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According to DORA (DevOps Research and Assessment) research, effective leadership measurably and significantly impacts outcomes in software delivery. However, instead of propelling these outcomes in a direct manner, effective and capable transformational leaders are able to leverage product and technical management practices and capabilities in order to improve software delivery performances. This, in turn, allows such leaders to materialize the outcomes that they desire.

To assess how leadership can affect DevOps transformation, the DORA utilized a transformational leadership measure containing five dimensions. As per this model, these are the characteristics common to transformational leaders:

1) Vision:

Transformational leaders understand their organization and team’s direction, and are clear about where they want their teams to be and achieve during the next five years.

2) Inspirational communication:

The ability to highlight their teams’ positivity and make employees feel proud of belonging to the organization. A transformation leader needs to encourage their people to find opportunities in every changing circumstance.

3) Intellectual stimulation:

Push members to come up with new solutions to old problems by changing their perspectives and their fundamental assumptions regarding their work. Transformational leaders bring forth ideas that compel their team members to think and rethink things that they have never thought of questioning before.

4) Supportive leadership:

Consider how their actions might affect the feelings of other people; behave in ways that take other peoples’ personal needs into account; must ensure that they give sufficient consideration to their team members’ interests and thoughts.

5) Personal recognition:

Should acknowledge their employees whenever they deliver good results or exhibit an improvement in work quality; must personally commend members upon delivering outstanding results.

The above five transformational leadership characteristics are strongly correlated with performance in software delivery. As a matter of fact, there were statistically significant dissimilarities between teams producing low-, medium-, and high-quality performances – with the latter possessing leaders that displayed prominent leadership skills. On the other hand, low-performing teams possessed the lowest measures of the above discussed skills.

When we move beyond transformation and see how an effective transformational leader is able to achieve results, we come across some really interesting findings. DORA’s team came up with the ‘structural equation modeling’ technique to examine the connections between software organizational and delivery performances, various products and technical management performances, and transformational leadership.

This validated model revealed that an effective leader indirectly impacts software organizational and delivery performance by enabling their teams to use lean production administration and technical practices. Through these practices, teams are able to achieve improved software delivery and organization performances, and other organizational outcomes. In addition, these capabilities can also be the drivers and catalysts of cultural change.

Ways of Implementing Transformational Leadership:

On the other end of transformational leadership resided transactional leadership, an approach associated with rewarding employees with prestige or money in exchange for adherence to leadership instructions, and punishing them should they fail to adhere to these instructions.

Transformational leaders drive exceptional performance by transforming their team members’ values, beliefs, and attitudes, instead of compelling them to comply.

According to DORA’s research, the mere presence of leaders possessing transformational traits is not sufficient for achieving high levels of performance. As a matter of fact, many teams possessing leaders with strong transformational traits did not perform at the highest level – these teams showed considerable variation in software delivery performances levels.

The explanation for such a result lies in the observation that it is not possible for transformational leaders to improve performance all by themselves. There are several other factors that determine success, including the effective implementation of product management, technical, and overall management practices, along with several other capabilities. It is vital for a transformational leader to direct their behaviors towards implementing these practices and capabilities.

Let us use ‘vision’ to explain this point. Software delivery teams can develop a vivid vision by setting measurable objectives regarding performance. For instance, the Global Banking at Markets of HSBC’s CIO, Richard Herbert, instructs every team to try and double the frequency release, halve the low-impact incident number while quartering the high-impact incident number.

The ‘personal recognition’ behavior is also essential, and leaders need to ensure that it works to reinforce improvement-related behavior. For instance, leaders can encourage teams to experiment, regardless of the results, or assist other teams in the implementation of new ideas. We can take Etsy’s example while discussing effective methods of personal recognition – the e-commerce organization conducts a yearly engineering conference, where they award the engineer who was able to inadvertently produce the most learning-filled or interesting incident.

Leaders must make sure that they consistently demonstrate these transformational behaviors, particularly when their teams are struggling or stressed.

Also, remember that when we talk about leadership, we are not strictly referring to managers and executives – any person can become a leader, and pretty much anyone within an organization can implement the leadership behaviors discussed in this blog. All that is needed is for you to figure out ways that these behaviors can become a part of your everyday interactions with people within your company.

Is Transformational Leadership Measurable?

A simple way of measuring transformational leadership is by asking your team members if they believe that their leaders display the described behaviors, and, if so, to what extent.

In addition, you can also measure the impact that transformational leadership creates. For instance, if an organizational leader is able to communicate and define their vision excellently, everyone within the organization must have understood the vision clearly enough to describe it vividly and consistently, using their own words.

Final Word:

Transformational leadership is all about instilling the right attitude and belief in employees and team members in order to achieve premium performance and results, instead of indulging in quid-pro-quos. It is important to be consistent in displaying transformational leadership traits and to measure the results of exhibiting those traits in order to see what you need to do more of and what you need to tweak.

 

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