The link between transformational leadership & positive deviants

This post is from Transformational Leadership for the Rest of Us by William Seidman, Ph.D. & Michael McCauley, part of our collection of Executive Operations articles about using the latest science to integrate human support and persuasive technology to produce extraordinary performance.

A transformational leader, usually in conjunction with an executive team, creates a vision for success. This person is an enthusiastic, self-confident proponent of change whose personality and actions influence people to behave in ways that drive substantive performance improvement. They create and communicate compelling visions for the future that inspire large numbers of people to function at higher levels than previously imagined.

Here are a few tips to generate the impact of transformational leadership without relying solely on a transformational leader:

Identify and Leverage Your Positive Deviants

Positive Deviants can perform many of the functions of a transformational leader. The organization’s positive deviants can create and articulate passion for a change in a way that energizes others.

How do they do this? Positive deviants love what they do. Underlying this love is usually an unarticulated commitment to a greater social good. Positive deviants are passionate about the social good they are creating and can provide a specific definition of the inspirational vision that can align with and supplement the leaders’ vision. The positive deviants can refine the general vision of the non-transformational leader and present it to the organization as an inspirational message about the social good, backed up with an effective means of achieving it. Consequently, these individuals collectively create a passionate vision of success so the leader does not have to be particularly visionary or articulate.

In addition, positive deviants are simply more committed and efficient than others at driving toward their social goals. They concentrate on the specific behaviors that provide the maximum value. Thus, positive deviants continuously model personal drive, frequently discovering new possibilities for performance improvement. Their inherent innovation provides colleagues with significant stimulus for original thinking and improved efficiency.

Who are your positive deviants? Chances are you already know exactly who the positive deviants are in your organization. These are the few people in an organization who consistently and systematically outperform others, even with all of the same resources and limitations. They are often highly respected for their energy, excitement and effectiveness.

Use Fair Process to Promote Engagement

People respond better to a change when they are treated with honor and dignity during the change process. When an organization gives its people a genuine opportunity to achieve the positive deviants’ social good, people often feel that they are being honored by the organization’s faith in their ability to contribute and they embrace the desired change.

The impact of fair process on motivation is magnified when people envision themselves as being as well respected and effective as the positive deviants. This form of visualization releases neurotransmitters similar to endorphins that create a sense of well-being and increase people’s willingness and ability to learn. People are motivated to embrace a change because it is the right thing to do.

The positive deviant social good, if presented with fair process and positive visualization accomplishes many of the motivational impacts of a transformational leader. All that is needed from the leader is the willingness to have the positive deviants articulate their social good and to have others interact with the social good in this rather unconventional way. The system creates the same motivation, or more, than the leader.

Allow Time to Practice the New Capability

There is no Twitter version of change. Change always takes time and practice. Patience and support by the organization for the practice gives personnel the time and opportunity required to learn something new, and become really good at it.

This is also consistent with the research on how human brains process information. The key principle of learning is “neurons that fire together wire together,” which occurs when people practice the new capabilities. Conscious practice alone can creates many of the impacts of transformational leadership.


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