This January, I will celebrate sixteen years as a member of the faculty of Georgia State University’s Robinson College of Business. I mostly teach leadership and strategy classes. There are a number of reasons why I find this admittedly low-paying, part-time, gig so fulfilling. First, being the youngest child in a large family, it satisfies my pathological need for attention. Second, I truly enjoy watching students learn and develop an understanding of my topic. Students leave my classes knowing what good management looks like, even if they are not managers themselves.
Third, because GSU is such a great academic institution, especially when it comes to the diversity of its student body and our focus on their success, it is a fun place to teach. But the most significant reason of all is that, by teaching leadership, I have always found it has made me a better leader because I am always challenging myself to live up to my lectures.
The topic of leadership has never been more pertinent than it is today. The term is bandied about frequently, but it is seldom studied, especially in regard to nonprofits. As I sit writing this, Hanukkah has just ended and Christmas is a week away. These are not very upbeat holidays for many of us. The virus caseload is spiking, and vaccines are only just starting to roll out. More than 300,000 Americans are dead. It may feel hard to start thinking about managing post-pandemic, but the end is in sight and we must now begin to envision how our organizations will recover in the aftermath.
I have spent the vast majority of my career turning around challenged or failing organizations. When I join a company, it is typically not in a great place emotionally. Between teaching and my personal experiences, I have learned a few things about transformational leadership that can be useful now. Transformational leadership is the art & science of inspiring employees to commit to a shared vision for the future that provides meaning to their work, while also serving as a role model who helps the team members develop their own potential and view problems from new perspectives.
There are four behaviors that leaders need to implement now as their organizations begin to contemplate changes post-crisis. The first is idealized influence. This involves behaving in ways that earn the admiration, trust and respect of the employees, so that they want to emulate the leader. I always tell my students, the transformational leader can never visibly have a bad day. Now is the time to be aware of your charisma and leverage it for all it is worth.
The second behavior is inspirational motivation. That means articulating a vision for the future, and then behaving in ways that foster an enthusiasm among your employees, volunteers, board members, etc. for that mission. Noted UGA professor and leadership researcher Jason A. Colquitt, Ph.D., has said, “Vision is transmitted through a sort of ‘meaning making’ process in which the negative features of the status quo are emphasized while highlighting the positive features of the potential future.” There is no getting back to normal, nor should there be. Now is a time to build a new, better vision for the future.
You will note, that I am emphasizing the leader’s role in creating and articulating a vision for the future. I have not said anything about the leader having all the solutions or answers. A transformational leader also practices intellectual stimulation. That means behaving in ways that challenge the members of your team to be innovative and creative. You do this by challenging historic assumptions and reframing old situations in new ways. Done successfully, your employees will solve the problems for you.
Lastly, transformational leaders engage in Individualized consideration. That means behaving in ways that help every member of the team meet their potential through mentoring, coaching and professional development.
Sounds exhausting? For some, it can be. For others, it can be exhilarating. As we define a future where many employees can work from anywhere, where expectations are high at the same time that motivation and trust is low, transformational leadership will be essential for most organizations. As the year ends, I encourage all of you to take a quiet hour for contemplation. Do not dwell on everything that is wrong. Instead, begin to think about the opportunities to build a new future and what your vision is for your organization post-pandemic.
As always, Our Fundraising Search is here to help you think through the strategies to deliver that future. For now though, please just accept our best wishes for a safe, healthy and happy new year.