There is no shortage of books and articles on theories and styles of leadership. With so many alternatives staking their claim in organizational effectiveness, how do you choose?
Transcendent leadership offers a perspective that brings many leadership concepts together under one roof. The multidimensional demands of leadership are grouped into three areas: leadership of self, leadership of others, and leadership of the organization. Each one intersects with the others, creating a model of leadership is as dynamic as today’s organizational landscape. Rather than compartmentalizing, the view of transcendent leaders rises above (transcends) all aspects of organizational life and the broader society that encompasses it. But especially for people who are leading in the turbulence of the 21st Century, it starts with self.
Often the least developed skill amongst organizational leaders, leadership of self includes self-awareness, self-regulation, as well as character strengths and virtues, which are cultivated through introspection and reflective activities. Self-leadership intersects with leadership of others through the modeling and development of “positive leader behaviors” and the activities and charisma of leadership, but does so authentically from a base of introspection rather than grandstanding on ethical thin ice. Leadership of self intersects with leadership of the organization in the development of strategy and overall operation when leaders create organizational visions and cultures that inspire member performance instead of regulate specific actions, thereby unleashing creativity, initiative, and entrepreneurship toward a common goal.
“Only through deep self-awareness and the aligning of internal values and beliefs with strategic actions, will leadership of others and the organization intersect to ensure transcendent leadership and sustained, long term firm performance.”
What are you doing to cultivate these spheres of leadership in your areas of organizational responsibility?
Adapted from “Transcendent Leadership” by Mary Crossan and Daina Mazutis (2008).
To blast into orbit, the space shuttle needed to burn one million pounds of solid propellent in each Solid Rocket Booster every time it launched. Getting my family into our daily "orbits" of school and work each morning sometimes feels like it requires a similar expenditure of mental and emotional resources -- and all that before engaging the "flight mission" work of the day! While I'm sure it is a complex formula, it is probably easier to calculate fuel requirements for the space shuttle than it is for us to budget our inner resources in order to reach orbit each day. Sometimes I wonder how we ever do it!
Burning all of our fuel early in the day gets us through the immediate situation, but leaves us depleted for overall "mission objectives". If we operated like the space shuttle, we might need to evaluate what aspects of the mission would have to be scrubbed for another day. And sometimes we do operate like the space shuttle. That's life. But the shuttle program came to an end because it became too costly to operate and was too subject to weather conditions and parts failures to maintain a reliable schedule. That can be true of our own lives as well. Like the shuttle program, the reality for our lives is that burning short-term resources at the expense of long-term needs is too costly and ends in scuttled missions. But we are not space shuttles.
Burning fuel to get into orbit is certainly a relatable analogy, but I think it unnecessarily limits our self-understanding on how we operate as humans. It also propogates cliche answers on how to maintain balance in life (e.g. "take time to refuel", "pace your race", etc.). In the midst of emotionally and mentally depleting conditions, we all have experienced something that gives us what we need to keep going. A healthy conversation with a friend, five minutes of solitude, a nap all can renew us and allow us to press on. Yes, but "refueling" just feels too mechanical to me.
Let's change the image. What if we are more like grass, which stays green and lush when given optimal growing conditions? Grass doesn't "refuel" each day, it simply processes its resources in accordance with its organic design. If our lawn turns brown, thin, or patchy we never conclude that something is wrong or lacking with the grass itself, but rather that there is a disruption or change in the environment -- which could even be seasonal -- that needs to be considered.
Take a minute to wrap your mind around this. What if you woke up tomorrow morning and regarded yourself, not as a rocket in need of fuel for launch (i.e. caffeine), but as grass that greets the dawn ready to grow? Maybe that sounds a little pollyanna, but the concept is worth taking in. If you aren't "green and lush" then you need to ask, "Why?". Perhaps it's the environment.
Do you need to wait for the season to change or find a new place to grow?
Adding to his list of distinctions in transition terminology, William Bridges (Managing Transition
s, Da Capo Press, 2009) separates starts
. A start occurs when situations or designs change, or a set of circumstances is altered. A beginning occurs when we internally acclimate to a start. Starts align with calendars and clocks, but beginnings "follow the timing of the mind and heart," (Bridges, p. 58). This is why the journey through the Neutral Zone can be even more unsettling -- it doesn't necessarily end when something new starts. A job change can be scheduled, but as anybody who has changed jobs could attest when we actually "feel at home in" (i.e. begin) a new job could be days, weeks or months after we start. This is true with organizational changes as well. Flourishing in anything new takes time.Flourishing in a New Beginning
I love that the definition of the word "flourish" as a verb means to experience healthy growth and that the noun connotes a showy embellishment in music, architecture, or physical movement. Drawing on both definitions, to flourish in this third stage of transition implies that New Beginnings are experiences of freedom and competence in our new circumstances such that we can add personal style. Flourishing is a product of joy, not compulsion or mere technique. It is when we feel we are truly being ourselves at what we do. It's Yo-Yo Ma at a cello, Lindsey Vonn on a ski slope, and Frank Lloyd Wright at a drafting table. Flourishing is a sign that the journey of transition is complete -- until another change restarts the process.
