How to wake up the transformational manager inside you.

How often do you hear yourself saying “I wish I had a better manager”?

August 6, 2018
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How to wake up the transformational manager inside you.

My journey to better understand the leadership models and how they affect business performance started with this story from a friend of mine reaching out to me about wanting to leave her position. It made me ponder about "how can I improve my leadership skills and what advice can I give when a senior manager believes he/she can no longer stay in their position and therefore must leave his job?".

I was surprised when my friend, who is a COO at a global software integration company told me she wanted to leave her job, especially since I knew that she loved her job.

She is responsible for a base of 40 enterprise clients and a few small clients. She manages the technical teams, project manager's, external vendors and is responsible for the client’s satisfaction.

She has a great team, and she worked hard to stabilize the project delivery processes in the company (for example, clients were calling to complain about every small task the technical team did and after she applied the method of how to deliver work, how to get a client's approval and how to add a new task to the project; clients stopped calling to say “It’s urgent for today” and trying to push them to execute their tasks earlier or demanding them to work on weekends and so on…).

She has been working on her management skills, and the goal she has is to become an inspiring manager that brings better results continuously!

So I asked, “what happened?”.

She told me that a middle-level manager from one of her accounts, a big telecom company, wanted to show how important he is and called her CEO to complain about her team’s work.

He said “her team is not delivering the expected results and it is taking them more than three weeks, when it was promised to be completed within a few days”.

Her CEO then called her and asked: “why haven’t you included me in every email you have had with this client?” Her response was, “Do you want to be cc’d for each email? Do you need it? Don’t you trust us?”.

She was enraged when her CEO answered: "if you and your team can't handle the client, I should be involved."

She was furious and hurt, “If my CEO doesn’t trust me after 6 years of managing more than a hundred projects and more than 50 clients with a high satisfaction ratio, including the ability to overbook a person with 4 clients at the same time, work daily under so much pressure, working overtime and weekends; why should I accept this mistrust in my capabilities over and over again?”.

Let’s face it, I wouldn’t want to work with such a manager wither, so why does she?

Maybe the truth is that she’ll face such incidents in every job she’ll do, no matter how senior her position will be.

We understand the difference in hierarchy:

The CEO would like to hear less complaining possible and maximize the time people create revenue - like focus on working on new requests from clients.

The COO’s  primary objective is to raise the satisfaction of her clients and her colleagues by applying productive processes in the way people communicate and achieve promised results with minimum complaints from internal employees, vendors and clients.

If the CEO doesn’t know more than her team (since the team is working directly with the client), why doesn’t she trust the team to do what is best for the client? I think it can be related to Agile, when the team should have the skills, authority and responsibility to resolve problems in the field in real time. But, how can she convince the CEO that it will be the best way to manage the work? She chose to have small wins and improve the satisfaction of her clients and delivery time of each task.

For me, small wins are great, but I ponder, how does it help business results of a company and is it enough to improve the way she can manage any incident?

As a data-driven person and a business owner, I decided to learn the correlation between leadership management to business results of the company. I found more than ten models and theories of leadership, like transactional leadership, servant leadership, authoritative leadership and more.

You are welcome to find the list here

Each leadership model leads to different daily activities that a manager performs when he is driven to influence a company’s performance.

Since I believe that the better way to resolve conflicts is to have good communication and to not blame others and this can be done by creating circles of trust and fast feedback loops that help you to improve results,  

So I decided to explore the transformation leader model.

WHAT is it?  

Transformational leadership is a model in which leaders inspire and motivate followers to achieve higher performance by appealing to their values and a sense of purpose, facilitating wide-scale organizational change.

Research done in the management field found that there are five common characteristics of inspirational leaders:

  1. Vision
  2. Inspirational communication
  3. Intellectual stimulation
  4. Supportive leadership
  5. Personal recognition

All the data is based on research done by Rafferty, A. E., & Griffin, M. A. (2004). “Dimensions of transformational leadership: Conceptual and empirical extensions. The Leadership Quarterly, 15(3), 329-354.”

In many types of researches  regarding the productivity and prosperity of successful companies, it was found that the significant success of new initiatives happens in companies with more transformational leaders. Also, in those companies, more employees are loyal, satisfied and engaged.

From these findings, you get the feeling that you must always initiate transformations.

However, we all know that resistance to any change is the most significant limitation of every person and you must apply a process that will help you to overcome the resistance.

For this we can apply a process of ongoing improvement. I see in it a process that should help me with my business performance. The management practice that explains it well and offers practical activities to support this process is the Theory of Constraints.

Why TOC? Since this management practice emphasizes that every improvement should be targeted at whatever the current constraint is and improve only things that help eliminate/extract the obstacle. The focus is to improve bottom line results.

Let’s follow the giant, Dr. Eliyahu Goldratt, who laid the foundation of the Theory of Constraints (TOC), and I’ll share his guide regarding how to overcome resistance to change. The highest goal of this is to focus the energy and time to strive to achieve a full life, and the way to start is with thinking clearly.

