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What is Transformational Leadership

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Posted by Rick Lepsinger April 25, 2019

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Today’s workplace is a diverse and heterogeneous environment that poses many challenges for leaders. While connecting with individual employees is important, leaders must also find and use the appropriate levers to inspire and motivate them as a group.

The transformational leadership model provides an effective means of reaching diverse groups of employees. By focusing on big-picture organizational goals that help define what a company is about and what it hopes to accomplish, transformational leaders can give these groups a greater sense of purpose that cuts across differences and unites them in the pursuit of a common goal.

Transformational Leadership in Action

At its core, transformational leadership is about using inspirational motivation to help others to focus on a greater goal within an organization. Effective leaders both encourage and enable people to do more than they thought they could, which helps build unity and commitment. Transformational leadership is forward-looking, keeping the organization fluid enough to adapt to changing circumstances while still pursuing its larger objectives.

Unlike the more operational-focused transactional leadership, which focuses on day-to-day operations and deals with short-term goals, transformational leaders adopt a more macro-oriented perspective. Rather than asking how to best manage routine tasks, transformational leadership seeks to establish an overarching vision for a company. It is concerned with values and identity, taking a holistic view of everything an organization does and developing a plan for getting to where it wants to be.

There is a tendency for many current and aspiring leaders to view transformational leadership as something practiced by only a rare few with the innate talent and characteristics for inspiring behavior. Fortunately, this is a misconception. Transformational leadership characteristics are distinct skills that can be learned and developed over time.

4 Transformational Leadership Characteristics

1: Finding a Calling

This is the visionary or aspirational aspect of the transformational leadership model. Where does the organization want to be in five years? How is it going to get there? The answers to these questions don’t have to be massively ambitious. Even a small company making the decision to go paperless could be an example of how transformational leaders find a calling to pursue. What’s important is that a clear change goal is established along with a road map for how to execute that change.

2: Using Charisma

While charisma is generally associated with flashy displays of leadership, transformational leadership doesn’t need to have people standing on tables giving rousing speeches to be effective. Charisma in this sense merely refers to the ability to connect with people and get them to buy-in to a vision. Transformational leadership helps to create excitement and enthusiasm by enlisting people to take part in something important and valuable both to them and to the organization. Ideally, these appeals should align with their values and personal goals, increasing their willingness to deliver.

3: Challenging Teams

Change can be difficult, especially when organizations are facing pressures and uncertainties from many directions. Transformational leaders both encourage and prepare employees to face these challenges and deal with them effectively. The transformational leadership model encourages critical thinking skills, honing in on the issues that matter and gathering relevant data to make better-informed decisions. Leaders should consider what hidden biases shape their opinions and make sure they’re relying on fact rather than preconceived assumptions. Team members must also be challenged to rethink what they can accomplish, whether that means redefining their existing roles or taking on new tasks to meet expectations.

4: Caring For People

As transformational leadership pushes people outside their comfort zones, leaders need to be able to empathize with their teams and advocate for them. Instilling a sense of resiliency is critically important for successful transformational leadership. Change is not only disruptive and unsettling, but it can also result in disappointing setbacks and unexpected problems. Preparing people to confront them and providing the support they need to succeed can help transformational leaders let their teams know that they are committed to their success.

Transformational Versus Transactional Leadership

Although the transformational leadership model emphasizes long-term vision and goals, it’s important for leaders to remember that day-to-day operational needs are every bit as important to manage effectively. There is a tendency for many organizations to make a distinction between “leading” and “managing,” but this separation is misleading. To be effective, companies need their “people managers” to do both.

Planning and monitoring are often considered managerial tasks, but leaders must perform these tasks in order to implement whatever vision they have in mind for the company’s future. Looking ahead is important but they must also focus on the everyday operational behaviors that “keep the lights on”. Neglecting short-term goals will undermine an organization’s progress, making it difficult, if not impossible, for it to follow through on its transformational initiatives.

In today’s dynamic economy, organizations across multiple industries need transformational leadership if they’re going to find sustained success. By ensuring leaders develop and use the four transformational leadership characteristics while also keeping an eye on day-to-day transactional needs, companies can continuously reinvent themselves to meet the challenges of both the present and the future.

To learn more about how transformational leadership can impact an organization, tune in to OnPoint Consulting’s Rick Lepsinger’s recent interview with Jim Blasingame.

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Topics: transformational leaders

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