This article describes the Transformational Leadership theory in a practical way. After reading you will understand the basics of this powerful leadership tool.
What is Transformational Leadership?
Nobody is able to predict the future. Which explains why changes can be met with great uncertainty. Organisations are continually faced with making changes. Changes are fast and usually find their cause in innovation, technology and economy. The structure of an organisation changes as a result, the use of resources such as ICT and telephony and the organisational culture. This kind of change is also referred to as transformation. Change not only demands a lot from the organisation, but from its employees as well. In order for transformation to remain on the right track, proper leadership is also important.
Transformational Leadership focuses on a different way of leading, which is needed in a changing organisation. Individual attention and individual talents of employees is crucial so that organisations can benefit from it. Every person is eager to learn, but employees also need the space and chance to start with. The use of Transformational Leadership creates that space.
It’s all about trust
Change also includes learning new behaviour and unlearning old behaviour. It is difficult for employees to achieve this without being well supported and coached.
Transformational Leadership guides employees, giving them the confidence and encouragement to adapt to change. They gain insight into the fact that change and new knowledge will ultimately yield added value. Transformational Leadership is focused on providing trust.
A transformational leader guides his employees, engages with them, encourages them and motives them in personal development so that they are able to get the best out of themselves. In addition, employees desire certainty and security. To provide more guidance, Transformational Leadership focuses on employees across all levels of the organisation, preparing them for change and empowering them in the process.
Transformational Leadership concentrates on three pillars; to convey inspiration and vision to employees, individual attention and offering an intellectual challenge.
Transformational Leadership surmises that employees’ motivation is not only derived from external factors such as salary and good working conditions, but intrinsic factors as well such as appreciation and practising responsibility.
A transformational leader is therefore able to focus on standards, values, needs and capacities and is also able positively enforce them. It involves personal and individual contact and increasing employee capabilities. By knowing what employees want and what their ambitions are, a transformational leader can guide them in the right direction.
Nature of the organisation
Transformational Leadership is not about thinking differently, but about an alternative way of looking at a situation. Transformation already indicates that the nature of the organisation has to change.
This requires action and change in the deeply rooted organisational culture, including values, norms, procedures, structures, systems and processes. Transformational Leadership is therefore proactive, whereby managers take responsibility at every level.
The traditional transactional leadership can continue to exist in the form of tasks and assignments given to employees by managers. However, there is the risk they do not account for their actions and that they are fully or partially focused on the system of reward. The realisation that they can deliver added value is sparked by transformational leadership. Trust gives an additional dimension, but respect, solidarity, equality, patience and synergy also become key factors.
The transformational leader is expected to converse with employees, listen well and be open to the ambitions of each individual. There are a number of points of interest that come into play:
- Open system; there is a kind of solidarity within the organisation, a collective dynamic and synergy between technology and employees.
- Mutual influence; different disciplines work together instead of being dependent of each other.
- Tolerance; within the organisation, one is open to (im)possibilities, self-organising processes and creative ideas and solutions.
- Willingness; one has to be open to trying out new things and to listen to each other.
- Coaching; everyone (including executives) within the organisation must be prepared to develop on a personal level.
Transformational Leadership has a number of attributes that are well-suited to a changing environment, enabling employees to get the best out of themselves.
A transformation leader:
- has charisma
- empowers employees and motivates people through inspiration instead of persuasiveness
- challenges employees at an intellectual level
- understands the collective strength of a team
- pays attention to individual employees
- uses narratives, metaphors and symbols
- is goal oriented
- views decision making from an ethical point of view, not just an economical standpoint
- acts out of compassion and is patient
Practical example of Transformational Leadership
A large food company has chosen to merge with an American company in the same industry. A major change that will not only include a larger product portfolio, but a change in language from Dutch to English and increased travel for all employees. According to traditional transactional management, this would be announced by management, but whether or not all employees support the decision is the next question. However, by applying Transformational Leadership in all layers of the organisation, a cultural change can also be made.
All executives will meet with their employees; these can be private conversations but also group discussions in the form of consultation. This creates a high degree of involvement and mutual trust. Employees can exert direct influence and indicate how they see certain changes themselves and contribute to the decisions that are made. As a result, increasing their loyalty.
Additionally, it is the transformational leader’s task to have their employees realise the importance of writing and speaking English. Employees will therefore be asked how they wish to go about this and how they wish to improve themselves. They may be required to follow an English language course, but looking at it from an employee perspective, there is more motivation in improving skills and developing oneself professionally. When their needs match the shared objectives of the company, they will be better able to identify themselves and jointly shape the culture within the new organisation. It is the transformational leader’s task to steer and evaluate this process.
Comparison to situational leadership
A link is often made to Situational Leadership. However, there is a difference. It’s never hard to find a link between different leadership styles, simply because of the fact that these types of theories tend to be based on each other. Where transformational leadership mostly focuses on a different style of leadership in an organisation going through changes, such as a merger, downsizing or reorganisation, Situational Leadership is more about three factors that play an important role.
In 1976, Paul Hersey and Kenneth Blanchard developed this form of leadership. It is about the support by the leader (relationship-oriented), the directing by the leader (task-oriented) and the employee’s independence (task maturity). It’s about the trust the leader gives to his employees as well; that’s where the parallel can be drawn with transformational leadership. However, in the case of situational leadership, the leader can choose from 4 leadership styles: instructing/ directing, convincing/ supporting, participating/ discussing and delegating. The situation is the deciding factor, regardless if the organisation is going through a change or not.
It’s Your Turn
What do you think? Is Transformational Leadership applicable in today’s modern management world? Do you recognize the practical explanation or do you have more additions? What are your success factors for good leadership during organizational change?
Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.
- Bass, B. M., & Avolio, B. J. (1994). Improving organizational effectiveness through transformational leadership. Sage.
- Conger, J. A. (1999). Charismatic and transformational leadership in organizations: An insider’s perspective on these developing streams of research. The Leadership Quarterly, 10(2), 145-179.
- Dvir, T., Eden, D., Avolio, B. J., & Shamir, B. (2002). Impact of transformational leadership on follower development and performance: A field experiment. Academy of management journal, 45(4), 735-744.
- Tichy, N. M., & Devanna, M. A. (1986). The transformational leader. Wiley.
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