by Brian Dozer, D. Mgt., MBA, adjunct professor at Brandman University’s School of Extended Education
Transformational leaders are in demand more than ever. The intrinsic qualities of a transformational leader are needed in today’s fast-paced, and often uncertain, world of business. If not already doing so, we recommend assessing which emerging and existing leaders already have these qualities, and which may require some training to develop. It is important to understand what specific benefits this particular style of leadership can bring to your organization and how they can contribute to success.
What is transformational leadership?
Originally developed by James Burns in 1978, transformational leadership inspires employees or followers to focus on the betterment of the organization as a whole instead of just their own self-interest or individual goals. The late Bernard M. Bass described transformational leadership this way: “When leaders broaden and elevate the interests of their employees, when they generate awareness and acceptance of the purpose and mission of the group, and when they stir their employees to look beyond their own self-interest for the good of the group.”1
1. Create a vision that is attractive to employees to motivate and bring them together.
2. “Walk the talk,” lead by example and model the company’s vision to help develop trust.
3. Use symbols and metaphors to communicate using a frame of reference the audience can understand.
4. Build commitment to the vision and shape it with ongoing efforts and consistent communication.
Steve Jobs was a good example of a transformational leader. He rallied people around his vision for the company. As a result, employees and customers aligned with and supported the idea that Apple was all about changing consumers’ lives, not just creating cell phones for profit.
Why is transformational leadership growing in demand?
Despite being more than 30 years old, the field of study and the term itself have gained popularity recently because research verifies transformational leadership produces the following tangible results for organizations:
– Increased productivity and overall organization improvement
– Greater job satisfaction and higher level of employee trust
– Decreased stress, burnout, and turnover rates
– Improved individual and team performance
– Intensified public service motivation and stronger mission attachment in non-profits.
What makes a strong transformational leader?
A strong transformational leader has a positive outlook, provides encouragement, is trustworthy and charismatic and possesses excellent planning and motivation skills. Many transformational leaders are characterized as compassionate, committed to public interest and self-sacrificing. For this reason, transformational leadership is currently a style observed widely in the non-profit and government sectors because transformational leaders are motivated more by intrinsic (emotional, values) rather than tangible (financial, status) factors.
Transformational leadership is a particularly valuable leadership style for start-up or failing companies, when there is a need to keep employees motivated with intrinsic rewards that speak to their emotional needs. Examples could include training to increase job effectiveness and confidence, reassurance that their work is meaningful and contributes to the company’s success, and flexibility in how they work and get the job done. For these reasons, transformational leadership tends to be more effective in smaller companies where the leader can communicate the company’s vision to employees on a more personal basis.
How can organizations foster transformational leadership?
There are several ways to implement transformational leadership practices in a company. Principals and skills may be taught to emerging and existing leaders through formal training or mentoring programs. The organization can also proactively recruit for individuals with transformational leadership qualities and characteristics or assess, as part of the recruitment and selection process, whether the candidate has the capability to become a transformational leader.
The subject of transformational leadership has been a topic in general higher education leadership courses for years. Today, more universities offer courses that, specifically, teach transformational leadership principles and practices, as well as present and curate research that reflects the positive impact of this leadership style on organizations.
Have you been positively impacted by a transformational leader? Are you ready to make a difference in your organization through transformational leadership? Start by understanding the fundamentals of transformational leadership practice, and embodying the intrinsic characteristics needed to motivate and engage your team.
1Source: Bass, B. (1990). From transactional to transformational leadership: Learning to share the vision. Organizational Dynamics, 18 (3), p. 21.
With more than 15 years of experience in professional management and leadership positions, Brian Dozer, adjunct professor at Brandman University’s School of Extended Education, now teaches undergraduate and graduate students management, leadership and organizational behavior disciplines.