Drive Change or Drive Home
Leadership is about doing what is right, and not what is quick and easy.
All of us have encountered leaders in different contexts. Whether it is our parents, teachers, coaches, or organizational leaders, they hold the power in their hands to influence us. You may not always be able to precisely define good or bad leadership. But you will almost always know it when you see it.
Great leaders elevate you, making you believe in your abilities and that if you tried hard enough there is nothing you cannot do. In contrast, bad leaders demean you and make you feel that no matter how hard you try, you will never succeed. Transformational leaders are empathetic and have the ability to inspire confidence in others.
What exactly do transformational leaders do that elevate you? How do you become a transformational leader yourself?
Transformational leadership: What is it?
The concept of transformational leadership was first introduced in 1978 by James MacGregor Burns. Transformational leadership, according to Burns, is when leaders and followers help each other to advance to greater levels of motivation and morale. He established two concepts- transformational leadership and transactional leadership. The “transforming” approach creates positive change in the lives of people and organizations. It changes the expectations and aspirations and redesigns the values and perceptions of people. On the other hand, the transactional approach is more of a “give and take” relationship.
Put simply, a transformational leader is someone that transforms their followers. They transform their followers into becoming leaders themselves. Transformational leadership brings about positive change in followers, change that can grow and shape the future of the organization.
Transformational leaders “transform” their followers to look out for each other, help each other, and look out for the organization as a whole. They enhance motivation, morale, and subsequently the performance of those that follow them. How do they do that? By connecting the follower’s sense of self and identity to the collective identity of the organization. These leaders become role models for their followers, inspiring them and challenging them to take greater ownership of their work. Transformational leaders also go to great lengths to understand the strengths and weaknesses of their followers. Doing so helps them align their followers to tasks that bring out the best performance in them.
Transformational leaders help their followers transform into leaders by understanding their needs and empowering them by aligning their goals with that of the organization. Transformational leadership has been known to move followers to exceed expectations when it comes to delivering performance. It also leads to high levels of commitment and satisfaction among the followers.
There are four critical components of transformational leadership:
Transformational leaders act in ways that make their followers see them as role models. That is why it is also called charismatic leadership. Transformational leaders are admired, respected, and most importantly, trusted. Followers are inspired by them and desire to become like them. These leaders do not shy away from risks. You can trust them to do the right thing and display high moral and ethical standards.
These leaders challenge their followers with high standards and communicate optimism about future goals. The optimism and challenge make the task at hand a lot more meaningful. Leaders with inspirational motivation give a strong sense of purpose to their followers. Purpose and meaning are strong drivers of motivation and help a group to move forward. Transformational leaders are able to articulate the vision of the organization, making it understandable, inspiring, and appealing. Their followers are, therefore, willing to invest more effort in their work, because they believe in their abilities and at the same time, are optimistic about the future. Transformational leaders create an environment for a shared vision and a commitment to goals.
Intellectual stimulation refers to the degree that a transformational leader takes risks, challenges assumptions, and solicits ideas from their followers. Such leaders encourage and stimulate creativity and innovation in their followers. They appreciate and nurture people who can think independently. Transformational leaders value learning and they look for opportunities to learn even in unexpected situations. Their followers are encouraged to ask questions, think out of the box, and find better and more efficient ways to accomplish their tasks.
This refers to the degree that a transformational leader pays attention to their followers’ needs. They act as a mentor to each follower and take the time to understand their needs and concerns. They are empathetic and supportive. These leaders encourage open communication and continuously challenge their followers to come out of their comfort zone. They also appreciate and respect each follower and celebrate the contribution that each one of them makes to the TEAM. Followers of such leaders work continuously to develop their potential and upgrade their skills.
There have been numerous transformational leaders in history. Even today, there are many transformational leaders that people look up to and want to emulate.
Oprah Winfrey is one of the most popular celebrities in the world. She hosted the famous “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” one of the highest-rated talk shows in the history of entertainment. Winfrey is also one of the first few black billionaires in North America. Despite spending her early years in poverty, Winfrey’s charismatic leadership style helped her connect with people from diverse backgrounds. She is able to inspire her staff to turn her vision into reality, without compromising on mass appeal.
Hubert Joly is the CEO of Best Buy who took on the reins of the troubled store in 2012. During this time even industry leaders believed that Amazon would bury Best Buy in no time. It was Joly’s vision that took Best Buy from a store selling CDs to becoming a store that enriched people’s lives. He transformed the product line, price, and delivery times. Best Buy’s stocks were tanking at $23.70 in 2012 which rose to $120 in October 2020 under the guidance and leadership of Hubert Joly.
