Think you’re a Transformational Leader? Start acting like one.

One person’s boss is another’s leader. The determining factor is the correct deployment of the corresponding, power-based, behaviors of the manager, to match the maturity level of the follower.

We’ve all seen some version of the meme above, typically with the captions “leader” for the character that is helping his followers pull the business along, as well as “boss” for the character instructing those to march on. It is an effective meme. We all have, or had, that one boss that we either didn’t respect, or who was ineffective at inspiring others, and did not have the skill set or emotional intelligence to move beyond active coercion or dictatorial behaviors, which may have manifested in different ways: temper tantrums, illogical decision-making, yelling, etc. Nobody wants to be “that guy.”

If those are the only tools in your toolbox, you’re going to be completely ineffective at managing more mature followers, who respond to other types of power, and are not as receptive to managers who do not exhibit traits and behaviors beyond the power bases that only resonate with lower-maturity subordinates. It is the “leader” in the graphic above that is seemingly motivating his followers with power base behaviors that resonate with more mature followers.

We also want to be the “leader” in this meme – inspiring others through example; we want to be the success that others would follow. I would assume that many of us saw this meme first on LinkedIn. I know I did. One of the reasons this graphic would resonate with many of us, on a professional networking site like this, is that many of us are educated professionals, with many years of experience, and possess a wide range of connections that we’ve built up over the years. A graphic like this is naturally effective in this environment; we know that we wouldn’t respond well to the “boss” we believe to be characterized above, and that’s the point of the graphic.

But, what if the “boss” in the picture isn’t that terrible manager we all immediately picture in our heads? The truth about this picture is two-fold: both are leaders, and both can be effective. That may be a controversial thing to put forward, but I would venture to say that most of you that are reading this are looking to be better leaders yourselves, so stick with me on this, as I’ll explain.

If you’ll notice, both “teams” are in the exact same spot. While I don’t think the artist intended to communicate it, the fact is that they are both neck-and-neck in the speed and direction in which they are traveling. The underlying truth is each leader is exercising different power base behaviors to move the business forward, and, for those who look at the “boss” in a negative light, keep in mind that, if he is indeed an effective manager, it is the maturity level of his followers or their followership behaviors that may, in fact, determine that clear and concise directives, rewards, and passive, not active, coercion are the most effective tools for him to use. If we are to assume that both are effective leaders, then we should look at the key behaviors that make them so, and more.

In this post, I intend to approach transformational leadership through the lense of Situational Leadership Theory, and how transformational behavior that is based on perceiving and reacting to followership styles, by employing emotional intelligence, are positive predictors for management effectiveness.

Power Bases Defined

Amitai Etzioni, in Comparative Analysis of Complex Organizations (1961,) wrote that “leadership is the process of influencing the behavior of others” and power is how a manager achieves compliance. That sounds clinical, but think of how you manage your team and get them to accomplish goals. You don’t need flowery language and feel-good platitudes to define your day-to-day behavior. However, what we doeveryday, that is most effective, depends both on our power bases, and, to start with, the maturity level of our followers. Let’s begin with power bases.

Here are the seven power bases referenced by Paul Hersey and Kenneth Blanchard, the creators of Situational Leadership Theory; five power bases were defined by John French and Bertram Raven in Studies in Social Power (1959,) while Informational Power was introduced by Bertram Raven and Arie Kruglanski in 1975. Connection power is an original concept by Hersey and Blanchard.

