Challenges Facing Leaders

Organizations today place multiple demands on leaders, requiring them to impart vision, initiate change, and make difficult decisions. To handle these demands, leaders must be flexible and adaptable.

Transformational leadership

Transformational leadership blends the behavioral theories with a little dab of trait theories. Transactional leaders, such as those identified in contingency theories, guide followers in the direction of established goals by clarifying role and task requirements. However, transformational leaders, who are charismatic and visionary, can inspire followers to transcend their own self‐interest for the good of their organizations.

Transformational leaders appeal to followers' ideals and moral values and inspire them to think about problems in new or different ways. These leaders influence followers through vision, framing, and impression management.

Vision is the ability of the leader to bind people together with an idea. Framing is the process whereby leaders define the purpose of their movements in highly meaningful terms. Impression management is an attempt to control the impressions that others form of a leader by practicing behaviors that make him or her more attractive and appealing to others.

A transformational leader instills feelings of confidence, admiration, and commitment in his or her followers. This type of leader is charismatic, creating a special bond with followers and articulating a vision with which his or her followers identify and for which these followers are willing to work. Each follower is coached, advised, and delegated some authority. The transformational leader stimulates followers intellectually, arousing them to develop new ways to think about problems. This leader uses contingent rewards to positively reinforce performances that are consistent with his or her wishes. Management is by exception. Transformational leaders take initiative only when problems occur and are not actively involved when things are going well. He or she commits people to actions and converts followers into leaders.

Research indicates that transformational, as compared to transactional, leadership is more strongly correlated with lower turnover rates, higher productivity, and higher employee satisfaction.

Transformational leaders are relevant to today's workplace because they are flexible and innovative. Although it is important to have leaders with the appropriate orientation defining tasks and managing interrelationships, it is even more important to have leaders who can bring organizations into futures they have not yet imagined. Transformational leadership is the essence of creating and sustaining competitive advantage.

Change leadership

Today's business world is highly competitive. The way for an organization to survive is by reshaping to meet the needs of a rapidly changing world. Resistance to change is a dead‐end street for employees and for the organization. Leaders need to emphasize action to make the change as quickly and smoothly as possible.

Organizations go through a four‐stage life cycle. For some organizations, the four periods of growth come and go very rapidly; for others, that process may take decades. Failure to follow through with the needed changes in any of the four growth periods could mean the end for an organization.

Throughout these periods of change, which is just about all the time for a good organization, leaders must concentrate on having their people go from change avoidance to change acceptance. The five steps that accompany change—for individuals facing life‐altering circumstances and for organizations facing fundamental shifts—are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally, acceptance.

Often a worker's first reaction to change is to resist it. An employee becomes comfortable performing tasks and processes a certain way. These comfort levels provide employees with the security of knowing that they are the masters of their work environment. Employees fear that change could disrupt their lives by making their jobs harder or causing them to lose their sense of control.

Leaders can help the change process by changing their employees' attitudes from avoidance into acceptance. This change is accomplished by managers as strong leaders transforming their employees' avoidance questions and statements into acceptance questions:

  • From “Why?” to “What new opportunities will this change provide?” When employees ask “why,” a manager should focus on the benefits that the change will provide employees and the organization.
  • From “How will this affect me?” to “What problems will this solve?” Managers should let employees know what the problem is and how they will be part of the solution.
  • From “We do not do it this way” to “What will be the result if we do it this new way?” One of the first reactions is that a process never has been done this way. Managers should provide explanations and empathy.
  • From “When will this be over so that we can get back to work?” to “What can I do to help?” Managers should get employees involved in implementing the change.

Managers need to keep in mind that feelings are contagious. By positively promoting a change, a leader makes others want to be part of it. Managers should also give employees the necessary authority and control to help bring the change about. So that employees do not feel powerless, managers should share their responsibilities. A manager should want his or her team members to feel useful and enthusiastic. Employees should be made to feel as though the change could not have happened without them.

Leading in the learning organization

An organization that encourages learning among its people is referred to as a learning organization. In a learning organization, employees are engaged in identifying and solving problems, enabling the organization to continuously experiment, change, and improve. Thus, the organization can increase its capacity to grow, learn, and achieve its purpose.

In the learning organization, all employees look for problems, such as understanding special customer needs. Employees also solve problems, which means putting things together in unique ways to meet customer needs. A learning organization promotes exchanges of information among employees, which creates a more knowledgeable workforce. Learning organizations exhibit flexibility because employees accept and adapt to new ideas and changes through a shared vision.

Today's increased pace of change is one reason the learning organization is popular. The corporation that is able to quickly shape and motivate their workers is better able to transform its work practices to keep pace with the constantly changing environment.

Leadership in learning organizations requires something more than the traditional approach of setting goals, making decisions, and directing the troops. In learning organizations, managers learn to think in terms of “control with” rather than “control over” employees. They “control with” employees by building relationships based on shared visions and shaping the cultures of their organizations so that all can help achieve the same visions. A leader in this learning environment can help facilitate teamwork, initiate change, and expand the capacity of employees to shape their organization's future. Leaders who understand how the learning organization operates can help other leaders adapt to this organizational style.

Visionary leadership, a team‐based structure, participative strategy, a strong, adaptive internal culture, empowered employees, and open information characterize the learning organization. Consultant Peter Senge, author of the popular book, The Fifth Discipline, identifies the following ingredients of learning organizations:

  • Mental models—setting aside of old ways of thinking
  • Personal mastery—self‐awareness and ability to remain open to others

  • Systems thinking—understanding of the plan of action

  • Shared vision—mutual agreement to the plan of action

  • Team learning—working together to accomplish the plan of action

Senge's concept of the learning organization places high value on developing the ability to learn and then make that learning continuously available to all organizational members.