We must start with believing in these assumptions:

  1. People are good
  2. Every conflict can be removed
  3. Every situation, no matter how complicated it initially looks, is exceedingly simple
  4. Every situation can be substantially improved; even the sky is not the limit  (Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are good examples for that!)
  5. Every person can reach a full life
  6. There is always a win-win solution

I like the book that was written by Quartz reporter Tim Fernholz ”Rocket Billionaires: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and the New Space Race.”

Both Jeff and Elon are transformational leaders, and Tim summarized it so well “I think it’s easy to discount a lot of these guys, and a lot of these companies, as being kooky, or making claims they can’t back up. Only in the last five years have we seen these companies prove that it is a new generation, and they can do things that NASA did and even things that NASA can’t do”.

I hope you're inspired by these giants like I am. I wish their enormous vision, and all other characteristics that a transformation leader needs to achieve breakthrough results will stick to me as well :-).

Alternatively, I’ll work on this until I’ll get there and I’m going to give the same advice to my friend.

However, we are blocked from thinking clearly by four obstacles:

  1. We see reality as complex, rather than a thing of “Inherent Simplicity”.

If we think that a situation (reality) is complicated, we need to apply a ‘sophisticated’ solution. The opposite is true, according to Dr. Goldratt. When activities are complicated, there are many connections between them and that reduces the number of degrees of freedom. This concept is called “inherent simplicity.” As Newton said, “when you dig deeper, you will find out that nature is simple and harmonious with itself.” Therefore, one crucial change is often enough to realize an astonishing improvement in your situation (reality).

     2.   We accept conflicts as a given, rather than seeking to remove them.

Dr. Goldratt claims that it is possible to solve each conflict, because “nature is harmonious with itself.” You only have to challenge the underlying assumptions and to investigate which idea is wrong!  

    3. We blame, rather than assuming goodness and looking for explanations of other people's behavior.

Humans often act irrational and do not always have a common goal, but it’s worth your time to seek for a higher common goal and if you’ve managed to do it, you’ll get the breaking results you wouldn’t have believed could have been achieved.

    4.  We think "we know," rather than challenging our assumptions and looking for a breakthroug way to change a situation.

It is one of the mental constraints that prevent us from thinking outside of the box. Run an experiment and find surprising results. To think clearly, you must add an alerting sign to challenge any assumptions and if you found anything not entirely correct, stop! Think again! Suggest a new assumption! Test it! Always put yourself in the shoes of a scientist and say “I don’t know until I’ll run an experiment and get real results.”

All these practical steps, based on business situations are explained in the book “The Choice” by Eliyahu M. Goldratt and Efrat Goldratt-Ashlag.

I owe the credit to Dr. Jaap van Ede, editor-in-chief business-improvement.EU, that summarized so well Goldratt’s book “The Choice” and invite you to read this book, but only after you’ve read:  

“It’s Not Luck” by Eliyahu M. Goldratt

“The Logical Thinking Process: A Systems Approach to Complex Problem Solving” by H. William Dettmer

My four main conclusions and outcomes to take out of this journey are:

  1. Dare to be different! It pays off!
  2. If you don’t agree or find that the problem you are dealing with can’t be solved with a simple solution, take a deep breath, understand the cause and effect relations and try to run a scenario. Sometimes it will appear as a non-linear behavior, but in the majority of situations, you’ll manage to apply a simple solution, and it will work!
  3. Even if you don’t think you have a common goal with a person you have a conflict with, don’t look at it as an impossible situation. Don’t look to compromise, but challenge the assumptions that are fueling the conflict. You’ll see that you will find a solution that won’t be established on compromisations, but on win-win relationships.
  4. In our work, as a consulting agency for DevOps transformations and process improvements, we focus on enabling faster lead times and business continuity by improving the flow of the software delivery pipeline for many companies. Every solution we offer or advice we share involves a change. This precise method and these practical steps are crucial to the success of any successful expert, and it's pure gold for consultants and people that need to apply solutions, convince others to make changes to the way they work and challenge their existing knowledge. The easy way is to say, “it's his problem.” The satisfaction from a win is to say “I’ll make the best I can to achieve results I can be proud of” and apply any method that can help you to achieve it.

I hope my friend will find it useful and adapt it to her habits and therefore help her wins list to grow!

Have you used any of these steps in the past and would you be ready to share your lessons learned?

Leave your ideas in the comments!

How to wake up the transformational manager inside you.
Viki Slavin
Co-Founder & CEO
Viki has 15 years of experience managing business activities and multicultural workforces. She strives to understand clients’ needs & identify people's wishes and objectives then find ways to make sure they'll achieve them. She finds roundtables and organizational consulting workshops to be a very useful way to gain insights. Viki loves to meet new people, travel and is always looking for new experiences. She is genuinely passionate about learning new things and exploring new experiences - anthropology.