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27th Sep 2023

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Event Insights – Transformational Leadership: The Foundation for Next Generation Leaders with Roger Delves

Everyone is talking about transformational leadership, but so few understand what it really means. Is transformational leadership a theory or a style? What makes a good transformational leader? What are the strengths and weaknesses of transformational leadership?

Truthfully, the purpose of transformational leadership is not about meeting expectations – it’s about going far beyond reasonable expectations. It’s extremely difficult and very challenging, involving a high level of sacrifice and ruthlessness, almost going ‘beyond good and evil’ in the Nietzschean sense.

Transformational leadership is not right for everyone, but if you are considering becoming a transformational leader then you must be fully informed about what this means. For those thinking of embarking on this journey, we’ve pulled together key insights from the recent IMI Mini-Masterclass with Roger Delves on the topic:

What is the Relationship Between Transactional Leadership and Transformational Leadership?

Contrary to popular belief, transformational leadership is not a replacement for transactional leadership. Rather, transactional leadership is a vital skill that should be embraced – with a caveat. While employees who deliver results are rewarded, short-term goals can be achieved quickly, and instructions, expectations, roles, measurements and rewards are clear, there can be major downsides to transactional leadership. The strict and rigid system discourages creativity and innovation, punishments such as lack of bonus, demotions, blame, negative criticism, etc. can result in low engagement, and many employees need other motivation than performance-related rewards which transactional leadership does not account for.

Drawing on Freud’s concept of infantilisation, transactional leadership can encourage childish employee behaviour – either manipulative and selfish when motivated by the pursuit of a transactional prize, or else deceitful and vengeful when punished or trying to avoid punishment. Nevertheless, transactional leadership remains vital for certain aspects of leadership, i.e. task completion, executing strategy, learning a new piece of software, being operationally focused, etc. – but leaders must recognise the potential pitfalls around employee engagement resulting from transactional leadership.

Why is Employee Engagement Vital for Transformational Leadership?

Transformational teams perform beyond reasonable expectations – but without employee engagement, leaders won’t be able to achieve results. Drawing on the work of William Kahn, three states of mind must be addressed or individuals won’t feel engaged: meaningfulness, safety, availability. Namely, do individuals feel their work is meaningful, in a group dynamic do they also feel safe to speak up, ask questions and make mistakes, and finally how much physical and mental energy is being expended due to non-work related distractions. This formula may also be presented as: vigour, dedication, absorption.

However, drawing on the work of Wilmar Schaufeli, certain conditions must be met to create this environment; namely, do individuals have a sense of autonomy and self sufficiency, do they feel safe, and are they working within a positive climate – of course, a positive climate may mean different things to all people; for some it may be acceptance for who they are, for others it may be a continual sense of can-do and goal achievement. But transformational leadership can only be achieved when employees are fully engaged, and employees can only be fully engaged when these environmental conditions and positive states of mind are met.

What are the Four Characteristics of Transformational Leadership?

  1. Individualised Consideration: – people driven. Genuinely concerned with people’s needs and recognises that everyone wants to be understood as a separate and understood person. Mentoring, coaching, giving feedback and being the provider of psychological safety are key here.
  2. Inspirational Motivation – all about offering a vision that inspires and motivates those around you.
  3. Idealised Influence – purpose driven. All about being a role model and ‘walking the talk.’
  4. Intellectual Stimulation – all about challenging assumptions, taking risks and being entrepreneurial. Challenging those around them to be innovative and creative.

Let’s look at these competencies in more detail.

Individualised Consideration – How to Treat Team Members as Individuals

  1. Get to know one another: – and not just on a surface level. Find out what makes each individual tick. What are their values? What do they love about their work and what would they change ? you cant create psychological safety without mutual trust – and we don’t trust people we don’t know!
  2. Set the boundaries: – it’s just people. Make sure everyone understands this is about being open and honest, that everyone is allowed whatever personal boundaries they want, that this is a means to an end, which is defined by each individual. If you want to make it transparent, they’ll take a step back towards you. If you make it strange, they’ll take a step back.
  3. Show some vulnerability: after all, we’re long past the hero leader. You’re human, they’re human. Show your humanity and you’ll be surprised how quickly they’ll reciprocate.
  4. Keep communicating: Give and get feedback. Ask your people how they think it’s going. Tell you’re people when you’re pleased with progress. This is all about creating and maintaining a culture, and as soon as you stop communicating around it, it begins to disappear…

