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Leadership Transformation – What Does It Really Take?

Effective leadership is vital to the success of any organisation. A well-led business knows where it’s going and what it’s trying to achieve, and most importantly, it knows why. An organisation with poor leadership is like a rudderless boat; lacking clear direction and at risk of being toppled by the smallest of waves.

Are you a leadership change agent? Do you aspire to help leaders transform their attitudes, capabilities, skills, effectiveness and behaviour? If you do, congratulations. This is brave and noble work, and you have probably encountered plenty of resistance. The great playwright George Bernard Shaw once said “Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything”. Here are five tips to help change reluctant minds and achieve meaningful leadership transformation.

1) Establish the ‘why’

Leaders must be invested in any change initiative. They must want to embark on the adventure to change themselves or the leadership culture of the team, with an understanding of why change is needed.

Use a coaching approach to help your target leader broaden their thinking and understand the impact their behaviour has on people as well as the organisation’s bottom line. But avoid focusing solely on them. We are all infinitely resourced to resist change if it is only about us as individuals. Focus on the leader’s intention, vision and purpose.

Open a dialogue with the following questions:

  • What’s your vision for the business?
  • What changes are required of your leadership to achieve the vision?
  • How important is this to you, to the team and to the customer?
  • How will this impact you, the team, clients and shareholders?

2) Those who hold the vision must transform themselves first

Change initiatives that are not leader-led will not transform anything and will almost certainly deplete trust and accountability within the organisation. But it’s not as simple as telling the leader to change. You must help them see how working on themselves first will help transform the entire business. They need to be the change they wish to see. Use your business acumen and your knowledge of human behaviour to help them devise their own leadership change initiative.

3) Trust the research: use a whole system and all levels approach

Research shows that a whole system (Wilber’s four-quadrant integral model) and all-levels (Kegan and Lahey’s levels of adult development) approach to leadership transformation is effective. Unifying theorist Ken Wilber brought together the perspectives of psychology, behaviour sciences, sociology and systems theory. In his book A Theory of Everything, Wilber observes, “If you’re not working in all quadrants, you’re not working at all”.

Use Wilber’s integral model to observe, consider and experiment with all quadrants combined with levels of adult development. Adult development researchers Kegan and Lahey, among many others, have demonstrated the adult mind has measurable levels of development. Each new stage has strengths available to be integrated. Adults can, if they choose, transcend the weaknesses of their current stage and take advantage of the strengths available at the next stage.

4) Leverage the ego/shadow opportunity

The individual ego was conditioned during childhood to thrive or survive in relation to its environment. There’s nothing logical about growing up; it’s a daily adventure of navigating the physical and emotional conditions of that location, time, family, school or community.

The confidence, trust, creativity, vulnerability, power, empathy and joy we were born with were necessarily repressed or suppressed as we learned to function and survive in society beyond our family.

According to twentieth century founder of psychotherapy Carl Jung, this process of necessary wounding results in a disintegrated identity or ego. Jung argued that as a result of conditioning, psychological strengths and weaknesses were hidden in the ‘shadow’ of the psyche.

We all have a shadow. The simplest example in western society is boys being taught not to cry and girls being taught not to show anger. The unfortunate result is men who can’t access sadness and grief when they most need to feel it, and women who can’t access anger or the power that comes with it. Each of these impacts on one’s ability to lead. Leadership transformation is possible when the leader commits to exploring their shadow and relearning how to access all of their personality. A leader with a fully integrated ego will outperform a leader with unexplored shadow aspects.

5) Be a role model for transformational leadership

As an HR professional, you play a vital role in your organisation. See yourself as worthy of the role you are paid to perform. You are not less than or greater than any other adult in the business. When you operate from a secure, self-assured place, with humility and an equal focus on people and business results, you will model transformational leadership. Develop your ego/shadow and you will be resourced with self-compassion and be able to guide others with similar compassion and empathy.

Leadership transformation requires patience and a strategic approach. It is a worthwhile endeavour that will awaken curiosity and possibility in those who commit to the challenge. Inspire them with your own leadership, endear them with your focus on business results and support them with empathy for what they are experiencing.

The self-transforming leader can change the world.

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Peter Shields
Peter Shields is a transformational executive coach specialising in leadership transformation. Read his ground breaking new leadership transformation fiction "Leadership Alchemy" and embark on your personal leadership transformation.