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Charismatic or Instrumental – Which Type of Leader is Best for Transformation?

“….transformation is the reshaping and conversion of an existing order in terms of a pattern

change so that old structures and behaviors are abandoned and replaced by new ones.”

                        From “Key Aspects of Strategy and Leadership for Business Transformation”

This is a great definition of transformation, especially in business where it’s all about changing structures and behaviors to evolve into a new innovation-driven company.

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Many organizations are taking on business transformation with great vigor, but unfortunately, most don’t fully understand the underlying concepts – and therefore, success is limited. And like many other challenges in companies, this issue too starts at the top.

What is business transformation all about?

Make no mistake about it, business transformation is not easy. Change never is, especially when human beings (a.k.a employees) are involved. People resist change, no matter how large and small.

And business transformation is change on a large scale. This kind of evolution typically entails changing the core structure of a company, its business processes, most job roles, and, as the quote above says, behaviors.

So what happens with this kind of change? New technology and new ways of doing things are introduced. People will have different responsibilities and may report to different people. There will be lots to learn and little time to do it. The concept of “this is the way we normally do things” will be replaced by the question “how can we do this better?”

All of which could become quite chaotic and disruptive. And that is why, from this viewpoint, management behavior and leadership are considered to be two of the most important success factors in business transformation.

What kind of leaders can calm the chaos?

There are many different types of leaders, but authors Tuschman and Nadler use the terms “charismatic” and “instrumental” in describing the type of leadership that is needed for business transformation. Charismatic leaders are the kind that provides vision, direction, and energy – all necessary elements of endeavors such as these. A charismatic leader envisions a compelling picture of the future, sets high expectations, and energizes and supports the company during change.

But that kind of leader will only take companies so far. Instrumental leadership is the kind that pays attention to details, such as roles, structures, and rewards. These leaders align senior management and the organization through building teams that can implement transformation, rewarding behaviors that support change, and measuring and monitoring behaviors throughout the transformation.

Should companies focus on one or the other? Or both?

The answer not surprisingly is both. Business transformation needs a focus on the integration of the new processes and the individuals in charge of them – and it requires a shift in behaviors for a great adoption of the business process change.

To learn more, you can read an extensive discussion of business transformation leadership in this article, “Key Aspects of Strategy and Leadership for Business Transformation,” on page 16 of the 360° – the Business Transformation Journal. The article presents an in-depth exploration of charismatic and instrumental leaders, as well as other strategies that are key to successful business transformations.

This publication is produced by the Business Transformation Academy, a thought leadership network devoted to providing cutting-edge insights on innovation and business transformation. For more business transformation articles on the SAP Community Network, please visit the 360° – the Business Transformation Journal library.

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      Author's profile photo Jelena Perfiljeva
      Jelena Perfiljeva

      People resist change, no matter how large and small.

      We keep hearing this on SCN, but I'm actually starting to doubt this is true. People resist change when it has no benefits for them. If a change makes our life easier, how much resistance do we actually see?

      I believe most of this [incorrect] perception of "people" being some kind of evil stubborn morons comes from when the change initiator fails to consider the interests of the "people". At the minimum, if a change benefits only some people but disadvantages others (e.g. a sales rep needs to do an additional step, so that the financial reports can be run more efficiently down the road), I believe most of us are perfectly capable of at least accepting the change and "taking one for the team", if necessary. This is provided that all the information is communicated to us openly and honestly.

      Maybe the kind of leader we really need is the empathic one?

      Author's profile photo Astrid Gambill
      Astrid Gambill

      Exactly.  Change for what appears to be the sake of Change only is frustrating for all.

      Author's profile photo Sylvia Santelli
      Sylvia Santelli

      Devil's Advocate= We know that eating right and exercise is good for us. The benefit is there--loud and clear.  However how many of us follow those rules, how many of us change our day to day to do it?

      However, I agree that the benefit to change needs to be loud and clear. And I also agree that the vast majority of us can take a hit for a little bit to help the team.  Perhaps it's feeling appreciated for doing so?

      The quality of empathy should be added to the list. I agree Jelena Perfiljeva

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      I'll look forward to reading the article, but right now I would have to say that such dramatic change requires a strong visionary leader, and one that has stamina to lead thru the duration of change and can convince all levels of the organization.... .  And I agree with the point on empathy.  She/he has to understand that when one makes such dramatic shifts in an organization,  GREAT empathy is required to understand how the change affects people at their core - how it affects their identity, sense of self, and position in the organization.  Once those areas are addressed and a person feels valued and secure, more change is capable of happening...person by person.