Transformational leadership

Transformational Leadership 101: A Quick Overview

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Transformational leadership is a must for anyone who truly wants to make an impact in their field and lead change in their organization.

While some may view the term as a buzzword, it actually has its roots in a theory of leadership known as the Full Range Leadership Model


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In this post, we’ll learn more about this model, how it is applied in business, and why transformational leadership is so important in today’s business world.

What Is Transformational Leadership?

Transformational leadership is a leadership style that focuses on the development of thee organization, as well as the achievement of short-term goals.  

A transformational leader is likely to motivate those around them by providing direction, inspiration, and transcendence.  

In order to drive change, transformational leaders must be able to:

  • Connect with and engage employees
  • Inspire action and minimize employee resistance
  • Develop a vision for change
  • Focus on the long-term growth of the organization
  • Embody the change they are trying to achieve

Transformational leaders, in short, are those that drive transformative action in their organizations or fields. And, as mentioned, this term stems from the Full Range Leadership Model, a theory that proposes a spectrum of leadership styles.

There are two other styles of leadership in that model – transactional leadership and laissez faire leadership.

Transactional leadership focuses on short-term performance, accountability, rewards, penalties, and other methods that maintain operational efficiency. This leadership style is useful in situations where performance matters more than innovation, such as during emergencies, crises, or in certain business units.

Laissez faire leadership, the lowest leadership style on the spectrum, tends to avoid active direction of subordinates. This leadership style is useful for teams or organizations that offer a greater level of self-reliance and autonomy, such as flat organizations.

Transformational Leadership and Organizational Change

Organizational change depends on having transformational leaders – in fact, many change models emphasize the importance of having engaged, forward-thinking leaders, such as the Kotter change model. This model, for instance, emphasizes the need for leaders to have and communicate a vision for change, both points which are also emphasized by transformational leadership theory.

In other words, to drive successful business transformation, transformational leaders must:

  • Envision that change
  • Communicate the proposed change to employees
  • Actively engage with and lead the change project
  • Lead by example

Research has actually shown that the success of organizational changes often depends on a project’s leadership. More engaged change management sponsorship naturally improves the outcomes of change projects, while disengaged leadership has the opposite effect.

How to Become a Transformational Leader

In today’s fast-paced world, it is important to have leaders who are willing to step up and drive change. 

Not everyone can or should be a change leader, of course. In any organization, there is limited room for change leaders – everyone else must provide support, which often requires other leadership styles.

That being said, many organizations simply aren’t adapting fast enough, so it is a good idea to have leaders who are willing to step up and drive change.

A different model of leadership, as outlined in a Harvard Business Review article, offers some insight into the traits needed by innovative leaders, as well as the stages of growth that leaders go through. 

According to that model, there are seven types of leaders:

  • Opportunists win by any means necessary and tend to focus mostly on themselves
  • Diplomats steer clear of conflict and can help maintain cohesion in the workplace
  • Experts are focused on efficiency and logic, making them useful contributors to the team
  • Achievers balance the needs of the market against their managerial aims
  • Individualists develop their own unique approach to combining strategy and performance
  • Strategists drive organizational and personal transformation, making them good transformational leaders
  • Alchemists drive social transformation by integrating material, spiritual, and social transformation

Knowing these stages is only the first step – after all, it is not merely enough to “wish” to become a transformational leader, one must actually put in the legwork.

Next Steps

Once one has mapped out the desired qualities and attributes needed, such as those listed in the previous section, it is necessary to create a plan of action. Not only is it important to focus on obtaining more responsibility in the workplace, it is just as important to continually improve.

Those who want to improve their leadership capabilities can take several actions, such as:

  • Attending leadership and development courses
  • Obtaining certifications in one’s area of specialty
  • Proactively climbing the ladder at one’s organization
  • Seeking out more responsibility on the job
  • Proposing change projects and proposing to lead that change
  • Extending beyond one’s comfort zone
  • Learning new skills and abilities that would enhance one’s leadership ability

In short, leadership depends on one’s own attainments and abilities. 

To become a better leader, it is necessary to actually develop oneself, gain more skills, and adopt more personal responsibility. Leadership – and everything that goes with it – will naturally flow from these types of actions. As we move into the post-COVID next normal, transformational leadership will become more and more crucial, so those who choose to go this route will play defining roles in tomorrow’s digital-first economy.

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