This blog post is the first in a series of four blog posts on transformational leadership, to read the second click here, third here, and fourth here.

Riding a Motorcycle and how it's a lot like being a Transformative Leader

What is a transformational leader? According to the authors of Leadership: A Communication Perspective, a transformational leader strives to satisfy more than just the basic needs of their followers, helping their followers achieve the upper levels of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Transformational leaders are creative, interactive, visionaries, empowering, and passionate (Hackman, 2013, pp. 102-212).

In college, I read Robert M. Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values. This nonfiction, autobiographical, novel engages the reader in a series of “Chautauquas," (a term that refers to an adult learning assembly, popularized in the early 1900s) pushing them to explore the deepest parts of their psyche, forcing them to question their values, ethics, and how they view and live their life. A common theme throughout the novel is quality—what is it and how can it be defined. While on the surface one may not see a direct correlation between motor cycles and leadership, I found a number of metaphors that reinforce the qualities and values of a transformational leader. The most obvious being the motorcycle itself. Man and machine become one when riding a motorcycle; the two must work seamlessly together for success. When riding, man also becomes one with nature; they feel every bump in the road and brave the elements - rain or shine. This experience is a lot like transformational leadership. A transformative leaver rolls up his or her sleeves and works alongside their followers, and they weather the ups and downs of the team and the organization.

I want to share with you four metaphors from Pirsig's book over the course of several posts, the first of which is below. They represent four best practices all leaders should internalize and implement to gain the trust of their followers, motivate followers to withstand even the most difficult changes, and create a loyal and innovative company culture. Below is the first metaphor, the last three will follow in separate posts.

1. America is always in a hurry, never taking a moment to slow down and take in surroundings or life -(Pirsig, 1999, p. 7)

I find a lot of truth in this observation, both in everyday life and on project teams. Projects are often quick to close out and skip the project retrospective entirely, in order to accommodate incoming projects. It is important to encourage teams to slow down at the end of each project and take the time to reflect on what they have accomplished. The Agile project lifecycle is quickly growing in popularity and embraces this idea. At the end of each sprint, a retrospective is done to celebrate team wins and identify opportunities for improvement. If this crucial step is missed in the project life cycle, how are employees going to know their team's and their own strengths and weaknesses? The retrospective acts as an adjustment tool, ensuring that individuals and teams grow stronger with every sprint and project. Leaders that encourage these retrospectives demonstrate their transformative style because they are opening up dialogue within the team, empowering employees by celebrating wins, and pushing employees to continuously improve upon and learn new skills. In turn, the company grows stronger, transforming into a more agile team that promotes continuous learning and improvement.

Hackman, M. Z., & Johnson, C. E. (2013). Leadership: A Communication Perspective, Sixth Edition. Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, Inc.

Pirsig, R.M. (1999). Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintained: An Inquiry into Values. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.