In the conventional perspective an executive is an expert who informs. In the positive perspective an executive is a leader who also transforms. This means the leader can transform beliefs and expectations and thus bring about cultural change. The organization is always getting better.
I know a very positive leader who personifies this capacity to constantly build a more effective culture. He is full of energy, has a photographic memory and a broad kit of management skills. Yet these are not the characteristics that most differentiate him. He does something that few executives do.
I had a conversation with one of his former direct reports, I will call him Peter. In describing my friend, Peter told a story of his first conversation during his first day on the job. My friend told Peter, “You cannot offend me.” He explained that he always wanted to know, in every circumstance, what Peter really believed.
In many cases a direct report would be skeptical of this claim. Few people really want to hear a genuine difference of opinion. For this reason, in most organizations, truth seldom speaks to power.
Peter said he believed the claim from the outset. Peter therefore committed to always share what he was really thinking. He said that sometimes he was so direct in stating his opinions that he later felt to call and apologize. Yet my friend never showed even the slightest offense.
Peter said, “I could not offend him because he genuinely wanted to know my opinion, particularly when it was different from his. Every conversation was fully authentic. There was never any posturing.”
We discussed how such communication was possible. Eventually we agreed. My friend always puts the common good ahead of his own ego. Because he is a selfless leader, because he puts the organization first, every conversation has integrity.
Peter then pointed out an interesting side benefit that accrues to people of transformative influence. “His commitment to listening meant that I was fully heard. So if he decided to go in a different direction, I was fine with it. I knew that he had fully heard my honest opinion. So I was willing to trust him and support him in any direction he wanted to go.”
If you want to know if a person is a transformational leader, simply look at his or her direct reports. If they are “yes” people the person is not a transformational leader.
Transformational leaders transform their direct reports into transformational leaders. The direct reports are empowered people who speak with authenticity. Their people speak to the direct reports with authenticity. A positive organization is comprised of strong people, acting in empowered ways, while operating with high unity.
Transformational leaders create a network of unified, committed people who tell each other the truth. In such a network of purpose, action and learning, success is far more probable than it is in a conventional organization.
Do my direct reports have the ability to offend me?
Why do transformational leaders have transformational leaders as direct reports?
How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?