Moving up the leadership maturity chain

February 26, 2019

By John Knights at Financial Management on January 31, 2019

Maintaining an ethical culture is about much more than changing rules and processes after an organisation's misdeeds. It's more than a compliance exercise to ensure the organisation remains within the law. It is about leadership.

Ethical leadership can be defined as the process of influencing people to act through principles, values, and beliefs (characterised by honesty, fairness, and equity) and by respecting the dignity, diversity, and rights of individuals and groups of people.

LeaderShape Global, a UK leadership and training organisation of which I am chairman, has worked with hundreds of senior leaders over the past 20 years, including more than 100 CEOs who have been through our development programme. Based on that experience and other research, we suggest that the journey of leadership development begins with raising awareness of self and others and learning to manage emotions. Understanding which leadership style to use in which circumstance can help to develop the right culture for the leader's organisation.

Leaders who are not only ethical but also emotionally intelligent and caring are "transpersonal" leaders. Such leaders behave in a way that encourages people to be their very best, motivating them to put in that extra, discretionary effort. They are also radical in how they approach challenges as well as authentic, while always continuing their personal development as a leader. And perhaps most importantly, they lead beyond their ego — prioritising the decision that's right for the organisation, rather than for themselves.

This combination of leadership competencies can create and maintain cultures that are both performance-enhancing and sustainable in this fast-changing world where younger generations have different demands and expectations.

This involves the development of three types of intelligence: rational, emotional, and spiritual (this is values based — not to be confused with religion).

Distrust in leadership is becoming more common than ever, according to the annual Edelman Trust Barometer. As a result, many business leaders consider establishing a reputation for probity as a source of competitive advantage. This still sounds like self-interest (albeit at a higher level), but it may just be the start of top leaders looking to develop themselves in new ways.

The right leadership behaviours

One obstacle to developing ethical leaders lies in the traditional route to CEO. As well as considering experience and qualifications, selection in most organisations is usually based on more traditional leadership characteristics, such as self-confidence, assertiveness, influence, and achievement. These attributes can regress to high ego, aggression, manipulation, ruthlessness, and an obsession with control unless accompanied by positive values and behaviours to temper them.

The lesson must be that if potential leaders do not have the right values and behaviours (or are not genuinely committed to improving behaviours), they should never be allowed on the ladder to higher office. That protocol could provide the opportunity for many excellent candidates currently sidelined because they are not willing to get to the top at any cost to become our top leaders of the future.

So how can someone become a transpersonal leader?

It might feel like a tall order to develop all of the characteristics in the "REAL Transpersonal Leadership Development Journey to Excellence" diagram, but the model is based on LeaderShape's research and experience with leaders over the past 20 years.

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