Thursday

Internalizing concepts instead of depending on a formula

Any fool can know. The point is to understand. - Albert Einstein
If effective transformational leadership could be captured in a tightly defined formula, it's likely that somebody would have figured it out over the past few thousand years."Formula" as a basis for human behavior and organizational dynamics has never yet been established in a way that works consistently. Just a quick review of all the attempts at formulaic organizational and process improvement over the past 35 years illustrates this pretty vividly. Remember TQM (total quality management)? Quality Work Circles? The One Minute Manager. BPR, Business Reengineering, firms like Nolan Norton? Hammer and Champy ("don't pave the cow-paths", "don't automate - obliterate", etc.)? More popular today we have the likes of Six Sigma, Kaizen, Lean, MBO, Theory Z, Delayering, Empowerment, CMM/CMMi, Agile, etc.

The methodologies above aren't necessarily aimed at "transformational leadership" in particular, but they DO make an attempt at developing consistent frameworks and, to at least some extent, formulas for establishing "best practices" in organizations. If anything, these are representative of some of the kinds of practices that "transformational leaders" must consider and selectively establish as they seek to transform their organizations.

As valuable as many of these techniques may be in various scenarios, not a single one has surfaced that is universally applicable -- or even effective in ANY situation without guidance by skilled and knowledgeable practitioners, organizational and management support, and a culture that allows for such practices - and none of this has been reduced to a formula. If the tools used in the transformation of organizations can't be reduced to consistently applicable and effective formulas, it's even less likely that the personality, behavior and practices of a prospective "transformational leader" can be established or defined by formula.

If anything, when executives and organizations act in accordance with a belief that any kind of major transformation can be reduced to a formula, you typically wind up with a disaster, and at best, a suboptimal outcome.

Formula and pre-defined structures are great ways to start. But, as the most advanced martial artists, musicians, athletes and Zen masters will tell you - "the ultimate technique is no technique". Framework, method, formula and rote practice are valuable to communicate concepts and approximations of ideal behavior -- but in the end, the best and most effective practitioners are those who have internalized the underlying fundamental principles that lead to successful outcomes. Principles are a slippery concept, but the idea is that once learned and internalized, they help a practitioner respond correctly to a wide variety of novel situations -- situations and responses that most likely could NOT be reduced to a set of formulas.

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