Transformational leadership is a popular leadership style. It conjures a vision of a charismatic, powerful CEO like Jeff Bezos leading Amazon to new heights. The transformational leadership style involves a committed relationship between the leader and his followers. Unlike, the transactional leadership, the “give and take”, the transformational leaders has the ability to transform others with his words. The effectiveness of a transformational leader is the ability to create big shifts in their followers’ thinking which creates big shifts in their behaviors which motivates them to achieve extraordinary results. What makes a transformational leader? What are the prime qualities that define transformational leadership and how can those qualities be infused into any leadership style.
Bernard M. Bass, one of the theorist of transformational leadership defined the style as follows: “leaders broaden and elevate the interests of their employees, when they generate awareness and acceptance of the purposes and mission of the group, and when they stir their employees to look beyond their own self-interest for the good of the group”. Transformational leadership like servant leadership focuses on the needs of the others rather than the leader. The main difference between the two is that transformational leadership focuses on the organizational objective whereas the servant leadership focuses on the followers. Furthermore, the difference between transformational and transactional leadership is that the former’s objective is to change the organization’s culture to drive performance while the latter works within the existing organizational culture.
There are four main qualities of a transformational leader. The underlying concept of transformational leadership is charisma. The need for charisma originates from the belief that employees are “overmanaged but underled”. It is an old concept that takes new meaning when applied to this leadership style. At its core is the belief that leaders should act as role models exhibiting a charisma that would influence others to want to be like the leader. This idealized leader is a risk-taker who leads by a set of values and ethical convictions. Through this idealized influence the leader builds trust with his followers. The followers develop confidence in the leader.
The transformational leader inspires confidence, motivation, and a sense of purpose in his followers. The leader must convey a commitment to the goals and articulate a vision for the future. Transformational leadership requires an abundance of optimism, enthusiasm, and positive. The leader must have excellent communication skills in order to convey inspirational messages with clarity and authority.
The transformational leader encourages autonomy and creativity in his followers. A culture of creativity and innovation pervades around this leadership style where employees are encouraged to participate in the decision making process. The skillful, transformational leader challenges assumptions and guides employees to see solutions without criticism. He is adept at painting the big picture and encouraging the success of employees.
Employees are encouraged to grow and develop under transformational leadership. Whether through observation or discussion, the transformational leader figures out what motivates each employee. The leadership conducts one-on-one coaching or mentoring to cater to individual employee development. Therefore, the qualities of charisma, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, and individualized consideration are what make up a transformational leader.
While there are innate qualities that transformational leaders share, every leadership style can learn a thing or two from this inspirational approach. Here are a few suggestions to tap into the inner transformational leader: focus on the heart, be playful, and storytelling. The true foundation of transformational leadership is being strengthened by human vulnerability. The key to accessing leadership skills that transform an audience is disengaging from the intellect. Many leaders lead with the head and do not get in touch with their feelings. True leadership consists of many more aspects other than intellect, intuition and heart come to mind.
A sense of play is essential to succeed at transformational leadership. Leaders are constantly asking themselves and the people around them questions. What do I want? How can we do things differently? What does it cost us to maintain the status quo? The ability to play is crucial to seeing the world in a new and different perspective. It is almost like seeing the world through the eyes of a child. Whether on the bike or trampoline, play time is time well spent.
Effective storytelling is the medium of a transformational leader. These leaders tells stories which take their employees on a journey. These stories have the potential to move the employee, causing an instant shift, and a permanent change to their actions. The stories that give no importance to what happened before or what happened after, the only thing that mattered is what happened in the moment. These are transformational stories. This underlines the true power of a transformational leader: the ability to bring out lasting, meaningful change in employees.
Transformational leadership is a catalyst for change in the organization. There are many resources and ways for leaders to improve their leadership styles. While, there are differences between the servant, transactional, and transformational leadership styles. The transformational leadership style is appropriate when the goal of the organization is to change the culture. Charisma dominates the transformational leadership style. This is an idealized leader that inspires his followers to find a purpose and meaning in executing a common goal. The leader is not short of inspiration, bringing enthusiasm and positivity to his superb communication style. There is an element of intellectual stimulation. The transformational leader encourages creativity and innovation as well as problem solving by employees. Finally, the transformational leader is one who gives individualized attention to the motivations and development of each employee.
There are positive attributes of transformational leadership that can apply to any leadership style. Primarily, this leadership style is about dropping from the head down to the heart. It is getting in touch with intuition and feelings to best understand the vulnerabilities of the followers. A leader who has a sense of play and a command of storytelling is one who is capable of transforming employees and the organization to their best.