The impact on the organization
Organizations today have become incredibly advanced. That’s why they require new leaders who can foster innovation to improve organizational performance. Transformational leadership influences the assumptions and attitudes of an organization’s employees, creating a common mentality to achieve the goals and objectives of the organization. That is why transformational leadership generates higher performance than transactional leadership.
We live in an age of information. Managing knowledge and innovation are key to creating workflows that improve organizational performance. Transactional leaders maintain compliance through rewards and punishments. On the other hand, transformational leaders act in ways that inspire and motivate their TEAM members to strive outside of their comfort zone. Instead of being the “boss,” they work as partners to boost TEAM morale and unleash the hidden potential of their TEAM members. These constructive changes have a positive impact on the organization too. Transformational leaders are also usually more charismatic, which is why they can gain the trust and loyalty of their TEAM members easily.
Here’s how transformational leadership can impact the organization:
Establish strong relationships
Employee loyalty is one of the biggest resources of an organization. You can only have a strong business if you have loyal employees who are willing to walk the extra mile for your organization. Transformational leaders are cognizant of the fact that you must build healthy relationships within the organization if you want to earn your TEAM’s trust. Healthy and honest relationships are built on clear and transparent communication. If you want to build strong relationships within your TEAM, you need to minimize conflicts within the TEAM. You also need to work on upskilling your employees so that they feel valued working for the organization. Transformational leaders eliminate unnecessary conflicts, foster healthy relationships, and bring about harmony within the TEAM.
The following Richard Branson quote sums up transactional leadership:
Train people well enough so they can leave. Treat them well enough so that they don’t want to.
Creates the right influence
Successful leadership is about influence and not authority. Transformational leaders model the behavior that they want their TEAM members to display. They not only talk the talk but also walk the walk. They quickly grasp the needs of their TEAM members and work to address them. It helps them earn the trust and respect of their TEAM members. A TEAM that trusts its leaders works harder to achieve objectives, which enhances business growth in the long run.
Boosts enthusiasm and motivation
Transformational leaders are not only good at influencing people but are also adept at analyzing the gaps in a company’s vision. When it is revealed that a company’s vision is flawed, it does not stop these leaders from creating a new one. They use their charisma and communication skills to explain the vision to their TEAM members, getting everyone on board.
The real secret to success is enthusiasm. Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm. Transformational leaders are enthusiastic and exude positivity that rubs on the people around them. They use their behavior and communication skills to boost employee morale and drive motivation. The ability to motivate and effective communication create higher employee engagement enhancing trust and loyalty.
Encourages learning and creativity
Besides encouraging their employees to work towards a common goal, and improve morale and satisfaction, transformational leaders also encourage learning. They understand that learning is not limited to a classroom environment. Every experience can offer something to learn. For this very reason, they create opportunities for their TEAM members to continue to learn. It could be through new responsibilities or new challenges. They help employees get out of their comfort zone, helping them discover their hidden talents and capabilities.
When employees grow, so does your business. Transformational leaders know how to keep their TEAM members engaged, creating new learning opportunities to help them grow continuously.
Increase employee retention
According to a study, retaining high potential employees at all levels is strongly linked to an organization’s ability to meet and exceed financial targets. There is no doubt that you must retain your employees if you want your business to succeed. Hiring and training new employees costs a lot more than retaining your existing ones. Plus, a high employee turnover also has a detrimental effect on your TEAM’s morale, and may also create roadblocks in your processes.
Transformational leaders boost employee morale by helping them gain personal satisfaction. Because they can make the employees feel valued, they are successful at retaining more employees than transactional leaders. They inspire their employees and gain their trust and respect. These leaders help their TEAMs improve their performance without micromanagement. As a result, TEAM members respect, admire, and trust their leader, and find fewer reasons to quit the organization.
Transformational leadership does not immediately or directly translate into better organizational performance. Instead, it creates a higher level of commitment to the organization and trust in the leader. It is this commitment and trust that motivates employees to deliver superior performance.
Are transformational leaders born or made?
This is one of those questions that have been debated over and over by scholars all over the world. Transformational leaders are usually charismatic, which creates the belief that they were born with it. However, there is a growing body of research that there are many influences on the leadership style of a person. We believe that transformational leadership can be learned.
If you listen to the people whose lives have been touched by amazing leaders, you will realize it was the small things that the leader did that made such a big difference. The leaders did not do those things because they had to but rather because they chose to. These leaders did not make the gesture because they had time and were not busy. Instead, they did it despite being busy which made their followers feel even more appreciated. Transformational leadership does not require big gestures from leaders. Rather it is the small things that make a huge difference in the long run.
So, if you want to become a transformational leader yourself, how do you do that?
