A question you might ask yourself when reading about transformational leaders is, “How does that relate to anything I have control of in my place in the organization?” The answer is at once surprising and inspiring: exert influence on your organization’s social architecture. That may seem a bit obtuse, but it’s actually quite simple: influence the culture, or “the way we do things around here.”
Hal Rainey (2014), a noted management scholar, reviewed several studies of the techniques used by transformational leaders. Those are leaders that “raise their followers goals to a higher planes” (Rainey 2014, 349). To get their organizations to change and follow the new vision they have, transformational leaders use one particular leverage point that all organizations have in common. They use the organization’s culture to get individuals to release their orientation on their own narrow self-interest in favor of the organization as a whole.
This demonstrates that the culture of an organization is a point of leverage for influence. If you want to change an organization, change the culture. If this strategy is what makes the transformational leaders of exceptional organizations successful, then why not use it at lower levels? Great question; the answer is, we should!
By bringing a positive and engaged persona to work each day, we influence our organization’s culture for the better. Be empathetic to those in your working group without being a pushover. Be respectful, and open to new ideas. We have powerful influences on each other. Stanley Milgram showed that negative peer role models gave others incentive to do horrible things (Check out the Milgram experiments online). He also proved that one person providing a positive role model had an extremely positive outcome – those that saw one person resist negative actions encouraged others to do the same. Be that positive influence in your group. Avoid close-mindedness and resistance to change, in favor of thoughtful input presented in a respectful way.
There are many ways to disagree. You can be insulting, injecting ad hominem attacks into your argument, or you can be respectful of the person or group with the opposing view, while still providing an evidenced based counter to their arguments. If this sounds like advocacy for political correctness, it is. You can present differing points of view without being difficult. The best way to win people over to your side – and display leadership – is to present reasoned arguments and then listen. The impact you will make on your group’s culture will be profound. You will be the person that can reach agreement and get things done.
To summarize, the way the most successful leaders leverage their position is to focus on culture. The way an individual, at any level of an organization, can influence culture is to bring respect, curiosity, and an open mind to work each day. Modeling positive behaviors, coupled with successful outcomes, leads to imitation. That is how micro-level actions turn into macro-level outcomes.
Rainey, Hal G. 2014. Understanding and managing public organization, 5th edition. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.