Defining Leadership

Transformational Leadership: Inspiring to Change

Akhil Shahani asked:

Say the word “leader” and most of us envision a knight-like figure charging headlong, inspiring his troops and generally leading from the front. That’s the dramatized version of a special type of leadership called “Transformational Leadership”. Transformational leadership is probably the ideal interpretation of leadership, and the most romanticized. Leaders of this kind are visionaries, full of enthusiasm and boundless energy and seek to transform their subordinates in the process of achieving organizational goals. How do you recognize or become one? Find out, right here, right now.

What does he believe in?

A transformational leader believes that passion and vision are prerequisites for a leader trying to inspire others. Not only that, a leader can get his followers to buy into his vision, only if he generates sufficient enthusiasm in them by displaying the same energy and enthusiasm himself.

How does he translate his beliefs into action?

The first and most important component of transformational leadership is a clearly defined vision, which the leader or senior management team is totally committed to. Mouthing mere platitudes will not work, and will fool no one. Belief has to start right at the top for it to go all the way down.

Then there’s the all important process of actually securing buy-in from all the participants. That’s easier said than done. Since transformational leadership by definition seeks to change, it’s never easy to implement. Some leaders might have radical views which will not go down well, especially if there’s an “old guard” in place. The only way to succeed is to persist till the idea is finally sold. Again, it rarely ends with a single idea, so transformational leadership is essentially a continuous process.

If you think this is pretty much a one-man show, nothing could be further from the truth. Transformational leadership certainly starts with the leader’s vision, but delivering it is very much a team activity. In fact, transformational leaders tend to empower others rather than overpower them. This implies that they repose a great deal of trust and confidence in their team members. Quite often, the leader will not have chalked out a detailed strategy for implementation, and that’s where he will rely on his support staff. Indeed, some transformational leaders focus so much on the larger picture that they forget that the devil lies in the details!

Practitioners of transformational leadership will always lead from the front, and enjoy being in the thick of battle. They come into their own in such situations, always inspiring and never letting group morale flag.

What are his tools of trade?

There’s always a method to everything and transformational leadership is no exception.

Since change is of essence, and also includes the transformation of followers, the transformational leader uses certain “tricks” to achieve his goals. The leader will seek to change attitudes or behavior by creating a strong sense of ownership among employees for the change and its results. By getting the team to identify with the goals, he makes it easier to secure buy-in. A transformational leader will therefore appeal to the emotional side of his staff and play on their values, strengths and attributes.

He also makes a big deal of seemingly small successes – whether it’s a letter of approbation or public praise, the transformational leader will not skimp on giving appreciation where it’s due. Resources provide greater insight on this subject.

Where’s the catch?

Yes, of course there are some. Since transformational leadership feeds on change, it may not work in a situation where things are pretty much in order. After all, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – and this can be quite frustrating from the leader’s point of view. Also, not everyone can sustain the high energy levels expected, and may give up or worse, opt out. And most important, just because the leader believes passionately in something doesn’t necessarily mean that it is right for the organization. While transformational leadership can help create a trailblazing path, it could also plunge a business headlong into disaster.

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