Transformational Leadership

Defining Transformational Leadership

Transformational leadership is the style of leadership a manager uses when he or she wants a group to push the boundaries and perform beyond the status quo or achieve an entirely new set of organizational goals. When Lee Iacocca took the helm of the Chrysler Corporation, his vision and use of transformational leadership were integral to the renewed success of the American automobile company in the face of the almost uncheckable Japanese car industry of the early 1980s.

Plain English : transformational leader is a leader who is capable of bringing about change in individuals and entire organizations, often helping troubled organizations turn around their performance.

Qualities of the Transformational Leader

The qualities of a transformational leader include the following:

  • Charisma.  
    A transformational leader is one who has a clear vision for the organization and is able to easily communicate that vision to group members. For example, a transformational leader can easily detect what is most important to individuals and to the organization as a whole.
  • Confidence.  
    A transformational leader has a good business sense and is able to see what decisions will positively affect the organization. This gives the leader the ability to act confidently, inspiring trust in team members.
  • Respect and loyalty.  
    A transformational leader inspires respect and loyalty in individuals by taking the time to let them know they are important.
  • Expressive praise.  
    A transformational leader is often expressive in praising individuals and the team on a job well done. Letting them know how much they contributed to one success will steel them for future challenges.
  • Inspiration.  
    A transformational leader is a master at helping people do something they weren’t sure they were capable of doing. The leader achieves this through praise and encouraging statements.Working Toward TransformationNo matter how charismatic or innovative the leader, transformation of an entire organization, or even a unit, does not happen quickly. Most transformations involve changing the corporate culture—often from one of stale clock-watching and low risk to one of innovation, moderate risk, and competition. Plain English: Corporate culture is defined as the average and accepted behavior, atmosphere, values, attitudes, dress, business practices, and philosophy in a given organization. Even if you aren’t working for a large corporation, you’ll recognize that cultures exist wherever people work together in teams.Changing how a large group of individuals works and thinks is not an easy task. Calling a meeting and telling the organization en masse that they are expected to change will not work. To change the entire organization, a transformational leader must start with the building blocks of the organization: the individual contributors.Individualized AttentionYou have your vision for the future of your group, and your employees are aware of that vision. But no matter how lofty the goal, no matter how big the envisioned win, pep-rally-style speeches often do little to motivate the individual. This is because the individual is often motivated to change only when it is for the greater good of self, not for the greater good of the group. A transformational leader must evaluate the individual contributors in the organization and discover how to motivate them by playing on their sense of self-interest. This does not mean that if you employ 2,000 people that you need to sit down with each of them and find out how to light a fire in them. However, you could meet with a representative sampling of those individuals. Also, if you do employ 2,000 people, chances are that you have some intermediate-level managers who could also use some motivation. The philosophy that you pass on to your direct reports will trickle down to their direct reports.Looking Beyond “Me”Once you discover how to motivate your group by appealing to their self-interest, try to communicate to them what effect their work has on the entire organization. Often, when a person realizes that his or her position really does make a difference, he or she will find a new respect for his or her place in the organization. Individuals will then be working for the benefit of themselves as well as the benefit of the organization.Motivating Groups
    Figuring out the individuals who make up your unit is only half the battle. The successful transformational leader must also learn how to communicate to groups within the organization his or her vision and the need for change. Danielle is responsible for running a chain of high-end bakeries. New to the job, she wants to turn the organization around and beat its only competitor. Although she recognizes that the individuals working at each store know their jobs well and have years of experience in the business, she wants to reinvigorate the group and get them to commit to new organizational goals that will position the company better in the increasingly competitive market. Danielle is familiar with the individuals in her group, but now she must turn to some tactics that will help the group pull together as a team and bring about organizational change.To do so, a leader can try the following motivators:
    • Rewards.  
      A leader can raise the group’s awareness of rewards for bringing about positive change. For example, if you have a formalized reward system, such as merit bonuses, make sure your employees are aware of the policy. Also, you might make it clear to the group that their success will contribute to a larger win for the organization, which could result in increased business. Increased business, in turn, would come back to the employees in the form of increased prosperity.
    • Urgency.  
      An integral step in bringing about organizational change is helping your group recognize the sense of urgency for creating that change. A leader might say that if the organization does not change now, it may be too late in the future. For example, most companies in the mid-1990s needed to start paying attention to the Internet and how their businesses would integrate the Internet into their way of relating to the customer. Even companies that have nothing to do with media or communications have developed a strategy for embracing the Internet.
    • Excitement.  
      To bring about organizational change, a transformational leader must also discover a way to get people excited about being part of a sweeping organizational change—for example, helping the group to understand that their efforts will bring about an industry innovation.