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Developing transformational leadership

“We can not predict the future but we can transform ourselves to better meet and shape it” 

It’s probably fair to say that most of the world’s leaders are aiming to move their organisation from a current situation to something different in the future, to facilitate transformation in some shape or form. But facilitating true transformation requires wide capacity for transformational leadership. This is our core mission in Amara: to spread the knowledge and practice of transformational leadership and help leaders around the world to expand their transformational capacity. In this blog post by Maria Lehto, we’ll share with you few of the most important concepts regarding transformational leadership, which have been tested and proven effective with countless leaders and organisations over the years.

Leading change is difficult, but since change management initiatives often have clearly defined goals, they are easier to, well… manage. Transformation is something different, as the goals are often not very clear from the beginning and there is a lot of uncertainty in the process. In leading transformation, the leaders must be aware and alert to the people (including themselves), relationships and systems around them, and willing to adjust their assumptions, actions and plans along the way. Precisely because leading transformation is likely to be complex, nuanced, uncertain and often messy, being able to initiate and lead transformation requires leadership capacity that can be developed through vertical development.

Being able to initiate and lead transformation requires leadership capacity that can be developed through vertical development.

In a nutshell, vertical development is about the capacity to deal with complexity, to understand different sides of an issue and varying perspectives, and to be able to operate in a highly volatile environment. Horizontal development on the other hand can be seen as developing skills, for example learning to walk and speak as a child, learning algebra and driving a car as a teenager and learning a trade, managing a department or becoming an expert in a specific area when you are an adult. In developing transformational leadership capacity, being able to develop both horizontally AND vertically is key. Transforming leadership is not only about the capacity however, but also about the practice. The most important concepts here are the action logics – developing the capacity – and Action Inquiry – practising moment-to-moment awareness and conscious action. Let’s take a look at both.

Below are presented the action logics, based on the work of Bill Torbert. As we develop through these stages, from preconventional through conventional towards postconventional, our capacity for transformative leadership expands and we become increasingly capable to lead transformation in ourselves, in others and in the systems we are part of, or even in the world. Most of the adult population operates from the conventional action logics (Expert and Achiever), and those who reach the postconventional stage (from Redefining onwards) are the ones who truly have the capacity to facilitate transformation. 

Moving from one action logic to another takes some time and effort but is possible for those who are ready to commit and practice. Some key ways in which you can support your own development as a transformational leader are 1) practising Action Inquiry 2) paying attention to multiple perspectives and 3) Developing the Amara Way capacities, which are Passionate and Pragmatic Learning, Mature Use of Power and Thinking and Acting Systemically. It can also be very beneficial being able to “map” your own development journey over the action logics to know where you are currently on your development, which you can do with the GLP assessment.

The practice of Action Inquiry could be defined as a moment-to-moment awareness done in service of developing self, important relationships and the systems we are part of.  Action Inquiry is many things: a skill, a process, a tool, a style, a mind set and a way of life. Most importantly, Action Inquiry is the only approach statistically confirmed as reliably generating both individual and organisational transformation. 

Action Inquiry is the only approach statistically confirmed as reliably generating both individual and organisational transformation. 

To understand what Action Inquiry is really about, it might be useful to think how most of us act most of the time. We find ourselves in a situation and react to it, and only afterwards we might stop and reflect over it, think about alternatives ways to engage and handle the situation. In Action Inquiry, the idea is to be able to ACT and INQUIRE simultaneously. To be so aware and present in the moment, that you can react, reflect and respond consciously, while keeping your mind open to different perspectives, viewpoints and ways to engage (or not to engage) in the specific situation. If normally we have a gap between the action and inquiry/reflection, Action Inquiry aims to close this gap, or at least make it smaller. 

A useful framework to keep in mind while practising Action Inquiry is the three levels of inquiry, referring to ME, WE, and IT. “ME” is about the individual: what are you thinking, feeling and experiencing. “WE” is about the individual relationships, the conversations, the team or the group and the power dynamics. IT refers to the organisation or system, or even the project you are currently working on: the external focus, emphasising rational thinking, data and logic. By keeping all three perspectives in mind, you are building a more comprehensive understanding of any given situation and choose a way to respond that is timely and effective. 

In Amara, we work with leaders and organisations to support the development of their transformational leadership capacity and development towards the later action logics, as well as the ongoing and daily practice of Action Inquiry, for timely and transformative action. Development, especially vertical development, is often fluid, messy and not linear at all, and some support on the way can be immensely valuable. Sometimes there are big leaps forward and sometimes a few steps back or sideways. While you travel on this path of individual development towards wider capacity for transformational leadership, remember to give yourself some space and some time for the development to take place. And if you feel like it is the right time for you or your organisation to accelerate your development and initiate transformation, we are here for you. Just drop us a line and we’ll set a quick call to see how we could support you and help you nurture the transformation you wish to see.