The three fundamental relationships in the transformational leadership paradigm are: relationship with self and others, relationship with circumstances, and relationship with time. Transformational leaders generate a reality outside the predictable by: living from “I have choice”; challenging their assumptions and beliefs about themselves and the way they are living; realizing that the future they are choosing organizes the way they are in the present, the possibilities they see, the choices they make, and the actions they take.
The past and the future only exist in conversation. To have ‘outside the box’ outcomes, one must first have a vision that ‘outside the box’ and then take actions to realize that vision. Our actions are a function of our vision—the possible future we create in language. The future we envision happens in the conversations we have each and every day. Our actions today give us our outcomes tomorrow.
Breakdowns are the stepping-stones to breakthroughs. They are not problems. A breakdown is a declaration that something is blocking the success of one’s ‘unreasonable’ commitment to a possible future. Breakdowns show up as what is missing. Fulfilling an unreasonable commitment is a breakthrough relative to ‘business as usual’ (the context for fulfilling ‘reasonable’ commitments).
Whenever we have accomplished anything we are proud of, it has been a function of teamwork. We play a ‘game’ working together toward an outcome that is almost always “greater than the sum of the parts.” A Champion Team comes to the ‘game’ motivated. They work together knowing that each party listens that everyone’s point of view is valid (not just their own) and that no one has or knows ‘the truth’. They are committed to being aligned, to straight talk, to inclusion and to learning.
The future will happen. And the future that will happen if we do more, better and different variations of the same thing over and over again is the predictable, probable future, or the ‘circumstantial drift’. The ‘drift’ defines the boundaries of common sense and limits the choices we have available to us to what is reasonable and feasible. Breakthroughs are unpredictable results: they do not occur in the drift.
Coaching is not about giving advice. Nor is it about building potential. It is about realizing the possibility people are. The job of the coach is to create reality—not fix people. A successful coaching relationship depends on the person being coached being committed to accomplishing something bigger than their past dictates as being possible. Coaching is about working with individuals to create who they are committed to being—as if that is who they are already. Coaching produces results without control.
Commitment is an action that brings into existence something that wasn’t there before. Without commitment, we could not coordinate actions, run enterprises or engage in normal social interactions such as meeting someone for coffee. Commitments simultaneously open particular possible futures and close other ones. They are neither ‘right’ nor ‘wrong’. However, they do create expectations on the part of others and can impact the choices they have and how they perceive their future.
Conversation for Relationship
Conversations for Relationship create a foundation of workability in which people are free to express their concerns and make open requests. Participants relate to each other as a function of their commitments, instead of relating to each other based on the assessments, interpretations and feelings they have about each other. Rather than resigning themselves to patterns of defensive behavior, resentment or cynicism, they focus on building relationship and opening possibilities through their speaking and listening.
Conversation for Possibility
Possibility only exists in conversation. Most accomplishments being when someone makes a declaration: “This is possible”. While we constantly make declarations about what is or is not possible, we seldom do so responsibly. Every word we speak either expands options for action and brings forth a new future or guarantees the status quo. By definition, a possibility is not real. If we could prove it, it wouldn’t be a possibility.
Conversation for Opportunity
Conversations for Opportunity ground possibilities in the historical ‘reality’ and create structures for fulfillment (that is, projects and plans for bringing the vision/ possible future into reality). These conversations focus on ‘who’, ‘what’ and ‘when’, and constitute ‘how’ an organizational vision and breakthrough commitments come into existence.
Conversation for Action
We coordinate our actions towards bringing about something specific in the future by clarifying and making certain who is committed to doing what by when. We make promises for specific actions to specific people in specific timeframes. We make requests of specific people for specific actions in specific timeframes. In these Conversations for Action, we discover what we didn’t know we didn’t know.
Power is measured by one’s ability to have a vision manifest into reality. Empowerment is a context. To be empowered, one must be responsible. When we are empowered, we know we are sufficient to accomplish our commitments and we have the capacity to take appropriate action. We also know that people around us experience their sufficiency to accomplish their commitments.
Language is the source of action. We observe and interpret the world through language. What is happening occurs in a network of conversations—including the running commentary inside our heads that interprets what is happening and the verbalized conversations people have with each other. We can impact (that is, interact with) all that is going on with our words. Our conversations not only reveal our interpretations, but also create our future.
Learning is an ongoing process demanded when we expand our commitments to create a new future. It begins when we realize there is a domain of what ‘we don’t know we don’t know’. It starts with Generous Listening and with being open to other people’s perspectives. Learning happens in the questions we ask—not in the answers we come up with—and from requesting and receiving feedback. Proof that we have learned something shows up in our actions.
Listening is the fundamental capacity of leadership. It is the background structure of interpretation that gives meaning to whatever we perceive. There are two kinds of listening: Already Listening (which is historical) and Generous or Generated Listening (which is our listening when we are committed). Once we acknowledge that we start with an Already Listening as a framework for making sense of the world—a framework that is made up of a long list of assessments about almost everyone and everything that is present in the ‘background’—then we can begin to generate a more Generous Listening. For not one of our assessments is either ‘true’ or ‘false’.
Moods involve our relationship with the future (specifically, how the future is occurring for us). We are always in one mood or another. Moods are automatic and can be ‘contagious’ (we can be infected by another’s mood). For most people, they organize how we feel, how we explain things to ourselves, and what we do. Although we cannot control our moods, we can master how we relate to them.
Responsiblity / Accountability
Responsibility is the ability to respond. It is a way of being, a relationship to one’s circumstances and the future. It is the only context for having a ‘choice’. Responsibility is not an assessment of blame or credit. It is a personal stand we take (“I am responsible…”).
Accountability is an agreement to be counted on for particular outcomes. It is an opportunity and is arrived at through social agreement / organization design. Accountability is a personal commitment to ‘take care’ of some area on behalf of others, and is based on a division of labor.
In any game, there are three distinct perspectives. On the court, the players are in action in the present moment. In the stands, the observers are talking about the action after the fact (from the perspective of the past). On the bench, the coach is observing what is not happening on the court and communicating with the players to bring about what is missing to win the game. The transformational leader, like the coach, focuses on creating reality—not on ‘fixing’ people or things.
Straight talk is saying what we see. It is about relating to others based on their commitments, sharing our negative assessments as a point of view, and transcending our differences. None of our assessments (our interpretations and judgments) can be objectively verified (like a fact), and can therefore neither be ‘true’ or ‘false’: our assessments are our point of view. Straight talk increases our ability to be effective, to distinguish facts from points of view, and to realize our business objectives by forwarding our commitments and our actions.
Transformational Leadership Paradigm
Transformation is a shift in how one observes the world: it is not about changing the world. When we observe the world differently, we can relate to it differently, see different possibilities, and choose different actions—all of which in turn can transform the world.
The transformational leadership paradigm validates and encourages differences, rather than trying to smooth things out so they are the same. In this paradigm, coaching and leadership are synonymous. Transformational leadership is about empowering people—giving them choice and freedom—and about bringing into existence what is missing. Transformational leaders give people the tools of observation and action so they can put the past in the past, be responsible for the present, and create the future they want to create.
We determine what is ‘reasonable’ by looking at what has worked in the past. Making decisions that are reasonable (based on past results and historical data) gives us more of the same. Being reasonable does not serve breakthroughs. We can only have a breakthrough by making ‘unreasonable’ commitments to possibilities that are ‘outside the box’. Transformational leadership depends on being unreasonable.