These power bases and their descriptions have been reprinted, alphabetically, from Hersey, Blanchard, and Natemeyer in Group & Organization Studies:

  • Coercive Power is based on fear.  A leader high in coercive power is seen as inducing compliance because failure to comply will lead to punishment, such as undesirable work assignments, reprimands, or dismissal. [Side note about coercion: it can be a passive power base. Imagine you were the manager at a McDonald’s franchise, and you’re hiring a 16 year old for his very first job. His reward is his hourly paycheck, but he knows you’re the one that hired him; he damn sure knows you’re the one that can fire him. You don’t even have to be a jerk to have tremendous coercive power.]
  • Connection Power is based on the leader’s “connections” with influential or important people inside or outside the organisation. A leader high in connection power induces compliance from others because they aim at gaining the favour or avoiding the disfavour of the powerful connection.
  • Expert Power is based on the leader’s possession of expertise, skill and knowledge which, through respect, influence others.  A leader high in expert power is seen as possessing the expertise to facilitate the work behaviour of others.
  • Information Power is based on the leader’s possession of, or access to, information that is perceived as valuable to others.  This power base influences others because they need this information, or want to be “in on things.”
  • Legitimate Power is based on the position held by the leader.  Normally, the higher the position, the higher the legitimate power tends to be.  A leader high in legitimate power induces compliance or influences others because they feel that this person has the right, by virtue of position in the organisation, to expect that suggestions will be followed.
  • Referent Power is base on the leader’s personal traits.  A leader high in referent power is generally liked and admired by others because of personality.  This liking for, admiration for, and identification with, the leader influences others.
  • Reward Power is based on the leader’s ability to provide rewards for other people.  They believe that their compliance will lead to gaining positive incentives such as pay, promotion or recognition.

Knowing when and how to effectively apply these power bases to a situation requires a mix of emotional intelligence and an understanding of corresponding behaviors that match maturity level.

All of these power bases can be used to influence the behavior of followers. But, some are more effective than others, depending on the maturity level of the follower in any given situation or task. Furthermore, we know the order in which power bases are most effective from high down to low maturity followers:

By just a glance, I’m sure you can see where you would be most effective as a manager, based on your followers. And you can see that, as much as we don’t like the “boss” in the graphic at the beginning of this post, it is the “coercive” power base that is most effective for extremely low-maturity followers; they need structure, a clear understanding of what is expected of them, and what to expect if they succeed or fail. We’ll be using these power bases to discuss effective managing behaviors as we get into Situational Leadership Theory. Before we do that, let’s just put some leadership styles on the table, with some definitions.

Common Leadership Styles Defined

  •  A transformational leader is distinguished by a special ability to bring about innovation and change by creating an inspiring vision, shaping values, building relationships, and providing meaning for followers.
  • Both charismatic and transformational leaders provide followers with an inspiring vision, an attractive, ideal future that is credible, yet not readily attainable.
  • A charismatic leader is a leader who has the ability to inspire and motivate people to transcend their expected performance, even to the point of personal sacrifice. [These are unicorns, sociopath dictators, or exemplary military leaders. If you find one in your organization, capture them, and bring them in for study.]
  • A transactional leader clarifies subordinates’ roles and task requirements, initiates structure, provides rewards, and displays consideration for followers.

You may see yourself in the descriptions above. Perhaps you’re a blend. Maybe you haven’t yet found the style that best fits you or your organization. However, for those of us who strive to be transformational leaders, it may be that we have to be different types of leaders to different types of followers. And that’s where Situational Leadership Theory comes into play.

Situational Leadership Theory

Detailed by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard in the late 70’s, the Situational Leadership Theory sought to match management behaviors and styles to follower maturity. Though Hersey and Blanchard parted ways, they both continued to develop Situational Leadership on their own. I’ll be using Situational Leadership II, Ken Blanchard’s latest iteration, as the basis of the rest of this article.

There are four basic leadership styles in situational leadership: directing, coaching, supporting, and delegating. These correspond with the four basic development levels: enthusiastic beginner, disillusioned learner, capable but cautious performer and self-reliant achiever.

There is a simple graphic that outlines this concept, and it has been iterated on several times. The current model, found in Situational Leadership II, best illustrates the relationships between follower maturity and appropriate leadership styles.

