that as a transformational leader, I should be able to adjust myself on the basis of my assessment of my organizations climate.

Relationship with Subordinates

One other facet of transformational leadership which I intend to integrate into my personal development plan is my relationship with subordinates. This is consistent with the vertical dyad linkage theory. Vertical dyad linkage (VDL) theory was developed by Dansereau, Graen, and Haga (1974) and is a unique situational theory that makes good intuitive sense. Some situational theories concentrate on interactions between leaders and situations and between leaders and employees with differing levels of ability. VDL theory, however, concentrates on the interactions between leaders and subordinates. These interactions are called leader-member exchanges (LMXs). The theory takes its name from the relationship between two people (a dyad), the position of the leader above the subordinate (vertical), and their interrelated behavior (linkage).

VDL theory states that leaders develop different roles with different subordinates and thus act differently with different subordinates. Dansereau et al (1974) believe that subordinates fall in one of two groups, the in-group or the outgroup. In-group subordinates are those who have developed trusting, friendly relationships with the leader. As a result, the leader deals with in-group members by allowing them to participate in decisions and by rarely disciplining them. Thus, in-group membership is thought to increase performance. Out-group subordinates are treated differently from those in the in-group and are more likely to be given direct orders and to have less say about how affairs are conducted.

In general, research on VDL theory has been supportive (Grestner & Day, 1997). There are, however, relationships between leaders and subordinates that probably can be categorized into types other than in-group and out-group. In relation to transformational leadership, I should increase my self-awareness in treating my subordinates such that there is no rigid classification of whether they are members of the in-group or the out-group. Under the transformational leadership framework, all subordinates are encouraged to participate in decision making. As such, I should try my best to gather input from all of my staff to be able to come up with the most optimal solution to a problem or an issue.

Subordinate Ability

Apart from self-development, the transformational leader must also be wary of his subordinates abilities in carrying out his plan for change or transformation. According to Houses (1971) path goal theory, a leader can adopt one of four behavioral leadership styles to handle each situation: instrumental, supportive, participative and achievement-oriented.

The instrumental style calls for planning, organizing, and controlling the activities of employees. The supportive style leader shows concern for employees, the participative style leader shares information with employees and lets them participate in decision making, and the leader who uses the achievement oriented style sets challenging goals and rewards increases in performance. Each style will only work in certain situations and depends on subordinates abilities and the extent to which the task is structured. In general, the higher the level of subordinate ability, the less directive the leader should be. Likewise, the more structured the situation, the more directive the leader should be (Schriesheim & DeNisi, 1981).

In conclusion, I feel that the transformational leadership framework is wanting of some considerations. Apart from just focusing on the leader himself, the plan should include a grave consideration of other important factors, such as his subordinates ability and the organizational climate in which the leader operates. My transformational leadership development plan, in summary, will equip me with the necessary technical and leadership competencies towards effectively taking on a management role, whilst seriously considering my subordinates abilities and the culture of the company I am working for. Ultimately, this will reflect in being able to lead and motivate a team who in themselves are competent, goal-driven and are able to contribute to the organizations bottomline.


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