Translational Leadership in the 21st Century

voices from the fieldTranslational Leadership in the 21st Century

Translational leadership is a new buzz word spiraling around the playing fields of virtually every industry today. It’s loosely defined as one adept at connecting, mediating, teaching, behavioral economy and social engineering. They demonstrate an uncanny ability to knit together different constituencies and institutions, brokering relationships and transactions across different levels of political, economic and social organization. Perhaps a ‘harmonist’ might even be a better term.

What does that mean and how might we engage this concept as individuals who wish to contribute to developing a better world? People are the greatest resource. Most folks are so busy with their localized environment on a daily basis that even if they are engaged in a process or product that could change the world, they don’t have time to look up let alone look around them. These are the ones whose dedication and drive produce breakthroughs. Translational leaders would, by definition, be able to recognize and further expand their work through their connections with like-minded or complementary resources. The effectiveness of their work could indeed go from local to global in a relatively short time.

Those same dedicated individuals and/or groups also have strained communications at times. Not everyone listens or speaks with the same understanding and conflict arises. Translational leadership recognizes the diversity in a group, sometimes even between two individuals and is not only capable of commanding respect, they are adept at mediating and mitigating the potential problems. Issue resolution becomes another hat, a bit different than DeBono, and is a tool often used in the process of mission and vision fulfillment. These negotiators do their work with style and grace, stepping in when and where needed without restraint.

Setting an example for others is a primary component of translational leaders, teaching those around them by showing how the work is done. Most translational leaders are adept at engaging those around them by drawing upon personal inspiration and motivation to do their best. Translational leaders know they are responsible for the morale and tone of the working environment and act to ensure the voices of all are heard and recognized as valid. Everyone is part of the process, whatever it may be, and the lessons of developing effective communication result in performance excellence.

Behavioral economy is a relatively new term as well. The study of behavioral economics includes how market decisions are made and the mechanisms that drive public choice. A translational leader knows how to leverage the motivations of the personalities in their environment to engage better results. There is a kind of social currency involved here, where heightened individual influence weighs heavily on the outcome of the choices and decisions of the company, group or organization. It is usually a good thing when ideals, like the ISO 26000 Social Responsibility Standards, are in place.

Social engineering precepts are based on cognitive biases, specific attributes of human decision-making processes. In the purest sense it is the manipulation of those cognitive biases to produce specific choices and responses. Translational leaders use this technique as a facilitation technique to guide their teams to decisions that are in alignment with best practices for collaborative functionality, for instance. Of course the powerfully persuasive techniques can be used for less than beneficial results, but the ethical practices of the translational leaders are usually such that they will rise above petty temptations to use their power for personal gain at the expense of others.

As we move forward into the 21st Century there are obvious constraints and problems we face as a human race and planetary civilization. Our technology has surpassed the capacity for massive destruction. Our air, land and water have been polluted nearly beyond repair, yet we are resilient and can turn the tide of despair to a new destiny of repair through the efforts of these translational leaders. We can focus on fixing the world’s greatest problems and develop solutions that will benefit humankind when we learn how to get along better; a key feature of the translational leader’s guidance.

How can we assist these new leaders. Look for them. They may be anywhere and functional in the informal networks that develop within organizations. Promote them and offer your allegiance to those who prove worthy. Our world is changing rapidly and we need the best folks for the job in place so that we create sustainable relationships with present and future conditions.

Future thought… Adhocracy is a primarily structureless organization used to solve various problems. It is a type of organization that operates in opposite fashion to a bureaucracy. Would this type of organization be conducive to the translational leaders? Would the concept of ‘harmony’ be appropriate when considering the nature of facilitating people, places and things to do stuff?

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