The Main Key to Transformational Leadership




Disney Institute

How many agree that creating a culture of trust and empowerment is important?

During a recent presentation, I asked a typical audience of leaders, “How many agree that creating a culture of trust and empowerment is important?” Every hand went up. But then I asked these same leaders, “How many have deliberately put in place a system, or ‘mechanisms,’ for establishing this type of work environment that everyone knows, understands, and uses on a fairly regular basis?” The hands drop to just a few.

Clearly, the trick to great leadership is to develop more “transformational leaders”; those who not only know that empowering people is important, but also know how to do it. This is effectively closing the “knowing-doing gap,” made famous by authors Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton. In today’s increasingly fast-paced and complex business world, no individual can do everything well. Leaders will only be successful to the degree in which they can actively involve and empower others.

Walt and Roy Disney were transformational leaders whose example we continue to follow today. They knew that a leader’s goal is not perfection; a leader’s goal is to know where he or she is imperfect, and leverage the strengths of other team members to fill in those gaps. Roy trusted that Walt would focus on great animation and storytelling, and Walt trusted Roy to secure the finances that would bring their dreams to life.

So, what can leaders do to build the level of trust that enables people around them to be empowered? The first step is to agree as a team, at all levels, that this is important. Not just temporarily important, as in a “program” or “initiative,” but as an organizational value that everyone can commit to on an ongoing basis. By then continuously delivering on this commitment, leaders create the foundation of trust that is necessary for true empowerment.

Delivering on this commitment can take many forms. At Disney, we have created a series of Disney Leader Basics, which are operational standards defined by behaviors that everyone knows, understands, and demonstrates on a regular basis. In this way, teams trust that their leaders are deliberately walking their locations with a positive intent.

Here is one example from our Disney Leader Basics that ties to this discussion of empowerment. Note that it’s formatted as an “I” commitment statement followed by the specific behaviors that demonstrate.

“I know and manage my operation and teach it to Cast Members”

* Model and teach The Four Keys Basics behaviors to Cast Members.

* Know when to make decisions and when to empower Cast Members.

* Transfer knowledge and skills to Cast Members.

* Monitor, measure, and make balanced financial decisions to ensure an efficient operation.

* Be available, visible, and able to assist in the operation, as needed.

* Remove barriers and identify improvements in the daily operation.

Empowerment is not just a time-saving gimmick used for short-term productivity gains. Remember, great leaders surround themselves with people to whom they entrust their careers. Empowerment is the way to continuously develop the acumen and skills of the team, which, in turn, enables the team, the leader, and the organization to continuously transform themselves!

How are you actively demonstrating your commitment to empowering your team?


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