What does it take to become a real transformational leader?

Transformational leadership has been highlighted as the behavior indicative of friendship, mutual trust, respect and warmth. While James MacGregor Burns initially developed transformational leadership, this concept has been further developed by scholars and will continue to evolve.

The key to transformational leadership is based upon satisfying basic needs and verbalizing feelings of admiration, respect and trust toward oneself to meet higher desires through inspiring followers to provide newer solutions and create a better workplace. Sure, there are critics of this leadership style, but do not let that stop you from implementing it and learning how to master it.

Transformational leadership unfolds results in organizations, influencing employees’ individual interests to align with institutional interests, and through inspiring followers to create new ideas and innovation for effective business outcomes. In fact, a transformational leader treats human capital as an individual quality and becomes a role model who is trusted, admired and respected by followers.

Executives can be made into leaders and leaders can become better at what they do by using the four techniques of transformational leadership. These four techniques include: 

  1. Idealized influence;
  2. Individualized consideration;
  3. Intellectual stimulation; and
  4. Inspirational motivation.

Executives can use idealized influence when aiming to develop a shared vision and improve relationships with followers. In using this technique, executives need to take the following actions:

  1. Instill pride in organizational members for being associated with them;
  2. Display a sense of power and confidence;
  3. Go beyond self-interest for the good of the organization;
  4. Talk about their most important values and beliefs; 
  5. Consider the moral and ethical consequences of decisions; and 
  6. Emphasize the importance of having a collective sense of mission.

Executives can use individualized consideration when they would like to concentrate on identifying an employee’s individual needs and empower followers in order to build a learning climate and mobilize follower support and trust toward the goals and objectives at the senior organizational level. In applying this technique, executives need to take the following actions:

  1. Spend time coaching others;
  2. Consider employees as having different needs, abilities, and aspirations from others; and
  3. Help organizational members to develop their strengths, and provide various formal training programs to improve the performance of duties.

Executives can use intellectual stimulation to propel knowledge sharing in the company to generate more innovative ideas and solutions for new and demanding issues that come up constantly in our hypercompetitive economic environment. In doing this technique, executives need to take the following actions:

  1. Emphasis on the effective coordination among different functional areas, and seek differing perspectives when solving problems; and    
  2. Suggest new ways of looking at how to complete assignments, and undertake a comprehensive analysis when confront with an important decision.

Executives can use inspirational motivation to focus on inspiring people and not just treat them as human assets. This sets a higher level of desired expectations for them. In applying this technique, executives need to take the following actions:

  1. Talk optimistically about the future;
  2. Talk enthusiastically about what needs to be accomplished; and
  3. Express confidence that the goals will be achieved.

The four techniques of transformational leadership mentioned above, when carried out correctly, can present a set of practices for an effective leadership. These four techniques of transformational leadership represent how an effective leader working in today’s knowledge-based economy can develop and manage intellectual capital in corporations. There are some differences between transformational leadership and trait theory. The researchers associated with trait theory believed that a great man or great leader, man or woman, was born to lead and not made into a leader. In contrast, followers can be made into leaders and leaders can become better at what they do by using the four techniques of transformational leadership. Therefore, the great man/woman at the topmost levels of organizations can prosper and excel by simply applying the techniques of transformational leadership.

One example of a transformational leader in a highly competitive environment was Steve Jobs, former leader of Apple, who built a highly effective organization through taking a change-oriented leadership approach, which highly manifested itself in talent development, organizational structure and inspiring vision for the future. Jobs generated a shared and inspiring vision for the future expansion into global markets. Also, he built a learning climate through identifying intellectual capital and empowering it. Most importantly, Jobs transformed Apple by attempting to change the basic values, beliefs and attitudes of followers so that they were willing to perform beyond their previous or originally level specified by Apple in their job descriptions. He also contributed to new products and services to meet dynamic market needs, through inspirational motivation and higher expectations for new and strategic opportunities to meet the needs of customers in the marketplace.   

Mostafa Sayyadi is a Senior Management Consultant and Former Leadership Team Member of San Diego-based The Change Leader Consulting Inc. He is a Associate Fellow of the Australian Institute of Management, a Book Author and Business and Technology Journalist.   

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