Transformational Leadership Model

Leadership is a critical part of a successful DevOps Transformation. But what does Transformational Leadership entail?

DevOpsGroup - Transformational Leadership Model Diagram
DevOpsGroup - Transformational Leadership

What are the dimensions of Transformational Leadership

Ross Clanton’s talk at DevOps Enterprise Summit 2019 specifically calls out 4 reasons why leadership is important in digital transformation:

  • Lacking strong C-level sponsorship for the transformation.
  • Executive behaviours that are contradicting cultural aspirations.
  • The frozen middle. I’ll talk about this more, but it’s a term I’ve grown to enjoy, to talk about how to help the middle management change.
  • Technology transformation that’s disconnected from business strategy.

Why is this important for DevOps Success?

The book Accelerate goes further and attempts to specifically link a causal relationship between “transformational leadership”, Continuous Delivery and ultimately organisational performance. They draw on the work of Rafferty and Griffin for a model of transformational leadership that posits 5 dimensions.

  • Vision – “The expression of an idealized picture of the future based around organizational values.”​
  • Inspirational Communication – “The expression of positive and encouraging messages about the organization, and statements that build motivation and confidence.​
  • Supportive Leadership – “Expressing concern for followers and taking account of their individual needs.”​
  • Intellectual Stimulation – “Enhancing employees’ interest in, and awareness of problems, and increasing their ability to think about problems in new ways.”​
  • Personal Recognition – “The provision of rewards such as praise and acknowledgement of effort for achievement of specified goals.”
DevOpsGroup - Empowered Employee

Intent-based leadership

Another useful reference is L. David Marquet’s book “Turn the Ship Around” where he describes what he calls the “leader-leader” model of “intent-based leadership”. His view is that in a complex environment the “leader-follower” paradigm breaks down, as it is impossible for the “leader” to “know what orders to give” because the complexity of the tasks exceeds the comprehension of any individual. In turn, this implies that the “follower” – the subject matter expert who knows their job, the processes and what actions to take – must step up to be a leader within their area of expertise.

Marquet contrasts this with “empowerment” in that empowerment reinforces the leader/follower dynamic because the leader is delegating/granted THEIR powers downwards to the newly “empowered” follower. This model of empowerment doesn’t change the fundamental relationship between leader & follower.​​

Regardless of which leadership model you choose, what is clear is that leading a Digital or DevOps Transformation is a challenge to anyone whose leadership style is rooted in a “command & control” mindset. As we move towards more distributed, autonomous teams in a DevOps model, the more important the transformational leadership style becomes.

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