How to Be a Transformational Leader

A Q&A with Hugh Blane

Dori Meinert By Dori Meinert January 17, 2018
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You can have the most talented employees in the world, but they won't achieve remarkable results until you change their mindset—and yours.

"I've found that 80 percent of a leader's success is mental," says Hugh Blane, president of Claris Consulting in Seattle.

7 Principles of Transformational Leadership-cover image.jpgIf employees are putting in minimal effort, it's often because leaders are doing the same, says Blane, author of 7 Principles of Transformational Leadership (Career Press, 2017).

He shared some tips for becoming a more effective leader in a recent interview with HR Magazine.

What is a transformational leader?

If we're going to create a flourishing customer experience, not unlike what Amazon is trying to do, we need to have flourishing employees creating that experience. So, leaders who are transformational have to enable employees to flourish.

What are common obstacles to becoming one?

Struggling leaders don't have a leadership purpose. They have not fallen in love with some idea, dream, hope or aspiration that transforms the way they work. If you don't have a leadership purpose that's compelling for you, then you take direction from others. If you are crystal clear about what your purpose is, it shapes everything else that you do.

The second most common lament I hear from clients is that they are overscheduled, overwhelmed and oftentimes overburdened. They have zero "white space" to think strategically. And if you don't think strategically, then you operate tactically.

Are you playing not to lose professionally? Or are you playing to win professionally? You can't drive organizational transformation by playing it safe.

How is mindset a factor?

The No. 1 thing executives struggle with self-doubt. It's the imposter syndrome. Mindset is something that needs to be cultivated every single day because a leader's mindset permeates an entire organization.

The best way to manage that is with a coach and a mentor. Find an exemplar, someone who epitomizes the kind of thinking you want to have and spend time with them. Assimilate their thinking, and make it your own. Personalize it.

Transformational leaders need to be aware of the gap between their intent and their impact on their employees. They need to ask themselves regularly: How is my leadership helping or hindering the performance of this department? What am I doing that gets in the way of that? What am I doing that needs to change?

What is the promise principle?

When leaders tell employees or customers, "this is what you can rely on me to do," it gives them peace of mind and confidence because they know what to expect. It removes any ambiguity. It removes uncertainty. And, it allows people to say "yes" to your endeavors faster and easier.

I have one executive who chopped her 27-word mission statement down to three words. She promised customers and employees her top priority would be to "enable customer success."

To help her live out her promise, she asked employees for suggestions of what she could do to help them become more successful at work. She boiled their suggestions down to seven key things, and after gaining her employees' agreement, she made those seven things her focus for the next year.

You cannot really set priorities unless you've made promises to employees and customers, and you cannot make promises unless you have articulated your purpose. My advice to HR professionals is to stop making priorities until you have identified what your purpose is. Until those things come together, you have a long "to-do" list instead of a "to-be" list.

Why is perseverance one of the seven principles of transformational leadership?

Leaders often spend their time recruiting top talent. But transformational leaders recognize that talent pales in comparison to perseverance. You will achieve transformational results when you surround yourself with people who are tenacious as all get out and don't give up easily.

Look for advice rather than feedback. The words seem similar but the impact the words have on people is very different. When you ask for feedback, the person giving feedback has no responsibility or engagement in the application of the feedback. Think of every customer feedback survey you've ever completed.

When you ask for advice, the word places the other person in an advisory role and there is heightened engagement and desire to be beneficial. They have a higher degree of involvement in the success of the other person. HR should ask employees to give three pieces of advice to help them be more engaged at work. The responsibility then is shared between the employee and employer.

Dori Meinert is senior writer/editor of HR Magazine.


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