Understand your own leadership style
Everyone is unique and so is their leadership style. Therefore, it is important that you understand your own leadership style. Do you know your strengths and weaknesses? Identifying your strong and weak points will help you figure out which qualities are helping and which are hindering your leadership skills. Knowing your areas of improvement can help you take concrete steps to address them, helping you become a better leader.
Encourage your followers to be creative
If you want to keep your employees engaged, you need to offer adequate intellectual stimulation. Instead of performing a task like a robot, encourage your followers to ask questions and express their creativity. Effective leaders not only offer support but also challenges that help employees grow. To become a transformational leader, you should be able to encourage and motivate your employees to come up with creative solutions to problems.
Intellectually stimulating challenges are one of the best ways to encourage creativity in your TEAM members. Such challenges help your TEAM to push their boundaries of creativity, without having to worry about success barriers.
Become a role model
Becoming a role model for others is one of the critical components of transformational leadership. It is because employees see them as role models; they respect them and try to emulate their behavior. In simple terms, you need to become a role model yourself for the qualities you want to see in your TEAM members. If you want them to be punctual, you need to ensure that you always arrive on time.
Be passionate about your goals
People with great passion can make the impossible happen. And that is so true about transformational leaders. Transformational leaders not only ensure to get their work done, but they also display genuine passion and enthusiasm for their work. These leaders do not just have passion but also find ways to express it through their behavior and actions. Keeping the lines of communication open ensures that your TEAM members feel comfortable contributing freely. Ensure to always appreciate and recognize your TEAM members for their contribution to achieving the goals. Transformational leaders are passionate about their goals, and they have the ability to bring out the same passion in others too.
Improve your listening and communication skills
Transformational leaders are exceptionally good at communication. If you want to become one yourself, you also need to improve your communication skills. They encourage open communication within their TEAMs. These leaders care about their TEAM members and show genuine concern both verbally and through their actions. They encourage feedback and do not get defensive when they receive criticism from their TEAM members. Transformational leaders ensure that they never miss an opportunity to appreciate and recognize their TEAM member’s contribution to achieving the goals.
Develop a positive attitude
Attitude decides altitude. A positive attitude is truly capable of making your dreams come true. Transformational leaders inspire their followers. When TEAM members see their leader enthusiastic about a task, they feel enthusiasm too. Similarly, if they see their leader dejected and discouraged, they will not be motivated to deliver inspiring work. Good leaders maintain a positive attitude, regardless of how bleak the situation looks. Even when things are not going as expected, transformational leaders remain positive. However, that in no way means that they are not realistic. When things don’t go your way, transformational leaders do not despair but look for alternate ways to get the job done. Being positive and optimistic are some of the important traits of a transformational leader.
Encourage your employees to contribute
Transformational leaders welcome ideas from their TEAM members. They encourage them to share ideas and look for ways to involve them in their work. Although the leader has the final say, they still encourage TEAM members to come up with innovative solutions to complete the task at hand. Leaders that encourage their employees to contribute have a higher commitment, improve productivity, and inspire creative solutions to problems.
Why are some leaders averse to change?
Change is the way of life. Transformational leaders accept this fact and are always ready to embrace change. However, there are many people in leadership positions who are afraid to challenge the status quo. This hinders progress. If you are not willing to accept change, you cannot have a transformative impact on your employees or the organization.
Many leaders resist change because they do not want to accept accountability. Being responsible and accountable for something requires real work. You have to be aware of what you don’t know and reach out to others for help. However, if you are unwilling to accept accountability, you will not be able to claim the trust of your TEAM members.
Taking risks is in the job description of a leader. However, some people do not want to take risks for fear of putting their reputation at stake. If you want real change, you will have to embrace risk too. Transformational leaders learn to expect the unexpected and create a work environment that allows people to work well even under pressure.
Leaders that do not have an entrepreneurial mindset are also averse to change. Such leaders are unable to break down silos, align the right resources, or implement change. They are unable to figure out ways that help employees become creative to come up with innovative solutions. When employees do not think out of the box, they remain stuck, and so does progress.
Fear of failure is another reason why many leaders resist change. Fear brings self-doubt, which in turn fuels the resistance to change. Being aware of your capabilities is very important for a leader. You should know what you can, and more importantly, what you cannot do. When you know your weaknesses, you also know who and when to ask for help.
Transformational leadership is not about helping those who love you admire you more. Instead, it is about convincing those that doubt you that you can be trusted. Employees trust and respect leaders who consistently do the right thing, instead of what is expedient. Sometimes doing what is right may land you in a difficult position. You do it anyway because leadership is not about benefitting yourself but elevating those around you.