Shifting From a Transactional Leader to a Transformative One Requires a “Who” Mentality

May 16, 2022

As is the case for many people, early morning is the most productive time of day for me to think about the tough questions that require a fully alert focus. So, I took a walk and thought about the impact of transformation on a team.

But what exactly do I mean by transformational, as opposed to simply transactional activities? Tasks like granting access to a repository, or defining the scope of a program, is most certainly transactional, it follows specific rules and there’s very little abstract to them.  Yet, transformative tasks are the ones that have a long-lasting impact on the outcome of a project, the growth of a person, or even the bottom line of an organization. They’re much harder to pin down, but you know transformative when you see it.

As an engineering leader at Wovenware, I define the technology roadmaps that we will undertake in order to most effectively compete in this constantly changing software market. This is critical to the success of the company – and it can be transformative, as well as transactional, but the activity I enjoy the most which has the greatest impact is transformational leadership. That conversation that you have with a colleague where the one-to-one relationship has way more value than the process. When you know you’re both on the same wavelength and you’re on to something big.

For the past few weeks, here at Wovenware, company leaders have participated in a coaching program where we have done quite a lot of introspective analysis. In my case, I have had to answer a lot of questions to get to the heart of my true strengths and drivers, according to the Gallup framework for employee engagement. Why is employee engagement important? Without employee engagement, there’s no team engagement, making it more difficult to improve business outcomes.

In fact, when Gallup analyzed the differences in performance among business/work units, the benefits of employee engagement were clear. When comparing employee engagement levels, Gallup found that teams in the top quartile of engagement had a 23 percent increase in profitability over those in the bottom quartile; and a 41 percent increase in quality

While employee engagement is critical, like transformation, it’s one of those things that can be hard to define.  When I conducted my own self-analysis as part of the session, my key traits became quite evident and it is difficult for me to understand why or how. Yet, by understanding your key traits, what comes naturally to you and how they help you evolve, you can work to augment them and use them to become a true transformational leader. What I have found in this self-discovery process is that I have been deeply impacted by a who mentality rather than a how one.

The Importance of the Who

Who Not How is a book written by Dan Sullivan and Dr. Benjamin Brady that shares how you can “retrain your brain to stop limiting your potential based on what you can do on your own and instead focus on the infinite and endless connections between yourself and other people as well as the limitless transformation possible through those connections.” The book focuses on the importance of delegation. Many people tasked with a project may ask themselves, how will I ever get this done?  That could mean writing code for a workflow solution or modernizing a legacy app. Yet, according to the book, instead of asking how I’ll get this done, we should be asking who should be getting this done (the transactional) and how letting each person focus on their strengths can lead to the transformational. It’s all about delegating to the right person to get it done faster, efficiently and maybe even cheaper.  It takes a team filled with unique individuals and a good team leader who can recognize the members with the best traits for the task. 

Here are a few points from the book that helped me understand the importance of the who in my own professional self.

  • Who you surround yourself with is key. Those people who help you develop your unique abilities, ask the right questions and inspire you will lead you to define your goals. They should be treasured, since they help you bring about your best work and lead to true transformation. 
  • Focus on results, not on processes. Many times we need to follow processes because we are bound to regulation and security measures. But when this is not the case, embrace creativity. Allow your team to be autonomous. It is not important how a developer completed a module. What is important is that the module complies with the needed functionality, passed quality gates and was delivered on time. This not only grows trust but increases a  sense of ownership.
  • Collaboration is a two-way street. Being grateful and appreciating the enormous role others play on the path to transformation is key. 

Focusing on the people, as opposed to the processes is one of the key differences between transactional and transformational. So the next time you think it might be more important to work on a report than having a casual chat with a colleague or another remote worker next to you in the coffee shop or a Teams chat, think again. You never know who will inspire you or the direction you’re leading your organization toward, and in turn,  you’ll never know who you might be transforming. It’s really all about the who.

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