Some people don’t like me. There, I said it out loud. I’ve spent much of my career believing that if I could lead in just the right way, I could win the entire team over and get everyone to like me. I’d be deeply loved and respected and responsible for bridging the gap between where my organization was and where it wanted to be. When I knew I was giving everything I had to my team, and some colleagues openly didn’t like me, it drove me crazy. I’d try to dissect the reason why, try to adapt my style, try to kill them with kindness, try everything I could think of to “win them over.”
Recently, I’ve come full circle with my thinking. There are so many facets involved in successfully leading a complex organization. Some, I do well. Others, I struggle with. But I’ve drawn a parallel in my leading to what I long ago learned about teaching. When I was a young teacher, I’d be lecturing to a group of 40. 25 of the students would be engaged and actively participating in the conversation. 10 would be mentally checking in and out over the course of the class. 3 would be absent. And the last 2 would be present, but actively disengaged from my teaching – they might be texting, or chatting with each other, or tweeting, or sleeping. I spent months agonizing about how to get these two students more involved in the course. I mean, they were invested, right? They’d gone through the effort of registering and paying tuition…why couldn’t I get them on board? What was I doing wrong? Over time, I tried different strategies to pull them into what we are doing. What I noticed has stuck with me ever since. As I tried different approaches, those two students remained actively uninterested in what was happening. However, several students who were in the original 25 who were active in class also seemed to be less engaged as my style was changing. Essentially, in an effort to draw the outliers in, I cost myself the partnership of some students who had been engaged all along. I could no longer obsess about getting these last two students involved, since I knew it was coming at the cost of giving the rest of the class my very best.
So it is with leadership. I’ve spent time analyzing patterns of the different interactions I have with my colleagues. The primary distinction I’ve identified is the rapport I feel with others when our relationship is defined primarily as transactional or transformational. With transactional connections, we focus on task accomplishment. I may sign a time sheet, approve a purchase order, or suggest a professional development conference to attend. With transformational connections, there’s always more depth. We do transactional work, but also discuss where that individual wants to be in 5 years, what their favorite products and programs will look like, and how we can better work together to uplift those around us.
In short, the transactional connections feel like business as usual. And the transformational ones inspire me to work harder and do what I can to continue to push change and challenge us to grow. In other words, to lead.
As a leader, are you engaging in more work that is transactional or transformational? Are your team members getting what they want when it comes to these interactions? Some connections come easier than others. Some team members desire just a transactional relationship with you. Others naturally develop a transformational one. Is there a third group – one that wants a transformational connection, but can’t figure out how to get there?
Share your thoughts in the comments below.