Transformational Leadership

January 30, 2015 at 10:48 pm Leave a comment


First, a definition. According to James McGregor Burns, Transformational Leadership is when “leaders and their followers raise one another to higher levels of morality and motivation.” This compares to authoritative leadership where role-power is used to motivate a team to accomplish a goal.

I think you need to think about whether you want to make progress because of where your name appears on an org chart, or because people buy into your vision. Early on in my career, I wanted to make a difference because I saw the status quo was not getting the job done. I was pretty low on the org chart so I had to find other ways to get others engaged. It turns out, other people want to see change occur as well. They may be overwhelmed with where to start, or think that their efforts would be wasted. But a small group of people can rally together to influence change as seen many times in history.

Using Transformational Leadership may sound like another buzz phrase but in reality, it’s a few easy changes.

1. Set a vision & share it. You can’t just dictate what has to be done but instead engage people in talking about what could be. This doesn’t have to be in a meeting or a big all-hands meeting but can be as simple as talking about a challenge over a cup of coffee.

2. Motivating others. Change takes work. And often times, people resist because they get paid the same regardless so what’s in it for them? I like to lean on development opportunities as a “carrot”. Change often means learning something new, and those new skills can look pretty good on a resume, performance review or LinkedIn profile.

3. Alignment. This one is hard as people tend to want to lead the easy way by just driving the effort their way. But conflict arises whether it’s about how to accomplish the goal or even the goal itself. Setting measurable Goals at the start is the easiest way to avoid conflict in goals. Setting Guiding Principles will help you set the tone or moral standards that you and the team will embrace throughout the effort (even when it gets tough and hours get long). When conflicts arise, as a Transformational Leader, you have to anchor your team back to your Goals and Guiding Principles.

This can be easier said than done especially when it’s someone higher up who wants to challenge the effort with a change. They often do not even realize that it is a change as they either are not aware or forgot about the team’s Goals. This was an experience of mine recently. In hindsight, I realize that I let my executives lose sight of our Goals. We did a lot of right things – weekly status and sharing news of major milestones but we did not include the Goals & Guiding Principles.  Oops! Big surprise when there was discussion of shifting the Goals just a few days prior to launch.

4. Persuasion. Many people who I have worked with in the past have thought that making decisions makes them a Leader. While being decisive is a quality characteristic, a Transformational Leader needs to work to get a group to make a decision. You cannot necessarily take a vote but you can encourage a group to look at statistics, to weigh the costs/benefits of the options, and to avoid analysis-paralysis because they are reluctant to accept risk. Risks were meant to be mitigated so you can help your team overcome their reluctance by setting milestones to measure the impact of the decision, or mitigation strategies to help reduce risk.

There are many other elements to Transformational Leadership but these are the ones that I find helpful in my day-to-day role. As much as I try to influence teams to get efforts accomplished, I also hope that demonstrating some of these tactics will model a behavior that others are willing to try. It is not my goal that they lead exactly as I do but instead that they are willing to try a new way of accomplishing great things instead of just doing things as they always have.

How have you seen Transformational Leadership applied? Do you support it? What are the drawbacks to using it?

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Entry filed under: Career Development, Leadership, Transformational Leadership. Tags: , .

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