In my previous post “Making the Transformation from Boss to Leader,” I introduced the idea along with the benefits and challenges of choosing the transformational leadership style within your organization or team. Taking this third option over authoritarian or laissez-faire, the more traditional opposing ends of the leadership spectrum, provides a means to grow and sustain trust, loyalty, and a sense of belonging.
CIOs, who are no different from many leaders within an organization, can find comfort in the structures that parallel the regulated industries in which we operate. The transition to transformational leadership comes in three major steps:
- Realizing the benefit and communicating that message to your team (see my previous post);
- Making the necessary changes in your own behaviors, habits, and world view; and
- Cultivating a transformational culture within your team and/or organization.
In my experience, one of the hardest people to change is yourself. That is why in the process you have to be the first to make the transition if you expect the same from your team. What you learn from the experience will aid you in guiding others when challenges or frustrations inevitably arise. Fostering your ability to empathize with others will aid you in the development of another skill important to transformational leaders, mentoring.
Mentoring is far more than simply pointing out when employees do something well, introducing them to your peer network, or making sure they are given privilege via your influence. To be a mentor in a transformational culture, you take on the challenge of pushing all of your team to the top. If your current leadership style is transactional, this shift will undoubtedly strain any existing relationships. Prepare yourself for this inevitability and do not let it deter you from your goal.
As part of your annual employee reviews, making a mental or official list of your team’s strengths, achievements, potential, and challenges for success should be standard practice. Having a list like this can be used to identify where you can make improvements using individualized or team training. Mapping these traits alongside your vision or goals for your department will also give you a gauge on your ongoing improvement efforts. Additionally, the difficulties that emerge from this exercise can help choose desirable traits when hiring new employees.
Continuous improvement is a cornerstone of transformational leadership. As discussed above, these efforts must start with you, and this includes the assessment of how your traits align with your vision or goals. A question to ask during your self-evaluation is do you have a vision or team goals, and are they appropriate for promoting a transformational culture? A transformational vision should represent what you want everyone, from your team to outside observers, to clearly identify when they interact with your department. Transformational statements can include phrases such as:
- Shared/collaborative decision making;
- Promoting the best ideas, not the easiest or most popular;
- Doing what is best for our organization, stakeholders, customers, or end-users;
- Unapologetic commitment to integrity; or
- Sustain a culture of continuous improvement or learning.
Finally, and this can be difficult, but know your place in your department and be happy with it. In the years leading up to becoming a CIO, you have been the go-to on so many different projects, and that kind of recognition is hard to give up. As a transformational leader, you will have to do just that and master the skill of humility. Technology waits for no one, and while you have been honing your skills at leading, the technical parts of your brain have become a little dusty. It is now time to accept that there are things you do not know and may never know, and that is something you should be comfortable with. What you can do about this, besides going back to training, is to staff your team with people you can benefit from and learn from. When you create and participate in a culture of curiosity, you make it okay to have an idea that does not work. Refusing to admit where things went wrong is not transformational and will never lead to improvement.
In the third and final part of this blog series, we will investigate what it means to bring the transformational leadership style into your normal operations and beyond. Change can be scary, but sustaining the fear of change will never help you or your team succeed.