Social Innovation and Transformational Leadership

As part of the 2013 Australian Change Makers Festival, The Australian Centre for Social Innovation hosted a social innovation workshop this morning.  TACSI was created to tackle Australia’s tough social challenges such as family break down, child abuse and career stress.  The seminar was a four-hour interactive workshop that introduced tools where business, social science and design converge to create new solutions to complex social problems.

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Challenging the Status Quo

The workshop introduced four key steps in social innovation. These are:

  1. Start with a question and not a solution.
  2. Everything is an assumption.
  3. Learn from people in context.
  4. Learn through making and testing.

These four steps guide TACSI as they create social innovation solutions for their cases.

During the workshop, I tackled an issue that I have been reflecting on this year – how to assist the fresh graduate/young professional segment in their journey of finding their purpose (and ultimately, themselves).  We went through the process of dissecting the issue and used tools that they have introduced.

For a four-hour workshop, I had some rough notes on my personal project, which I am happy about considering the time constraint.  Complex problems need creative solutions to be able to address the needs of the times.  Identifying the right tools is a challenge; moreover, locating the right issues is a work in itself too.

There was one statement from the workshop that reminded me of our transformational leadership class last week – constraints breed innovation.

Bernard Bass, in his article, From Transactional to Transformational Leadership: Learning to Share the Vision, highlights that as organisations continually change and re-strategize, leaders need to think of new ways to do things given their limitations.  In a changing environment, transformational leaders “inspire, energise and intellectually stimulate their employees.”

In the article, Bass illustrates characteristics of a transactional and transformational leader.  For a transactional leader, these are contingent reward, management by exception and laissez-faire.  For a transformational leader, these are charisma, inspiration, intellectual stimulation and individualised consideration.  Bass insinuates that 21st century organisations need transformational leadership, and transactional leadership leads to mediocrity.

I agree that in today’s changing markets, political instability and economic slumps; we need more transformational leaders that will be able to bring in the positive energy as organisations deal with uncertainty.  However, there would be some situations that transactional leadership, even though seen as old fashioned, may be needed.  There is this idiom, different strokes for different folks.

I think what characterises a true transformational leader is that he or she is able to adjust given different situations. Not all situations would ask leaders to be charismatic.  Organisations need bottom lines with results and situations may ask for leaders to be transactional (albeit cruel for some).

Innovation is not a mere bright idea but a continuing understanding and learning of issues that we face as leaders, organisations and societies as well.  There is work to be done and there is an urgency to create solutions.  Whilst it’s a demanding environment, organisations need to continually innovate to survive.  Leadership is crucial to that sustenance.

05 November 2013 | Adelaide, South Australia

This essay is part of the requirements for the Transformational Leadership class under Ms Linda Chaousis, adjunct faculty at the Carnegie Mellon University – Australia.

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