Challenge, Inspire, and Enable. I am struck by the inherent power of these three words and the qualities they represent. They perfectly and succinctly tell the narrative of a transformational leader–one who can find even the deepest and most rooted problems within an organization, rally a team around solving those problems and ultimately transform the organization from the inside out.
So, what is transformational leadership? In simple terms, it is a leadership model that seeks to reinvent and reinvigorate an organization based on a shared vision for the future. And as clear as it may sound in theory, it’s a complex–but valuable– leadership model in practice.
"Transformational leaders address problems that are often the most critical and difficult to solve"
Technology itself is perhaps the ultimate representation of a transformational force. When the Wright brothers invented the airplane, it challenged the way people traveled; inspired people to go to new places; enabled them to travel great distances in short periods of time, instantly making the world seem smaller and more connected. The modern smartphone is another example: it challenged the computer, telecommunications and music industries; inspired huge changes in how people viewed and interacted with their world and each other; enabled them to consume media and information instantly from the comfort of their pocket.
Great advances in technology transforms industries, shines glaring lights on problems or opportunities that may not have even been imagined and creates big shifts in the landscape that give rise to new challenges and successes–these are the same goals as of a transformational leader.
Challenging the process
I am sure you have heard this one–What are the seven most expensive words in business? “We have always done it this way.” Transformational leaders address problems that are often the most critical and difficult to solve– hose that exist at the core of a department or organization. Low morale; bad attitudes; habitual inefficiencies; poor departmental culture–these are the things that keep a team from performing its best work.
In order to get to the root of these issues, you must demand the best from yourself and your employees. When your employees see you working just as hard as they are, and when they understand you would not ask them to do anything you would not do yourself, it establishes respect. With the respect of your team comes the support of your team, and that establishes trust. This creates an environment of open, honest dialogue where transformation can take place.
I think back to a project my team and I were working on not long ago–incorporating voice recognition into our emergency department workflow. We challenged the established process and found a way in which we could make our ED workflow more efficient. In the process of identifying potential hurdles, we discovered that one of the challenges we faced was gaining the support of the ED staff who would be using the new technology on a daily basis.
Inspiring a shared vision
This is arguably the most important part of transformational leadership. With our new voice-recognition software in the ED, we needed to inspire a shared vision to win the support of our ED staff. To do this, we took time to carefully evaluate the implementation process. We had to consider the impact that the changing workflow might have on patient service times during the changeover, and we worked with the ED to plan the right staffing to ensure that our patient service quality would not suffer. We planned the right education to ensure our ED staff would be comfortable and capable with the new technology. Once those pieces were in place, we demonstrated how this technology would work and ultimately make the jobs of our ED staff easier while also improving patient care and safety. With this shared vision in place, both the IT and ED staff were inspired to work together toward successful implementation. Which brings us to our third step: Enabling others to act.
Enabling others to act
Once you have challenged the process and created a shared vision, it is time to watch the transformation take place. If you have done those two steps correctly, you are well prepared for the follow through. In our voice-recognition project, we were able to quickly implement the new technology, as the staff understood why we needed it and were prepared to use it. As a result, we quickly saw the positive results we had predicted in our vision. By reducing the time it took to enter data, our ED became more efficient. We saw a decrease in door-to-doctor time and a marked improvement on patient safety with fewer medication events and mislabeled lab specimens. Overall, we are now able to see more patients with no loss of quality because we have made the process more efficient.
This is just one of the many examples I could share with you. As the head of an IT department that encompasses more than 60 people, over 30 physician office locations and Western Reserve Hospital, I have seen this process create solutions for some of the greatest challenges we have faced. Challenge the process. Inspire a shared vision. Enable others to act. Lead the transformation.