Here we see the intersection of leadership styles and follower maturity outlined in Situational Leadership II. Notice that leadership behaviors flow through follower maturity levels – this suggests that followers will gain maturity and exhibit different behaviors and followership styles over time. Also, note that competence and commitment can be ambiguous terms. Competence can vary from task to task. Commitment may range from indifference to being afraid to start on a task based on what a follower understands to be the limits of their skills. This also makes maturity fluid, and, perhaps, there could be regression in certain situations. So, what can we do, as managers, to encourage their growth?

For each stage of maturity, here are some (but definitely not all) examples of corresponding, effective management behaviors, according to Situational Leadership II:

Directing – D1/S1

Successful directing behaviors depend on coercive, connective, and even reward power bases.

  • Define the task, leave no ambiguity about what is expected, or even what is to be expected if the task is not completed
  • Plan the task and prioritize activities
  • Orient the follower to the task, giving them the tools to accomplish it
  • Teach, show, and tell the follower how to accomplish the task
  • Check on their progress, monitoring for performance
  • Give feedback at appropriate intervals

Coaching – D2/S2

Successful coaching behaviors depend on connective, reward, and legitimate power bases

  • Explore the task at hand, asking questions that will encourage your follower to think independently
  • Explain and clarify when your follower is not certain about something, but be sure to allow them to continue down a path you know to be correct, which increases their confidence
  • Redirect them if they stray from the correct path
  • Share feedback, in a way that is encourages their growth, and is less transactional
  • Encourage them to take ownership of the task at hand
  • Praise them when they achieve success

Supporting -D3/S3

Successful supporting behaviors require legitimate, referent, and information power bases

  • Encourage follower feedback by asking questions, and more importantly, listen; don’t just hear
  • Reassure the follower should they exhibit a lack of confidence
  • Facilitate self-reliant problem solving by imparting knowledge
  • Collaborate
  • Be appreciative of your follower’s work

Delegating – D4/S4

Successful delegating behaviors depend on referent, information, and expert power bases

  • Allow and trust your follower to accomplish a task or even set their own goals that will benefit the organization
  • Confirm correct actions
  • Empower the follower – give them access to internal resources; human capital and budgetary authority are two examples
  • Acknowledge performance and challenge a follower’s assumptions, strengthening their knowledge

Let’s go back to what I defined earlier as a transformational teader:

A transformational leader is distinguished by a special ability to bring about innovation and change by creating an inspiring vision, shaping values, building relationships, and providing meaning for followers.

That one sentence is the basis of just about every leadership meme one may see out there, or one of the many puff pieces that one would expect to be used in SEO or as click-bait. On the surface, it’s a fine sentiment. But to dig further into what it really means to be transformational, a leader must understand that their own behaviors and abilities, used at the appropriate time, and in the appropriate way, will allow them to have the greatest chance for success.

If I still have your attention at this point (most people browse LinkedIn before and after work on Tuesday through Thursday, so by now you’re probably late to work, or late for dinner,) let’s take a look at another piece of the puzzle: emotional intelligence. While viewing transformational leadership through the lense of Situational Leadership Theory is an easy thing to do, actually performing in accordance requires a bit more than just reading and understanding.

Understanding Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

Deepika Dabke states, in Impact of Leader’s Emotional Intelligence and Transformational Behavior on Perceived Leadership Effectiveness: A Multiple Source View (Business Perspectives & Research. Jan 2016, Vol. 4 Issue 1) that “transformational leadership behaviors correlated more strongly with leadership effectiveness than did the transactional leadership behaviors. Leaders of yesteryears were seen to control, plan, and inspect the overall running of the organization. But, in today’s changing times, and with the [predominance of] service orientation, leaders are expected to motivate and inspire followers, generate a sense of belongingness and positive association among employees and yet meet stiff targets.”

Remember what defines a transactional leader?

A transactional leader clarifies subordinates’ roles and task requirements, initiates structure, provides rewards, and displays consideration for followers.

This is a militaristic-style of leadership that does not employ all power bases in a way that supports different maturity levels of followers. From what Dabke posits, we can deduce that a lack in understanding of what motivational behaviors bring about effective change and positive results are detriments to a leader.

