Transformational Versus Contextual Leadership

Business leaders

Do you wish you were one of those high-energy transformational leaders?  Let’s face it – transformational leadership focused on growth and/or innovation sounds pretty sexy, doesn’t it?! But transformational leadership without contextual understanding is a train wreck waiting to happen.

I once witnessed a transformational leader onboard in an organization with an exciting growth platform only to bring it to near demise. While several factors contributed to this, primary factors included an under-informed growth strategy and poor financial management. As a result, acquisition transactions were made that left the organization highly vulnerable to financial downfall. There were very few feedback mechanisms in place to allow for redirection until it was too late. Fortunately, after the new leader and staff suffered many sleepless nights, grueling work hours, and health concerns, divine intention revealed another plan for the organization.

We believe that leadership takes place within both a broad and situational context. To be effective, leaders need ongoing awareness of their customers, external partners, competitors, the organization’s financial and operational capabilities, its architecture (systems and processes), its history, and the needs of its people. Leaders need awareness of industry trends, the broader marketplace, and the conditions under which they operate. In addition, leaders need fast feedback loops so they can understand the evolving environment, redirect quickly if necessary, realign strategy and resources, and capitalize on developing opportunities.  We have learned the importance of carefully structuring an executive onboarding process to include a thorough contextual learning plan. By doing so, we can increase the likelihood of relevant learning and help individuals and organizations successfully navigate complex changes with significantly less disruption.

Transformational leadership is often characterized by traits that we value in the United States including visionary thinking, risk-taking capacity, charismatic influence, and inspirational motivation.  While transformational leaders without contextual knowledge will indeed transform the organization, it will not always be in the ways intended. Good intentions, combined with a well-designed action plan, more often yield desired results.

Clare Cavalier

Clare Cavalier

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