When ego takes a back seat

May 21, 2018

What is transpersonal leadership?

Transpersonal leaders operate beyond their ego, continuing personal development and learning. They are radical, ethical, and authentic while being emotionally intelligent and caring. They create performance-enhancing and sustainable cultures. Exhibit 01 shows transpersonal leadership as the sweet spot where rational, emotional, and spiritual intelligence meet. Only transpersonal leaders can create sustainable performance-enhancing cultures that take due care of all the organization’s stakeholders.

What role does a transpersonal leader play in shaping an organization’s values?

To be real, an organization’s core values must be aligned with the values of the leadership; otherwise everyone realizes that the way the leaders behave and the actions they take are not consistent with the core values of the company. We often see this in reality where the stated core values have been developed by a PR agency together with the marketing department and approved by the CEO. Neither employees nor the leaders can even remember what they are. When a leader lives by their values, it creates a climate

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of authenticity and provides others in the organization with guidance and a role model to follow.

What qualities define a transpersonal leader?

Most leaders lead by default; that is, they think they must know everything (or appear to do so), and tell people what to do. In today’s world, which is so much more complex and where information is no longer power, this does not work. A transpersonal leader has a high level of awareness of self and others, knows how to effectively manage her emotions, and can use a range of leadership styles in different circumstances. She can also instil the necessary leadership styles into the organization in order to create a performance-enhancing culture.

This advanced leader will also bring her values to full consciousness, manage her ego, and understand her natural bias and prejudices in order to make better decisions. This will enable the building of ethical cultures in the interests of all the organization’s stakeholders, and for the greater good.

Could you briefly describe the difference between leadership and management?

Fundamentally, leadership is about direction and relationships (people), and management is about processes and structures. When we ask people what were the characteristics of the best and worst leaders they worked for, it is always about behaviors and values; rarely their business or technical competence.

We worked with an energy company that was going through a change program and selling off some of its assets. They had to get people on board to execute it. The most important thing was to align the people, ie, leadership. This required involving, engaging with, and building trust with and between the people in the organization and beyond, to its stakeholders. They need to ensure the vision and strategy are understood, owned by and committed to by all.

At the same time, the change program had to be organized and staffed—ie, management. They established an organizational structure for accomplishing the plan’s requirements, then staffed that structure with individuals, allocating responsibility and authority for carrying out the plan, providing policies and procedures to help guide people, and creating methods or systems to monitor implementation.

How can the two go hand in hand?

Leadership and management need to go hand in hand and the higher up in the organization they go, the greater should be the balance towards leadership. Unfortunately, this is often not so. Many organizational leaders are much more comfortable with the rational thinking required in management rather than the emotional and spiritual intelligence needed for good leadership.

Describe the role of neuroscience in shaping the thoughts of a leader.

Over the last twenty years, we have learned so much more about the human brain, both in terms of how it functions and how it works in default mode. We are all born with brains that are virtually the same as those of a baby born in the stone-age. The brain continues to develop throughout our lives and how it functions is influenced by our genes (our innate characteristics which were generally designed for the Stone Age), what we experience through our life (chance) and what we work at proactively changing (personal development).

The innate characteristics want to pull us back to a default position where we want to lead by knowing everything and telling people what to do—which is not

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effective as a leader in our modern world. So rather than leave it to the chance of experience, the best way to learn to lead in the right way is to proactively rewire our brains. That may sound outrageous but that is exactly what we do when we learn to drive a car. Instead, we can use guidance and practice to learn to behave in a different way, to become more aware of other people and what motivates them, and to bring our values to full consciousness.

Could you describe the functions of ‘the emotional highway’ in the mind of a leader?

All stimuli from the outside world come into our brain through our five senses. Four of them first come into the part of the brain called the thalamus (smell comes through the olfactory but the process described is similar). The thalamus then passes information to the amygdala (the part of the brain that creates emotions) in one of three ways as shown in the exhibit 02. A good leader will learn to ensure that strong stimuli in particular pass first through the prefrontal cortex (to bring some rational logic into the process) and then to the hippocampus (where memories are stored). This ensures that the short, fast route is not taken and being hijacked by one’s emotions is avoided. We all know times when we have been angry about something when in hindsight we know that with a little thought and consideration before acting we might have had a better outcome. This process is described in detail in Leading Beyond The Ego

 How can leaders’ emotional intelligence aid in managing conflicts?

The main reason we get into conflict is because we put off addressing issues as they are difficult to manage and unpleasant to deal with. So we wait until our emotions are so strong that we cannot put it off any longer, our emotions hijack us, and we act in a way that worsens the situation. If we are emotionally intelligent, we overcome the fear of confrontation and bring the issue onto the table in a non-personal, objective way before it has gone too far. In conflict resolution, it is important we look for a win-win solution and show empathy for the other side(s). This can only be achieved by using our emotional intelligence.

How is leadership style linked to an organization’s culture?

We define culture in four parameters—power, structure, achievement, and support. Each parameter is linked to one or two leadership styles. In our experience, virtually all organizations who carry out our culture survey discover that they want to reduce power and structure, and increase achievement and support. To increase the achievement parameter, leaders need to use the visionary and democratic styles in tandem whereas to increase support, they need to use the coaching and affiliative styles.

From the six leadership styles in the book, visionary style is said to have the greatest impact. Is it possible for a leader to have a combination of two styles or lead in a style of her own?

There are six styles in total—visionary, coaching, affiliative, democratic, pace-setting and commanding. A leader should lead in one or more of these styles depending on the circumstances and what she wants to achieve. The style used should not be determined by the style the leader likes to use or feels more comfortable with, but by the context and the purpose. This is the mistake many leaders make. There will be times when any or a combination of the six styles are required. For example, to get continuous higher performance through increasing the capacity of each individual, a combination of pace-setting and coaching might be appropriate in some circumstance. Whereas combining visionary and democratic is appropriate when the focus needs to be on everyone heading in the same direction.

In the book, you have observed that transactional leadership comprises pace-setting and commanding leadership styles—both with negative impacts. How then is it acceptable in times of crisis?

The funny thing is our brains were designed for surviving in crisis and danger. These are the times when the commanding style is appropriate because speed of reaction and decisiveness is required. However, this can only be executed effectively if there is trust in the person making the decision; otherwise people may just refuse to follow. The trust needs to be developed before the crisis and by using the other more supportive and engaging leadership styles. Likewise with pace-setting; over a short period of time in a crisis it might be appropriate to ask people to follow what they are doing rather than think for themselves. The reason these two styles are often negative is because they are used when there is no crisis and when leaders should be involving, engaging, and developing the people they lead for greater long-term effectiveness.

(As told to Melissa Fernandes)