08 Mar Leading Effectively: Why Transformational Leadership Is The Way To Go
“The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.”
– Kenneth Blanchard, American Author and Management Guru.
Most of us would acknowledge that the core of successful parenting lies in reasoning with and winning over the child rather than exerting authority and force. Corporate leadership is not very different from parenting in this respect – effective leaders are those who are able to instil confidence and loyalty in their followers. And this can be best achieved through transformational leadership – a leadership style that is fast gaining popularity and credence among successful leaders world over.
Transformational Leadership vs Transactional Leadership
Transactional leadership is predicated on the idea of rewards, punishments and reinforcement. A transactional leader will offer you perks for performing well and penalize you for not meeting the set benchmarks. A transformational leader on the other hand will inspire you to perform well, help you see the benefits of doing so, and aid you in finding the tools and developing the skills you need to get there. A transformational leader drives her followers to perform by mobilizing them, motivating them and empowering them. This brand of governance is based on the premise that leadership begets better results when the followers are influenced to act, rather than merely instructed to act.
Simply put, transformational leadership is exactly what it sounds like – its effectiveness lies in its ability to transform the follower.
The four ‘I’s of Transformational Leadership
Transformational leadership has four core elements:
Ask yourself: Do you know every member of your team on an individual basis? Do you know what their strengths and failings are? Do you know how to best motivate each of them?
Many authoritative leaders look at their team as a unit that they have command over. They fail to recognize that the unit is made up of individuals, each of whom brings unique talents, weaknesses and ideas to the table. A transformational leader strives to connect individually with each of her followers and has a one on one equation with every member of her team. She ensures that every team member is valued and recognized for their contribution and is individually motivated to perform.
Ask yourself: Are you the person you want your employees to be? Do you practise the values that you preach to your team? Are you a good role model?
Transformational leaders lead from the front. They don’t tell you how it is done, they show you by setting an example. Which means there are no separate set of rules for the boss and her employees. Every organization has a set of values that it wishes for its employees to imbibe, and there is no better way to accomplish this, than by practising these values yourself. This is also one of the reasons why transformational leaders command respect – they make such fantastic role models for their team mates.
Ask yourself: How do you push your employees to achieve their (and your) goals? Do you offer incentives or use penalties as motivational strategies? Do you rely on your vision for your organization and your connect with your employees to induce them to perform better?
Transformational leaders develop charismatic and compelling personalities and use these to their benefit when it comes to motivating their followers. The power of having a goal and feeling inspired to achieve it can outlast most incentives and push employees to go that extra mile in seeking out innovative solutions. Transformational leaders achieve this by encouraging their team to take ownership for their work and their ideas. They share their vision with the team and strive to involve them in making decisions where possible. Most importantly, they encourage every follower to be a leader, to call the shots and be accountable for their decisions.
Ask yourself: Do you set stringent guidelines for your employees? Do you provide tailor-made solutions for problem situations? Do you give your employees space and freedom to explore creative solutions and encourage out-of-the-box thinking?
Transactional leaders tend to be rigid in their need for structure and predictability. They want their employees to act on a set of directives issued by them, and in their books, performance is not linked to innovation or creativity. The problem with this approach is twofold: firstly, lack of intellectual stimulation is likely to lead to an early burnout for your employees. And secondly, your company (or even your department) may just about manage to stay afloat, but without constant innovation and reinvention at every level, it is highly unlikely that you will beat your competitors. A transformational leader aims to build an intellectually stimulated, proactive team, with members that challenge themselves and learn with every opportunity.
It is not easy to apply the principles of transformational leadership, not least because it is counter intuitive and logical in equal measures. Sure, everyone would like to be (and have) the kind of leader that inspires their team to think, innovate and be proactive. That being said, such leadership also requires an immense leap of faith – it means trusting your team with creative independence, taking risks, allowing them the space to make mistakes and learn from them. It means not laying down the law and doing away with stifling rules and regulations wherever possible. It means building a team of leaders rather than managing a team of followers.
Does the idea of transformational leadership sound too idealistic to you? Do you find yourself wondering if it is practical, practicable and viable in today’s competitive corporate environment? Perhaps you believe it will not fit into your organization’s work culture?
Some of the biggest brands and most successful businesses today are products of transformational leadership. And not without good reason – the more inclusive and democratic an organization’s leadership, the more productive and loyal its employees and the better its performance.
Transforming your Leadership Style
What can you do to make a conscious shift in the way you lead? How can you shape yourself into a transformational leader? Well, here are a few tips to start you off:
Listen. Don’t compromise on communication in the name of hierarchy. Many of us make this mistake without fully realizing it: we build this aura of inaccessibility around us to reinforce the fact that we are in command. Listen to what your team members have to say, be receptive to their needs and ideas.
Be a good role model. Be aware of the image you are projecting to your employees. There is no better way to build a positive organizational culture than to set a good example for your peers and employees. Lead from the front, be honest and respectful, take ownership for your ideas and decisions.
Try not to micromanage. Help your employees develop the skill sets they need to tackle a situation or a task. And then try to let them do it in their own way. Give feedback, if things spin out of control, step in. But getting into the nitty-gritty of someone else’s job is counterproductive, a waste of your and their time and most importantly, it undermines your confidence in their abilities.
Get to know your team. This might present a challenge where the teams are too large, but it is crucial to know at least your immediate reportees on a one on one basis. Build an equation with each of them, know their strengths and weaknesses, what parts of their work they enjoy and what they are good at.
Share your vision with your team. Help them understand what your goals are and why they are important to you, the team and the organization. Work with them to understand what their personal goals are and brainstorm about how they can be aligned with those of the team and the organization.
Be inclusive in your approach. Nothing says rigid leadership more than an autocratic boss who doesn’t include her team in planning or decision making. Talk to your team about your decisions, ask for opinions even if you may choose not to act upon them. Organize sessions to brainstorm about the best way to solve problems.
Encourage creativity and innovation. If you want your company’s success to be long lasting, you must build a creative and inspired work force. Plan creativity initiatives, brainstorm for new ideas and solutions and give credit for ingenuity where it is due.
Use recognition along with rewards to motivate. It is not always viable to do away with incentives or penalties, because in many cases these are effective drivers for performance. But pairing rewards with recognition can go a long way in sustaining an employee’s motivation levels and inspiring them to reach greater heights.
No words can capture the essence of transformational leadership like those of American author and political activist Ralph Nader – “The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.”
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