What is a Transformational Leader?

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"If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader." -John Quincy Adams, 6th U.S. President (1825-29)

Remarkable leaders are not solely defined by impressive PowerPoint presentations or their ability to meet revenue targets. While these are examples of business acumen, they're not going to put someone in the Leadership Hall of Fame. Instead, truly remarkable leaders are best known for their ability to inspire performance from others.


What Does a Great Leader Do?what is a transformational leader and how do I become one?

Great leaders do only three things:

1. Set direction

2. Break down barriers

3. Provide resources

If you're doing more than that, you're in the way. As a leader, you're still responsible for results, but you get things done through people, not by yourself. You are accountable for (and aware of) everything that's going on. But by nature you let go and inspire others to produce results.

Since leadership is about letting go and empowering people, it's also the antithesis of 'doer-ship.' So if your natural instinct is to dive in and fix problems, you're not providing an environment of development and growth for your team.

If you cannot learn to let give up the reigns, leadership might not be for you.

In this next leadership blog series, we're going to discuss Transformational Leadership, a particular approach or style that allows leaders to bring out the best in people and achieves stellar organizational results.

But, before we get started, let's do a quick test. Get out a piece of paper and write down the names of 3-5 inspirational leaders you've worked with during your career.

What characteristics did these people have? How did they inspire you?

  • Was he passionate?
  • Did she challenge you?
  • Was he empathetic?
  • Did she really listen to what you had to say?

Were you able to come up with 3-5 outstanding leaders? Depending on how long you've been in business (and your industry), that could be quite a feat!

If you weren't able to, why do you think that is? The answer is that there is a shortage of 'true leaders' in business today. And one reason is that corporate cultures often encourages different behavior.


Uncharted Territory

Today, many companies are so wrapped up in 'systems' that they forget the 'human' side of business. People are the nucleus of the organizational atom, but most companies no longer have the internal resources to provide coaching and development of people to prepare them for leadership roles.

For many organizations, employee development is more about 'fitness' than it is 'fit.' Perhaps the focus on systems vs. people is just one reason why many in leadership positions are unable to engage, inspire and motivate their people.     

So where are the leadership role models in industry today? And why are we in such uncharted territory?


What is a Transformational Leader?

Take a moment and re-read the Adams quote at the top of the article. Notice that it doesn't say anything about 'managing tasks' or 'doing' or 'working 80 hours a week.' It does, however, talk about inspiring the actions of others.

Transformational leaders share many common competencies. They inspire others by being:

  • Passionate. Transformational leaders are enthusiastic and interested in getting everyone involved and leading by consensus. 
  • Focused on 'fit'. A manager can train, train, train and get nowhere. But when a leader focuses on fit (interest) as well as fitness (skills training), they draw the best out of each team member.  Great leaders help align the passions and interests of their people with the goals and objectives of the organization.  Success is obtained as much through 'interest' as it is about 'skills-development.' When a person is passionate about their work (e.g.,, their interests are aligned with the task), they're motivated and become top performers.
  • Vulnerable. Transformational leaders are self-aware. They display vulnerability and humility and admit to not having all of the answers.
  • Good listeners. They actively listen and encourage individuals to identify solutions to business challenges.
  • Positive. They focus on the good rather than the negative, and lift their teams higher.
  • Risk takers. These leaders know how to create a safe environment in which individuals and teams can share new and untried ideas.
  • Results-oriented.  They never take their eye off of results, as that's the way to keep score and measure success in business. They just get there in a far more effective way.
  • Self-controlled.  They maintain a calmness, which provides stability to their team.
  • Empowering. They encourage their team members 'run with the ball.' They let the organization know what's expected--then get out of the way.
  • Confident. They instill confidence during difficult times and reassurance when tough decisions must be made.
  • Communicators. They keep lines of communication open so that team feels free to share information, perspectives and ways to improve.
  • Supportive. They give recognition to those who contribute to the greater good of the team.
  • Visionary. They provide a clear picture of where the team is headed and help each team member find their role in making the vision happen.
  • Influential. These leaders do what they say they are going to do and create an unshakeable aura of integrity.

Now do a quick self-assessmentman juming over gap in rocks - what is a transformational leader?

To what extent do you reflect these competencies? How would you rate yourself? If you participated in a 360 Assessment around these leadership competencies, how would your team rate you?

Transformational leaders create an environment in which employees flourish. Their people want to come to work. In fact, transformational leaders often find that they have to chase their employees out of the office on Friday afternoons because their employees are so engaged they forget it's time to go. Don't laugh, we see it happen all the time.

Are you a transformational leader? Or do you aspire to become one? Are you ready to 'cross the chasm' from management to leadership? It's hard work, but incredibly rewarding.



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Comments (1)

  1. Phil Stang:
    Mar 05, 2013 at 10:58 PM

    Great article Jim! I will be using this information in an upcoming leadership meeting.

    Many thanks!

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