The Healthy Effects of Transformational Leadership Theory
Like beauty, real success starts from within. It also starts at the top. Inspired and motivated leaders can put strategic steps in place to encourage their workforce toward greatness. Yet, rather than proclaiming authority and mandating change, they lead by quiet, powerful example. The result? An impact too great for words. Thus is the backbone of transformational leadership theory. Under this approach, employees are driven to perform their personal best because they see their manager doing the same. Along the way, they’re supported by a dynamic company culture, a strong sense of ownership and the autonomy to stretch themselves beyond what they once deemed professionally possible. Today, we’re taking a deeper look at transformational leadership and how you can apply these theories within your own organization. Ready to shake up the status quo in the best way? Read on.
What is Transformational Leadership Theory?
To clearly understand what transformational leadership is, it helps to know what it is not. Transformational leadership is not micro-managing. It doesn’t mean intimidating employees into compliance or threatening them into greatness. It also doesn’t mean looking over their shoulder every five minutes to make sure they’re on track. Rather, transformational leadership means trusting your employees to perform well in the role they’re given. It means using rapport and empathy to engage followers rather than ostracize them. When leaders are focused more on the greater good of the organization rather than individual metrics, they free up their team members to become as creative and innovative as possible. Transformational leadership is also future-focused, with more emphasis on the promise that lies ahead than the mistakes made yesterday. This kind of leader takes a close look at what’s working and what isn’t, and takes important, effective steps to reverse the latter.
Early Origins of the Model
Sociologist James V. Downton first pioneered the concept of transformational leadership in 1973. Five years later, political historian James Burn expanded on the ideals. Then, in 1985, researcher Bernard M. Bass added metrics for tracking the success of a transformational leadership approach. The basic idea at the center of all three iterations? When leaders are authentic, strong and motivated, they will inspire their workforce to follow suit. Over time, these individuals learn from one another and encourage each other to higher levels of morality and innovation. Though nearly five decades have passed since this leadership practice emerged, it’s more applicable now than ever before. Why? In today’s digital era, modern employees are connected with resources, technologies, and opportunities that weren’t around just a few short years ago. This means they have the potential to be more imaginative and productive than workers in years past. This is especially the case in the high-speed tech industry, where a company’s reputation hinges on its agility level alone. As a result, business leaders who hold firmly to the ideals of yesterday and the notion that “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” are losing pace to those who embrace change and welcome new ways of doing things. Transformational leadership isn’t satisfied with the way things are. Instead, these leaders are constantly thinking ahead to what could be.
Transformational vs. Transactional Leadership
Though the two definitions sound similar, there are marked differences between transformational leadership and transactional leadership. A high-level contrast is that transactional leaders prioritize order and structure. They rely on rules and regulations to keep teams in line and fall back on proven standards to maintain a strict, directed work environment. They also rely on a system of rewards and punishments to demonstrate right and wrong actions. Conversely, transformational leadership focuses on influencing over directing. With this approach, leaders willingly throw out known patterns and best practices if they can see they aren’t working anymore. In fact, they’re actively looking for ways to change or improve the system rather than working within it. They welcome organizational variation and any opportunities that will grow their teams’ capacities and capabilities.
Prevalence in the IT Sector
A focus on growth and revitalization means that some of the organizations that stand to benefit the most from transformational leadership are IT companies. Currently, more than 50% claim that outdated systems and technologies have at least a moderate impact on their productivity levels. They need a significant overhaul to embrace digital transformation, stay ahead of the curve, and remain relevant in the marketplace. In many cases, this stress tends to fall squarely on the shoulders of the C-suite. According to Gartner research, 46% of CIOs are responsible for leading digital transformation within their organization and 41% are at the helm of innovation. Transformational leadership can help them thrive in this capacity. How? One of the pillars of planning for digital transformation is inspiring employees to accept the change and embrace the new technologies. While a total tech overhaul can shock a workplace, it can also vastly improve it, and a transformational leader knows how to highlight those benefits.
The Characteristics of a Transformational Leader
Wondering if you have what it takes to become a transformational leader? There are a few traits that set these individuals apart from their peers. This kind of leader is someone who:
- Motivates employees to be their personal best
- Expects employees to be creative
- Has high expectations and provides practical ways to meet them
- Personifies moral standards and encourages them in others
- Cultivates an ethical workplace with clear goals, values, and priorities
- Encourages employees to work for the common good, building company culture
- Emphasizes authenticity, clear communication, and ongoing teamwork
- Trains and mentors others but allows employees to take ownership of their work
How to Inspire Your Workplace With This Approach
Understanding the many benefits of transformational leadership, how can you apply this theory within your own workplace? While many of the skills required to lead in this capacity are inherent (e.g. charisma, empathy), there are others that can be taught and trained. Next, let’s take a look at a few of the steps you can take to apply this leadership style within your own organization.
Recognize Your Core Values
Transformational leaders know their organization’s core values inside and out. They know the mission and vision of the company, as well as the processes it has in place to support them (or lack thereof). In cases where there are systems in place that aren’t working, these leaders know how to step in and rally employees to work together toward positive change. They also know how to leverage what’s going right to maintain forward momentum.
Strengthen Your Three Pillars
Three of the most important characteristics that define a transformational leader include:
Under this theory, they’re considered the three main pillars that influence the actions of a successful leader. Knowing this, where do you stand? To become more empathetic, it’s important to learn as much as possible about your workforce. What are your employees like on an individual level and who are they outside of their job role? A transformational leader will know his or her team members’ goals, backgrounds, needs, and pain points past the point of the surface level. They’ll use this insight to communicate with them in a way that they’ll best receive. They’ll know how to present feedback, request ideas, and motivate them to do their best. Next, consider how inspiring you are. While there are myriad books, courses, and resources designed to teach leaders how to inspire, they all have the same concept at their core: An inspiring leader approaches every scenario with the greater good in mind. As you hone this skill, you’ll naturally encourage your employees to trust you and feel safe following your lead. Finally, let’s talk about charisma. Despite popular belief, you don’t have to be ultra-suave to be an effective leader. You do, however, need to have a personality that draws others to you and inspires them to emulate your best qualities. Not sure how to get there? A few steps to take include:
- Be mentally present in every situation
- Mirror the body language of the person you’re speaking to
- Learn to quell and neutralize negative thought patterns
Embolden Your Company Culture
No one wants to work for a company that doesn’t recognize their efforts and does little to make the office enjoyable. Transformational leaders know that certain perks, benefits, and opportunities can go a long way in establishing a pleasant and productive workplace. They also know how to make each employee feel valued, important, and inspired to work hard. They’re able to praise great work on an individual level while still establishing a collaborative workplace that doesn’t play favorites. They encourage everyone to share ideas, work on new projects, and speak up to spark innovation.
Transform Your View of Traditional Leadership
Author Simon Sinek wrote that true leaders are those who inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more. Transformational leadership theory stands on this exact ground. Real inspiration doesn’t arise overnight. It’s cultivated by thoughtful leaders who take the time to instill confidence and capability in their workforce. Leading in actions rather than words, they set the tone for a successful workplace that follows brilliantly in their footsteps. Are you ready to learn more about what it means to be an effective, transformational leader? We’d love to connect. We offer online and in-person leadership webinars, as well as off-site training experiences that knock down comfort zones and inspire greatness in executives across various industries. Learn more about our opportunities today and start wielding your power in ways you never thought possible.