Recently, I was an audience participant in the recording of BBC Radio 4’s Four Thought series. Hilary Cottam, Principal of Participle, presented the work she has been doing in its Life Programme. She described how over 150,000 families in the UK struggle to cope with multiple difficulties such as poverty, stress, domestic violence, alcoholism and anti-social behaviour, leading to poor ‘life chances’ for children. In Swindon, Participle has been working alongside these families, in conjunction with a number of local agencies, to develop a new programme which both supports family capabilities and alters the current support around them. I was really taken with this Four Thought contribution because it illustrated transformational leadership delivering success in an extremely challenging situation, i.e. dysfunctional families. The Life Programme focuses on unlocking the capability for families to build and sustain the lives they want to lead through a number of enablers: the ability to value themselves and to become aware of what holds them back; a sense of agency and possibility that will allow them to create the life they want to lead; the ability to develop meaningful relationships and build new connections within their community. Hilary described the outstanding successes this has delivered in relation to the well being of these families. Essentially, these families had been helped to articulate visions for their future success and then been actively engaged in delivering their visions with professional support, which they have selected. This is ‘transformational leadership’ which contrasts with the failed approach of ‘transactional leadership’ in which ‘the system’ has evolved so frontline support workers spend the majority of their time on the system itself, rather than in building the kind of relationships that open people to change and which address causes rather than symptoms.
I contributed an observation to the programme discussion that almost every institution, i.e. commercial, public sector, health, education, voluntary sector, had been through an era of transactional leadership. This had placed the focus on establishing short term targets and processes and systems for measuring progress in delivering them. This approach did not engage workforces in delivering a compelling and motivating vision which would bring about a more successful future. My point was the kind of transformational leadership interventions which Hilary was pioneering were needed across society. This was because the challenges that organisations of all types face are so challenging that they can only be addressed by engaging their workforces in long-term strategic transformational effort. This requires leaders who:
1. Offer a clear vision and long-term direction of how success will be generated.
2. Inclusively engage and empower their workforces to deliver their vision.
3. Offer ‘interested’ management which ensures that everyone:
a. Is clear about the contribution they each need to make in delivering the vision.
b. Has access to the information they need to deliver their contribution.
c. Is offered any necessary training or coaching to enable them to develop the skills they need.
d. Is given feedback on their progress and efforts and recognition of their successes, including small wins.
IDC has indepth and extensive experience of enabling top teams to drive success through transformational leadership and always enjoys working with leaders to enable them to develop this capability. Please get in touch if you want to discuss this further.
Dr Ian Dodds,
30 June 2011