I believe that utilizing emotional intelligence is the only way to understand what I stated at the beginning of this post, and to use Situational Leadership Theory effectively:

One person’s boss is another’s leader. The determining factor is the correct deployment of the corresponding, power-based, behaviors of the manager, to match the maturity level of the follower.

The key phrase? “The correct deployment of…behaviors of the manager.” There have been criticisms of the Situational Leadership Theory. If you’ll notice, I’ve used the words “successful,” effective,” and “correct” emphatically in this post in regards to leadership behaviors. Robert Vecchio, in Situational Leadership Theory: An examination of a prescriptive theory, Journal of Applied Psychology (1987,) conducted a study of 303 teachers in 14 schools, in order to gauge the effectiveness of Situational Leadership Theory.  Vecchio states that:

SLT [Situational Leadership Theory, pre-SLII] predicts that highly mature employees require a low-structure-low-consideration style of supervision may be partially misstated. It may be more correct to say that supervisory style is comparatively more irrelevant, in terms of its impact on highly mature subordinates. In short, the conduct of highly mature subordinates may be simply less predictable than that of other employees, from supervisory attributes.

And he goes on to support that in his study. That makes sense, right? Mature followers, through experience and education, are more likely to have a wider range of behaviors and skills, developed over a longer career, and are less dependent on superiors. They may react negatively if the wrong leadership behaviors are deployed. So, how do we predict the effectiveness of the behaviors that we, as leaders, use to manage mature followers? How can we take into account the unique personalities, experience, and skill set that separate mature followers from each other or how we expect them to behave? Our reactions to those varying follower behaviors, based on these variables, play a key part in our effectiveness as transformational leaders. The question is, do we know what to do, and in what situation to do it? That’s largely dependent on the individual follower, and it’s our job to read them. That’s where emotional intelligence comes into play.

Mark Brackett, Susan Rivers, and Peter Salovey , in Emotional Intelligence. Implications for Personal, Socail, Amademic, and Workplace Success, Social and Psychological Compass (2011,) report that:

“Preliminary findings…suggest that emotional intelligence positively contributes to several aspects of workplace performance. In a health insurance company, analysts and clerical employees from the finance department with higher [emotional intelligence] had higher company rank and received greater merit pay increases than employees with lower [emotional intelligence.] Employees with higher emotional intelligence also received better peer and⁄or supervisor ratings of interpersonal facilitation, stress tolerance, and leadership potential than those with lower emotional intelligence.”

Why the brackets? Replace “emotional intelligence” with “MSCEIT scores,” click this link, and you’ll read all about how emotional intelligence can be measured. I won’t go into detail in this post, but it’s important to know that MSCEIT is a more appropriate, objective measure of emotional intelligence than saying, “it’s common sense, bro!” Common sense is not common.

I will, very quickly, give you a graph that shows what it tests with a brief description.

The Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test

The MSCEIT defines emotional intelligence as the ability to perceive emotion, facilitate thought, understand other emotions, and manage emotions and relations.

There is a sliding scale, and Deepika Dabke states that you can actually learn and grow your emotional intelligence. Clearly, you can see that, by definition, emotional intelligence plays a role in your effectiveness as a transformational leader; it facilities the application of Situational Leadership Theory correctly, and allows you to operate at a more granular level, and evolve over time.

When we take into account the criticism that Vecchio finds with Situational Leadership Theory, emotional intelligence may be the key to making it work. What were the MSCEIT scores of the test subjects in his study? It’d be interesting to know, but impossible to find out, as the MSCEIT wasn’t introduced until 17 years after Vecchio published his findings.

Followership Styles

Armed with the concept of emotional intelligence, let’s take a stab at followership, defined by Donelson Forsyth in Group Dynamics (2009) as :the reciprocal social process to leadership.” This adds an interesting 3rd dimension to the Situational Leadership Theory.