This series of posts has paralleled significant moments in my own professional and personal journey through stages of transition. While the journey continues, I am beginning to sense that I am walking a new path recently. This path is not about perfection or the absence of setbacks; it is a mode of living with a sense of vitality. This new path is what I am leaning into today. How about you?Steps in the Journey of Transition
- Reflect on a time when you experienced flourishing in your own life. What were the conditions that allowed you the freedom and confidence to be fully yourself?
- If you are really honest, do you believe that it is possible to flourish in life, whether at work or at home? What do you think causes any doubt that you may feel about the reality of flourishing?
- On a piece of paper, write down what you believe may be the underlying causes of your doubt and carry them with you throughout the week as a reminder to be aware of times when doubts may be blocking your path toward flourishing. Share this experience with a trusted friend or spouse who will listen and speak truth into your doubt.
Life as I knew it changed about three years ago.
It was around then when my dad received the news that his cancer had returned after previously successful treatment. Worse, it had come back aggressively and had spread throughout his body in just a few short months. Factoring in other life and career situations, my wife and I found ourselves at a crossroads and decided to move in order to be with my parents in that critical moment. Within two months, we moved with our two children from a house in Illinois to an apartment in Minnesota — without jobs or certainty of what the future would bring. My father died one week later, the same week we unexpectedly found out that my wife was pregnant with our third child. It was a turbulent season of change.The Neutral Zone
While most of the changes
were sudden and final, the transition
to the new landscape of our lives took time. This stage in between endings and new beginnings is what William Bridges calls “the neutral zone” (Managing Transition
s, Da Capo Press, 2009). It is part of the process of transition that individuals and organizations go through when experiencing or implementing change.
The neutral zone is thus both a dangerous and an opportune place, and it is the very core of the transition process. It is the time when repatterning takes place…. It is the winter in which the roots begin to prepare themselves for spring’s renewal. It is the night during which we are disengaged from yesterday’s concerns and preparing for tomorrow’s. It is the chaos into which the old form dissolves and from which the new form emerges. It is the seedbed of the new beginnings that you seek (p. 9).
Everyone’s experience in the neutral zone is unique and varies in length. However, regardless of whether the nature of change is positive or negative, expected or unexpected, we all must wander through its mysterious terrain before being fully ready to enter into a new beginning. For individuals, the neutral zone fosters authenticity (if we let it) as the familiar is stripped away and we are left exposed as ourselves. For organizations, the neutral zone creates space for implemented changes to happen effectively (if managed well) as old ways are replaced by new. For individuals and organizations, this usually isn’t a comfortable experience.
My neutral zone experience cultivated a deeper appreciation for the role the neutral zone plays in personal formation and organization development. I learned that the experience cannot be rushed; it needs to be walked through slowly. Also, the purposes of the neutral zone are most fulfilled when travelled with a companion who can help process and manage the experience. My experience left me with stronger resolve to help other people and organizations through the neutral zone experience when facing change. My experience informs my work as a coach and consultant and is part of the imagery behind the name “Open Spaces”. I believe that open spaces (i.e. neutral zones) can empower people, organizations, and communities to flourish.Steps in the Journey of Transition
Next: The Journey of Transition (Part 3): Flourishing in a New Beginning
- Reflect on a personal experience that sent you wandering in the neutral zone for a while. How did you deal with it? Did you embrace it, try to ignore it, or limp through it? How did you feel while in it?
- What helped you move through the phase authentically? What would have helped you engage it in a more authentic way?
- What did you learn from your experience in the neutral zone that could help you empower others who are going through it (whether people or organizations)?
"It isn't the changes that do you in, it's the transitions." William Bridges, Managing Transitions (Da Capo Press, 2009)
Best-selling author and consultant William Bridges distinguishes between change
(an external event or situation) and transition
(the psychological adaptation to change). Whether the change is sudden or long-term, planned or unforeseen, positive or negative, we experience transition in three stages: Ending, Neutral Zone, and Beginning. Successful transition involves facing the issues and opportunities of each stage.Begin with The End
Bridges insightfully observes that all transitions begin with an ending. Change may have situationally closed the door, but transition requires explicit knowledge and acceptance of what has ended in order to move on. The journey forward involves first being able to identify and articulate what was lost or unrealized because of the change: identity, history, status, expectations, etc. Loss of any nature (even the loss of something negative) may trigger emotions associated with grieving -- anger, bargaining, anxiety, sadness, disorientation -- and are part of the healthy experience of endings.
Identifying and articulating loss is only the beginning of transition. After a period of time that is unique to each person, The End gives way to an often longer and more challenging journey through... The Neutral Zone.Steps in The Journey of Transition
Next: The Journey of Transition (Part 2): Wandering in the Neutral Zone
- Consider a current change you are experiencing. Can you name all the dimensions of loss that are affected by the change? Make a list so you can see them in front of you, out in the open.
- What items on your list are the hardest aspects of the change to let go of? Why?
- What would it mean to let go and accept the loss?