Transformational Leaders

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The January 2009 issue of Harvard Business Review is aptly devoted to the topic: “Transforming Leaders.” It’s got great pieces on “Picking the Right Transition Strategy,” “What Can Coaches Do for You?,” “The Quick Win Paradox,” and “The Last Act of a Great CEO.” Unfortunately I can’t hotlink the articles since they are subscription-based. But a short piece by James Kouzes and Barry Posner is worth abstracting.

In an article titled: “To Lead, Create a Shared Vision,” Kouzes and Posner say “Being forward-looking – envisioning exciting possibilities and enlisting others in a shared vision of the future – is the attribute that most distinguishes leaders from non-leaders. We know this because we asked followers.” In a survey of tens of thousands of employees they found the main requirement of a leader was honesty – the same attribute as they ranked as an attribute of a good colleague. But the second-highest requirement was that they be forward-looking.

Leaders must ask “What’s new? What’s next? What’s better?” – but, as Kouzes and Posner note, “they can present answer that are only theirs. Constituents want visions of the future that reflect their own aspirations. The want to hear how their dreams will come true and their hopes will be fulfilled.”

This lesson was reinforced by one leader’s feedback on his leadership about how he could be more effective in inspiring a shared vision: “You would benefit from helping us, as a team, to understand how you got to your vision. We want to walk with you while you create the goals and vision so we all get to the end vision together.”

I thought this was great advice, and something we’ll likely start seeing more of next week after the Inauguration!

There’s another HBR piece I’ll highlight tomorrow, “How to Ace Your Last 100 Days,” as part of a blog on the transition out by the Bush Administration. . . .

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