Seven steps to “transpersonal” leadership

Listening to and learning from yourself and others are among two of the major traits of the best leaders.

That’s according to The Invisible Elephant & the Pyramid Treasure, a new report on the characteristics and steps leaders must take to develop skills that transform them from average boss to visionary leader.

“The Invisible Elephant” refers to the notion that most leaders are unaware that their treatment of others goes a long way towards determining a  leader’s performance – and that of the company. Leadership goes far beyond financial and strategic decisions to steps that might seem simple, such as how a leader greets others, how a leader listens and shows empathy, according to the report, published by Tomorrow’s Company through a partnership that included CIMA and the AICPA.

The report stresses that leaders who focus less on their own financial gain and more on the needs of an entire organisation will be more successful in the long term. Following the steps can help the leader reach the “Pyramid Treasure,” a series of leadership competencies developed over many years.

The report guides a journey from “ego-based, as-usual” leadership to “transpersonal” leadership, a quality marked by someone who considers the needs of all stakeholders. It offers seven tips on becoming a more emotionally intelligent leader:

1. Understand leadership: “Management” differs from “leadership”. The former is about results, the latter is about process. The leader who does little more than tell people what to do might be organised and efficient, but that leader is thinking only about today. The leader who focuses more on employee development and less on task management will be more effective over the long term.

2. Increase self-awareness: Leaders must know how they are wired. Rational decision-makers who like to go with their gut might not be as effective as those firmly aware of how they process information best. Taking the Myers-Briggs personality test, for example, could provide valuable insight.

3. Learn to manage your emotions: Understanding the importance of maintaining an even keel will increase performance. This helps build what the report calls “emotional intelligence.” Emotionally intelligent leaders are those who develop into good listeners capable of seeing an issue from the perspective of others. The report says this “soft” behaviour is critical in a leader’s progression.

4. Use different emotionally intelligent leadership styles: Not everyone responds to the same kind of leadership, and not every scenario calls for the same kind, so it’s best to adapt your approach based on the person or the situation. The styles effective leaders use at different times include “coaching,” “affiliative,” “democratic” and “commanding”.

5. Create a performance-enhancing culture: This is not the awarding of $5 coffee gift cards for a job well-done. A leader should display honesty, transparency and respect to all employees if an organisation’s “climate” is to improve. Culture change doesn’t happen instantly, though.

6. Contract between follower and leader: A misunderstanding of goals can lead to breakdowns in working relationships. Expectations for all employees should be clearly stated. Leaders must state, and stick to, their promises, setting an accountability standard for the followers.

7. Identify strengths and key development needs: To get a complete assessment, an anonymous, 360-degree review is needed. Measures should be based on a leader’s behaviours, not on skills. Similar to increasing self-awareness, this identification gives a leader a personal development plan.

When people enter into leadership positions, they focus on what they can change – everything but changing themselves, says John Knights, the author of the report.

“They become leaders, and what they’re mainly about is changing others,” Knights said during a speech for the report’s launch. “Often they don’t think about the fact that in order to be a better leader, they need to change themselves. They need to change their behaviours. They need to change their values.”

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Neil Amato (namato@aicpa.org) is a CGMA Magazine senior editor.