How to identify transformational leadership?

A team of 5 individuals with their pc sharing information about transformational leadership

“Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you help them to become what they are capable of being.”
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

Imagine this situation. You went camping to the mountain with several friends and, somehow, you all got off-roads. The night is falling and it appears like there would be no moon. After checking with everyone, you find out nobody has a lantern or a source of light. How can transformational leadership help in this situation?

To answer that question, let’s explore what a leader is and their role within a group. Then, we can move on to exploring the main traits of a transformational leader. But, more importantly, we’ll talk about its role in getting the best out of the team.

Leadership is more about supporting others than being the boss giving out orders here and there. When looking for the origins of the word leader, we can understand its essence. The Online Etymology Dictionary tells the following about the term:

“to guide,” Old English lædan (transitive):
– cause to go with oneself; 
– march at the head of, go before as a guide, accompany and show the way; 
– carry on; 
– sprout forth, bring forth; 
– pass (one’s life).

This is very insightful. It confirms that a leader is someone who steps back from the spotlight to serve as a guiding light for the team. A leader, thus, won’t seek attention but help others to become the protagonist of its own story.

Following this idea, a leader encourages the team to invest themselves in a shared vision. He or she identifies their strengths and treats them accordingly so they can shine.

Transformational leadership: 4 key elements

This sounds like a leader is like transformational leadership. Perhaps, its confusion with terms such as boss or manager paves the way to the rise of a new term. One that encompasses the original meaning.

In other words, a leader is someone who knows who they are. It is someone aware of their talents and gifts. This provides a sense of safety, trust, and credibility. This person has a clear mission and values, which helps them to lead from within.

In any case, following Bernard Bass’s ideas in his Leadership and Performance Beyond Expectations on what a transformational leader is, we can say that they bring the following to the team:

  • Genuine influence (what bass calls “idealized influence”)
  • Inspirational motivation
  • Individualized consideration
  • Intellectual stimulation. 

Let’s see what each of these means.

Genuine influence

We tend to get inspired by those who put a lot of effort into doing something. But not anything as it must have meaning to us or, at least, we have to feel empathy towards it. It is easier for us to follow someone who asks for help when struggling in a given situation. In contrast, we take some distance from those giving orders not to get involved or “talk the talk and walk the walk”.

Inspirational motivation

Human beings are more emotional than rational. That’s why we follow those who put passion and commitment into their doings. An enthusiastic individual is prone to motivating a team. They influence them to follow a given vision. In comparison, someone performing their tasks with boredom will influence nobody.

Individualized consideration

A leader is not the boss, but that individual paying attention to everyone’s strengths, a talent development facilitator. He or she makes an effort to figure out how to put those strengths to work for a shared vision. As a result, the project at hand is completed, and both the leader and the followers grow together.

Intellectual stimulation

When facing an issue, a team leader would ask members to come up with ideas to solve them. They would step back and ask for creative and innovative solutions. This creates an atmosphere of openness and a chance to feel part of something bigger, to belong.

What a transformational leader would do

Now that we have covered a bit on leadership, let’s go back to the example we shared at the beginning. In this tough situation, a transformational leader would:

  1. Share a plan to improve the situation such as looking for dry wood in the surroundings to start a fire. This leader would take the first step to achieve this goal. At the same time, they would explain to the team how to identify suitable logs. This would lead to genuine influence.
  2. Explain their vision on how they would overcome the issue as a team. They would also give hope and confidence to everyone. Thus, sharing an inspirational motivation with the team.
  3. Pay attention to everyone’s reactions and try to cast away their fears. In this process, they would pay attention to the team members’ strengths. Once there, they would think of clever ways to harmonize everyone’s skills. A great way to solve the problem. This is what individualized consideration means.
  4. Ask everyone what their ideas are on how to ease the state of things. While on it, the leader would incorporate those ideas into their original plan. In the end, this would only make for a better-shaped plan, one that’s a consequence of the whole team’s input. And that’s how they use intellectual stimulation.

Would you like to be like this and make a difference within your business? Tap your inner light, discover your gifts, and make use of your transformative power. Virginia Nava can help with her transformational leadership program. You can also send a message to keep on with this conversation.

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Edited by Ludwig Laborda