ATD Blog

Transformational Leaders Transcend "Management"

Monday, April 14, 2014

Star “managers” always think, act , and describe themselves as “leaders,” not as “managers.” To these stars, leadership is about creating a compelling purpose for their teams and providing the resources and support to create deep mastery. It is about energizing and supporting.

Management, in sharp contrast, is primarily administrative. In their words: “You manage a business. You lead people.” Being a skilled manager is important to stars, but leadership is the difference between competent performance and greatness. 

When star leaders describe their own purpose, it’s always about inspiring others. Here are example purpose statements from two programs: one for frontline supervisors and one for developing executives.

  • Purpose—as expressed by star supervisors: "I lead by example. My passion, credibility, and desire to excel promote a safe culture of respect and ownership. As a fair and consistent coach, I develop our team’s strengths and drive innovative improvements. Our team is a role model that inspires others to achieve breakthrough performance."
  • Purpose—as expressed by star executives: "As a trusted transformational leader, my passionate commitment and skills enable me to guide creation of a compelling collective vision and empower others to convert the vision to action. I courageously make the hard decisions needed to drive excellent, long-term results."

Pause for a moment and reflect on your personal leadership purpose. Write it down. Does it have the energy and drive expressed by these stars? Work on your purpose statement until it has the energy and power these do.
Path to master

Star leaders also define and follow a demanding path to mastery of their function. Here are the paths to mastery for the supervisor and executive programs.

Star supervisors:

1. Walk the talk: I maintain high safety, ethical, and moral standards, treating others as I want to be treated. I embrace the company's vision and its guiding values. I know myself and confidently handle tough decisions. I achieve excellence for myself, my team, my customers, and the company.

2. Dos and don’ts: I adhere to and enforce the company's policies and procedures. I align the goals and key performance indicators for my team, department, and the business. I utilize our reporting and support structure.


3. Business 101: I know my business processes, systems, and tools. I understand my relationship with upstream vendors and impact on downstream customers, both internally and externally. I determine the resources required to exceed our current objectives, meet forecasted growth, and support projected changes.

4. United we succeed: I build a positive team atmosphere where all individuals share the same goals and support the company culture. I have an appropriate personal connection with each member. I’m a supportive, fair, and consistent coach giving clear direction. I guide the team to professional development and generate innovative solutions that strengthen our performance. I acknowledge and celebrate our success and the success of individuals.

5. Confident leadership: I manage my business as though I own it. I make the hard decisions, operating autonomously when there is considerable uncertainty, substantial risk, and minimal support. I accept responsibility for the consequences of my decisions.

6. Expand horizons: I have the global vision required to be a strategic contributor to the organization. I build trusted working relationships with my peers, management, and other departments that create synergies and efficiencies. I identify and systematically develop the future leaders of the organization. I’m a strong asset to the company, owning my growth and consciously preparing myself for advancement.

Star executives:


1. Compelling vision: My authentic beliefs and confidence are the primary drivers for creating purpose for my organization. My superb business acumen enables me to sense unique opportunities and articulate them as a compelling vision that has the potential to produce extraordinary business results.

2. Deep alignment: I build a comprehensive network of stakeholders and key influencers based on mutual trust and benefit. My network actively supports the vision by speaking about it positively and frequently, and it formally allocates needed resources.

3. Performance infrastructure: I drive efficient organization of the work required to achieve the vision. I establish an effective operating model that includes excellent planning and ongoing management. I’m purposefully and consciously a great manager of the work and my team.

4. Transformational culture: I’m a model of transformational leadership working to create a culture where change is embraced by everyone and greatness is the goal. I enjoy and encourage others to enjoy "pushing the envelope" of innovation in our products, services, business processes and, most importantly, ourselves.

5. Sustained extraordinary performance: I guide my organization to consistent high performance. Together we achieve the vision in a way that’s deeply satisfying and a lot of fun.

In both examples, you feel the scope and drive of top leaders who are determined to excel beyond normal expectations. These leaders go on to define mastery for each step and design a series of learning tasks that give others the experiences required to develop mastery. Now build your path to mastery, define mastery and design learning tasks that will produce mastery.

Imagine if all of your frontline supervisors and executives embraced their purpose and had all of the attitudes and skills defined in these paths to mastery. Formal certifications show that more than 90 percent of participants in these programs show the attitudes and behaviors of the stars. This is something that would please any organization.

About the Author

William Seidman is a recognized thought leader and expert on how to develop and sustain high-performing organizations. In particular, he is renowned for understanding the processes required to discover and use expert wisdom to create extraordinary organizational performance. William holds a doctorate from Stanford University, where he spent eight years studying management decision making. As part of his doctoral dissertation, he developed a groundbreaking technique for analyzing management decision making. The technique is the core of Strategy to Action methodology and has been recognized by KMWorld, The Innovation Center, IDC, and others.

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