Transformation – Get Out of Its Way

General George S. Patton once said, “…Lead me, follow me or get out of the way.” Today, more than ever, that famous quote takes on new meaning as we transform the way that modern workers both lead and follow. Looking at the business landscape today, we need to ask if it’s time for new ways of thinking about how we manage. The question is not whether we are managing or leading. It’s a question of if we are being transformational in a transformational time.

Transformational Perspective

In 1985, Bernard Bass set forth a new language of leading that went beyond traditional thinking about managing in a contemporary time. This model of leadership was about moving people beyond their own needs. Leaders can be transformational and inspire followers through personal influence, intellectual simulation, and personal considerations. These leader actions move followers from engaging in self-interested behaviors towards a collective mission and vision. Through this continuous process, followers develop a sense of trust, admiration, loyalty, and respect towards their leader. This may be far from today’s leaders who are still stuck competing through divisive ideology and the focusing on the bottom line at all costs. While leaders may not be changing their approach as Bass had envisioned, their people are craving a different approach.

Real Example

Today, our well-educated, talented workforce embraces continuous learning, job empowerment, and a sense of professionalism. Surprisingly enough, General Patton would be happy to know that the best example I can give involves our armed services. Many people may conceptualize our military as a pyramid of policy, when in fact each soldier is a well-trained, empowered professional.

While they work in a larger system, they all work exceptionally well in small teams and as individuals. Why does this work? It works because what binds them is what Bass called “inspirational motivation” and fulfillment. They are motivated by their mission, but more importantly, by an intense sense of pride, commitment, and honor. These concepts are the glue to do extraordinary things in extraordinary circumstances. These concepts link people together to do something together.

Management today is about people being linked to a larger purpose combined with a balance of community and personal well-being. However, they are quick to point out that it is also about productivity and results. Balance needs to be maintained between the competing values of production, community, and employee fulfillment. If we sacrifice people for the sake of production, and vice versa, we fail in the long run.

Life Lessons

When I teach graduate students, I have them write a paper about their leadership trajectory. I speculate that they don’t see themselves fitting into a world with so many competing values and with organizations that want them to blindly follow. They do not want to just follow, they want to be part of the solution, but fail to see where they fit in. They are trained to think and collaborate but cannot conceptualize where and when they will have the chance to do that. What is their hope? What is a returning soldier’s hope?

Future Leaders

As our students graduate and our troops come home from distant battlefields, they will fold into our organizations as the most contemporary workers available. They know how to work in teams, they are conceptual, and they believe in a cause. These workers will be seeking organizations that provide structure, while at the same time the opportunity to work in teams and lead. They will bind our teams together, be exceedingly productive, and shape our productive future world. That is if we let them. If we don’t balance the needs of our organization (to produce) with the needs of all workers (to be fulfilled), we will miss the next opportunity to realize political, economic, and business growth. It may be time for us to get out of the way and let a new generation of leaders find their place. If we don’t, we may be stuck in a cycle of divisiveness, and nothing will get done. Perhaps it is time we lead, follow, or get out of the way.

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