Situational Leadership focuses on identifying follower maturity and matching leadership behaviors. But for SL to be a long-term success, it must also ingest the feedback loop that is created from iterative and accurate followership profiling; proper perception of followership styles relies heavily on emotional intelligence.

Robert Kelley, in The Power of Followership (1992,) through extensive interviews with managers and their subordinates, created a model for followership styles:

The four quandrants of this model define followers by their level of critical thinking, and the active or passive role they play in your organization, while utilizing an overlay-ed, fifth category that focuses on pragmatism. Pragmatists may lean to any of the four major quadrants.

Kelley created five types of followership styles based on the above model, which I’ve reprinted here:

  • The Sheep: These individuals are passive and require external motivation from the leader. These individuals lack commitment and require constant supervision from the leader.
  • The Yes-People: These individuals are committed to the leader and the goal (or task) of the organization (or group/team). These conformist individuals do not question the decisions or actions of the leader. Further, yes-people will defend adamantly their leader when faced with opposition from others.
  • The Pragmatics: These individuals are not trail-blazers; they will not stand behind controversial or unique ideas until the majority of the group has expressed their support. These individuals often remain in the background of the group.
  • The Alienated: These individuals are negative and often attempt to stall or bring the group down by constantly questioning the decisions and actions of the leader. These individuals often view themselves as the rightful leader of the organization and are critical of the leader and fellow group members.
  • The Star Followers: These exemplary individuals are positive, active, and independent thinkers. Star followers will not blindly accept the decisions or actions of a leader until they have evaluated them completely. Furthermore, these types of followers can succeed without the presence of a leader.

When taken with the maturity level outlined in SLII, you can develop a 3-dimensional profile of your followers’ styles and behaviors. These followership styles do not not map directly to the maturity model of SLII; however, they give us clarity into how we should attempt to manage followers in the D3 and D4 maturity scale. The un-predictability of more mature followers, especially if you gauge maturity based on capabilities and experience, can be attributed to fluctuations of a follower’s position on Kelley’s model, particularly when they fall somewhere in the grey area of pragmatism. Mature followers may be wary of change itself, not the task at hand. Similarly, they may believe that they have not been able to affect the change that they, themselves, believe they could have accomplished. They’re fully capable, and perhaps even perfectly capable of self-motivating, but something in their organization, or, more specifically, their interactions with their leader, keeps them from moving towards a Star Follower, or responsive D4 maturity follower, that flourishes in an S4 leadership behavioral environment.

Another important thing to note is, your followers’ styles and maturity may evolve over time. A follower may bounce around the two models depending on the leader, the situation, a new position, or over the course of their career.

In Conclusion

If Situational Leadership Theory, based on follower maturity and matching leadership behavior, is one side of the coin, then Followership Styles is the flip side. You need to understand both sides to be an effective leader, and transformational leadership relies on emotional intelligence to be the bridge between the two.

To be an effective transformational leader, one must go beyond memes and feel-good rhetoric. No, it’s not about “common sense.” “Street smarts” is slang for, “I get along with the people I surround myself with, but don’t know anything about emotional intelligence or how it’s defined, measured, and improved upon.” Digging down, objectively, into how you perceive your followers, how they perceive you, and how you decide what behaviors will be the most effective in managing them, is possible.

If you understand power bases, and possess the right amount of each power needed to effectively manage your followers by directing, coaching, supporting, or delegating, then you will be most effective when you can also read and understand their followership styles by learning and growing your emotional intelligence; you will need to make granular adjustments to your leadership styles as they, and you, mature over time.

So, after all of this, what do you think about the “boss” and “leader” meme at the top  now? If we can all agree that the “business” is heading in the same direction, at the same speed, would you agree that we can say that they are both effective leaders? How would you describe each of the two organizations?

Oh, one more thing: keep the Facebook-stuff on Facebook. Even if the meme is business-related, use it in a broader discussion, not just a drive-by posting. This is LinkedIn, and we’re trying to be serious here!

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