Transformational Leadership

The term leadership often conjures different meanings to different people around the world, and different things in different situations. It is also sometimes looked at as a grand term that is the concern of great business leaders only. Yet leadership is something that many of us in different circumstances within our workplace have been doing or will at some point find ourselves doing.

If you are in a leadership position, I suggest you take a moment to reflect on the style of leadership you adopt most generally.

Are you an autocratic leader – do you keep most of the authority to yourself? Do you tend not to delegate much? Do you tend to keep information to yourself? Do you find yourself telling employees what to do?

Are you a democratic leader – taking the views of everyone into account? Do you have and use excellent communication skills? Do you allow employees to take initiative? Do you stand back from micro managing and allow employees to take reasonable responsibility?

Are you a paternalistic leader – believing you know what is best for every member of your team? Do you tend to treat your staff like a family and find yourself telling employees what to do?

Are you a laissez-faire leader – hardly interfering at all, but hardly providing direction to your employees?

Leaders Operate At Three Levels

At the Strategic level, leadership is about setting direction and building an inspiring vision. It is about mapping out where you want to go as an organisation and being able to get your people there.

From my research on the subject of transformational leadership as well as my training experiences with different organisations, the most effective leaders are those who are capable of creating an inspiring vision of the future. They provide direction, set priorities, and present an attractive and convincing depiction of where they want their organisation to be in the future. They innovate successfully and are proactive problem solvers.

At the Tactical level, they are concerned with how an organisation is going to achieve its goals, because having a vision alone is not enough. I have found the most effective leaders to be able to motivate and inspire the people they lead. They are skillful in getting their people on board and engaged, keeping their own and their people’s enthusiasm alive, and valuing their people’s unique contribution in this journey.

At the Operational level, they are part of the team. In fact, transformational leaders manage their vision properly. Whether they do it themselves or whether they have a team of dedicated managers, they remain on top of things to see that the vision is delivered successfully. They also manage change effectively, keeping checks and giving individual consideration for their people’s wellbeing.

Transformational leaders keep their employees engaged by developing an incontestable team spirit, by training and coaching them and by creating an organisational climate that keeps their employees there and ensures continued success.

Leadership Characteristics

I have often asked participants in training programmes to describe characteristics of the best leaders they’ve worked for. Inevitably, the list of characteristics always includes: someone to learn from, fair, truthful, caring, able to give praise, good at listening, leads by example, motivational, realistic, trusting, prepared to fight your cause, and principled/committed. I also ask participants for a list of characteristics of bad managers. And this tends to include: unmotivated, taking praise for themselves, not enthusiastic, unapproachable, not caring, inconsistent, and interfering.

One characteristic that I have seen shared by really good leaders is that they find the right balance between being concerned for the task and being concerned for the person. These leaders ensure that tasks are carried out and goals are reached while safeguarding the wellbeing of the team members.

Ethical Leadership

I cannot emphasise enough the point that transformational leaders operate from a healthy, positive and constructive value-base. The need for good leaders to be ethical in their leadership is embedded within the definitions of transformational leadership. In fact, research has become increasingly interested in the ethics of leadership and authentic leadership.

Brown and Trevino in an article for Leadership Quarterly (2006, p.595-616), “Ethical Leadership: A review and future direction”, argue that ethical leadership is defined in terms of: the moral character of the leader (moral person); and, leader behaviour aimed at encouraging the ethical behaviour of followers (moral manager). Ethical leaders are altruistic, make ethical decisions, act as a role model to others and have the personal characteristic of honesty, integrity and trustworthiness.

Without this value base, the characteristics of transformational leadership could become twisted and exploited. Idealised Influence could become manipulation; Inspirational Motivation could be misused leading to dependence and disempowerment; Intellectual Stimulation could become an oppression of independent thought and creativity through the provision of a “line” to be followed; Individualised Consideration could be abused turning followers into a means to an end. Self-interested, weak willed, egoistical and opportunistic leaders risk becoming unethical in their behaviour, putting authentic leadership on the line.

Transformational leaders “walk the talk”; they lead by example, and practice what they preach. This helps their employees trust them and gives leaders the determination they need to push their people forward with excitement and inspiration.

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