Inspirational Motivation – Leave a Mark, not a Stain

Inspirational motivation is all about having a vision that motivates and inspires those around you. Providing clarity around your vision and having a clear set of values is key. Think about what resonates such as:

  • Common enemy: who or what do I want to wipe out or overtake or crush or beat? Or what or what do want to save?
  • Target: how much do I want to be worth or valued? How much do I want to be seen What position in business or our profession or in society do I want to have?
  • Role model: who do I want to emulate?
  • Internal transformation: how do I want to change myself?

Valuing diversity is also key to providing inspirational motivation. Ensuring all individuals feel accepted and appreciated and treated with understanding in a safe and nurturing environment where no one perspective or culture is valued over another. This includes, but is not limited to, gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation; but it’s equally important to ensure the diversity of all ages and personality types (e.g. both introverted and extraverted, neurodiverse and otherwise, etc) are celebrated for their diversity and difference so we can harness their skills, knowledge and expertise.

Idealised influence – the Importance of Trust and Integrity (regardless of the situation)

Idealised influence is all about being role model with high ethical standards. As leaders, we can all be humble, acknowledging we don’t get everything right and where we have made mistakes in the past, and above all, acting with integrity is vital – but integrity can be hard to define. Drawing on the work of both Avolio, we may as that acting with integrity is “using rules or guidelines in which we believe, (rather than) deciding simply on the situation or circumstances.” Integrity may be defined by the following three qualities:

  • Discerning right from wrong
  • Acting on what we discern
  • Stating plainly that integrity drives our actions

Teams hate when leaders make decisions contingent on the situation. Instead, even if a team doesn’t know exactly what decision a leader will make, they will look for that leader to make a decision congruent with consistent values. With so much moral complexity in the world, discerning right from wrong – and agreeing with someone else on your definition – can be very challenging, but leaders should be able to act upon what they discern and be able to state their consistent values drove their decision-making – in which case their decision has integrity.

Trust is also a vital component of idealised influence. Drawing on Maister & Green’s formula, trust takes time to build as it requires leaders to prove they are credible, reliable and capable of intimacy (i.e. building interpersonal relationships). However, the biggest factor to building – or losing – trust is self-orientation: leaders must not do anything that makes them appear self-orientated. Leaders must appear selfless, otherwise this will seriously affect their trust score – and one cannot lead with a low trust score.

Intellectual Stimulation – the Art of Asking Why

Many leaders make the mistake of advocating, and telling, rather than asking. When it comes to transformational leadership, intellectual stimulation involves the opposite approach: leaders should ask first and keep asking why, never advocate, and always solicit feedback. Indeed, this is why Argyris & Senge’s ‘ladder of inference’ – which posits that we make assumptions and draw conclusions from observed data we have decided is relevant, discarding what we feel irrelevant, and from those conclusions we adopt beliefs and take action – is highly flawed. Selecting data I find relevant, and discarding that which I do not, leads to highly distorted data. One is then making assumptions on highly distorted data, and so on up a ladder built on highly distorted rungs. While this may allow you to get up the ladder fast, leaders should be stopping both themselves and employees from going up the ladder of inference. This is the bedrock upon which intellectual stimulation is built and allows us to challenge assumptions, take risks and collaborate around innovative ideas.

How do You Apply Transformational Leadership in the Workplace?

The path to becoming a transformational leader is not for the faint of heart. It demands a deep understanding of leadership’s nuances and a commitment to nurturing a culture of growth and innovation. As we’ve learned from Roger Delves’ Mini-Masterclass, transformational leadership is a multifaceted journey encompassing transactional skills, employee engagement, and the mastery of four crucial competencies.

It’s important to recognise that transformational leadership is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, it requires a tailored approach that respects the individuality of team members while inspiring them to reach extraordinary heights. By embracing these principles combined with IMI’s ten leadership competencies, aspiring transformational leaders can embark on a remarkable expedition toward creating positive change and leaving an indelible mark on their organisations and the world.

Ready to take the next step in your leadership career? Learn more about our Diploma in Digital Leadership or High Impact Leadership short programme.

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