It goes without saying that modern business leadership is complex. Gone are the days of the command-and-control style of leadership, where an individual’s experience and expertise provided the requisite skills to steer a business forward. Modern business leadership, at least in the majority at the executive level, is no longer viewed as a transaction.
Technology’s progress as a learning and communication vehicle has rendered transactional leadership obsolete, making way for a transformational leadership profile built on trust, influence and openness, said Jean Pierre Gagnon, a former learning executive with Merck & Co. Inc. and a CLO doctoral student at the University of Pennsylvania.
Further, the proliferation of managing in virtual environments has increased the need to develop transformational leaders. Transactional leadership, Gagnon said, is utterly ineffective in the digital world, where emotional intelligence is an especially important skill and team members are likely to be located across the world.
“A good leader will always be self-aware and socially aware of their environment,” said Gagnon, who is writing his dissertation on the difference between transactional and transformational leadership. “That’s a quality we [as learning leaders] don’t tend to look at. So if you’re in charge of talent management, the selection of your people becomes very important.”
Once you’ve selected who might best fit a transformational leadership profile — usually someone who has shown an ability to motivate and inspire across these multiple dimensions, Gagnon said — developing these leaders requires learning far beyond what can be taught in a classroom. Experiential assignments — those that provide would-be leaders with real-life challenges that force them to think critically and manage virtually — are best to develop transformational leaders.
“You [as a CLO] have to create experiences and opportunities for leaders to really gather some personal insight and really reflect,” said Rose Gailey, a consultant with Chicago-based leadership development consultancy Gagen MacDonald. Reflection and self-awareness, she said, are two imperative qualities that transformational leaders must have, given the scope and speed of global business.
“Transformational leadership can be developed as long as leaders are willing to be self aware and bring authenticity forward,” Gailey said.
Promoting authenticity in leadership is boosted through the use of social learning and new media technologies — those that strip down the formal nature of leadership development in a classroom and promote individualism, social and informal learning.
Dan Pontefract, who heads learning and collaboration at Canadian telecommunications firm Telus Communications Inc., said when he took over this role in 2008, Telus operated its leadership development on a classroom-heavy model. His goal was to transform leadership development at the company to be more collaborative and technology-driven.
Telus now accomplishes this through a technology-focused development infrastructure, mostly through social media channels, where team members are able to access learning through videos, Wikis and the like. The firm has built its own YouTube, Twitter and Facebook platforms, which team members use to facilitate the majority of their leadership development. Classroom and e-learning offerings act more as a sidecar to the formal, informal and social development that takes place through Telus’ virtual, collaborative learning environment.
“Because we’re moving fast away from the [notion] that learning is an event — that it happens in a classroom model — leaders need to think through how they’re going to be more social,” Pontefract said. “[This] is going to be inclusive of the technology that we are providing.”
In the end, CLOs need to become more committed in developing transformational leaders. This might mean moving away from traditional learning and development models. Gagnon said this change must come from the top.
“The resources are plentiful,” he said. “I think that people don’t take it seriously … They [an organization’s leaders] are not really aware. They are not asking if things are going well. I don’t think we need more information. We just need more people to become more committed.”
Frank Kalman is an associate editor of Chief Learning Officer magazine. He can be reached at fkalman@CLOmedia.com.Filed under: Leadership Development, Technology