Moving from transactional leadership to transformational leadership takes courage and commitment.
As is the case with many professions, there are jokes about human resource people – some so close to home it hurts and some devoid of any substance and fact and far removed from the truth. An undisputed fact, though, is that perceptions shape the dispositional world and, at times, the management of perceptions should precede any justification of whether the perceptions are in fact true or not.
The concept of perception is quite novel when one considers that perceptions are shaped by a variety of observations, experiences and events. Take the important issue of leadership for example. There is a perception held by many that leaders choose to be leaders. According to Professor Theo Veldsman from the University of Johannesburg, very few leaders in current leadership positions can honestly say that they embarked on a career of leadership. He goes on to say those leaders are being leaders rather than doing leadership and this requires systemic intelligence as well as contextual intelligence. So, if the above is taken as a case in point, leaders did not in fact, choose to be leaders; they became leaders.
When dealing with people complexities in the workplace, human resources specialists are often faced with the dilemma of what I call MPS (multiple perception syndrome). Let me explain …
Employee Katherine, who has a colourful history of complaining about many things, comes to HR Manager Henry bitterly complaining about her line manager/boss (should we still have bosses or should we have leaders?) HR Manager Henry has a very good perception about Boss, Boss is liked by all and sundry, including the CEO. Boss also has many years at the company and subsequently, HR Manager Henry has a very good relationship with Boss. HR Manager Henry attempts to hear Employee Katherine out, but has already made up his mind and thinks to himself “… here we go again!” At this point HR Manager Henry is on his way to becoming Human Remains! In short, HR Manager Henry does not pay much attention to Employee Katherine and agrees to “look into” the matter and promises to give Employee Katherine feedback.
With perceptions clouding the mind of HR Manager Henry, he does “look into the matter” (not quite sure I know exactly what that means, though), has a quick chat (Human Racehorses) to Boss about Katherine. And the result? Boss dismisses the complaint, HR Manager Henry feels satisfied he is looking after employee interest and … delays responding to Employee Katherine. Employee Katherine does not leave the matter unresolved, escalates the matter to a leader in the company and very soon it turns out that Employee Katherine was in fact 100% correct! Boss is summoned to a disciplinary enquiry and he and the company part ways.
“What is the point?” you may ask. The point is that HR Manager Henry did not follow his true calling and remain impartial. He reacted to his perceptions – one sure way to rapidly move from Human Resources to Human Remains.
So what can the prudent, honourable and solid HR person do to steer clear of any traps in this regard?
At the risk of over-simplifying a complex matter, I believe the solution, in part, lies in the field of leadership – a hotly and widely covered topic, and more specifically Transformational Leadership.
Transformational leaders create something new from something old by changing the basic political and cultural systems (Tichy, Ulrich, 1984). This differs from transactional managers who make adjustments to the organisational mission, structure and human resources.
Transformational leadership accomplishes this by challenging and transforming individuals’ emotions, values, ethics, standards and long-term goals through the process of charismatic and visionary leadership (Northouse, 2007).
The term Transformational Leadership was first coined by Downton (1973), however, its emergence did not really come about until James Burn’s classic, Leadership (1978), was published. Burn noted that the majority of leadership models and practices were based on transactional processes that focused on exchanges between the leader and followers, such as promotions for performing excellent work or punishment for being late. On the other hand, transformational leaders engage with their followers to create a connection that raises the level of motivation and morality in not only the followers, but also the leaders themselves.
In 1985, Bass expanded on the transformational and transactional models by noting they were more of a continuum, rather than two separate entities. In addition, the concept of Laissez-faire or delegating was also on the continuum:
In addition, Bass wrote how transformational Leadership inspired the followers to do more by:
– Raising their levels of consciousness of the organisational goals;
– Rising above their own self-interest for the sake of the organisation; and
– Address higher level needs.
While charisma of the leader is necessary for the followers to achieve the above needs, other conditions are also necessary, such as motivational forces, intellectual stimulation, and individualised consideration. This chart shows some of the factors of the continuum that have been identified by researchers (Northouse, 2007, p.175):
Since this is a continuum, the degree of separation between transformational and transactional leadership often falls in the grey. In addition, leaders will at times operate out of all three modes (transformational, transactional, and laissez-faire), rather than sticking with one.
For example, House (1976) identified these characteristics of a charismatic leader (charisma is one of the main identifiers of a transformational leader):
– Strong role model;
– Shows competence;
– Articulates goals;
– Communicates high expectations;
– Expresses confidence; and
– Arouses motives.
One leader that comes to mind that has all the high marks of these characteristics is the late Steve Jobs of Apple. Although he sits on one part of the continuum as a transformational leader who shows the above qualities of a transformational leader, he would use the corrective transactions of a transactional leader, such as severe criticism (punishment) when a designer did not meet his expectations.
And so, fellow human resources professionals and people dealing with multiple perception syndrome (MPS), these few simple tips may help and guide you to resolve a range of issues in the dynamic and complex world of Human Resources (NOT Human Remains):
– Forget who and what you are during an interaction – the focus is not you;
– Your loyalty lies with a correct, honest and ethical outcome – not with the company or individual;
– Do not delay an outcome due to your insecurities – there comes a time where enough is enough;
– Communicate honestly, timeously and professionally; and
– Move on and clear your emotional recycle bin!
May the tips above and these words by Adriaan Groenewald in his book, Seamless Leadership (2015) help you to what real leaders do, breathe easy and sleep well:
“Be part of the solution rather than the problem; focus on taking ownership and creating effective movement where you stand.”
Leon Steyn is the Group Human Resources Executive of TMS Group, www.tmsg.co.za.
This article appeared in the December 2015 issue of HR Future magazine.