What Leaders Really Do
Leadership is a topic that often defies definition. Is leadership a role… a position… a collection of attributes? Is leadership a process… a collection of traits… the exercise of power? Is leadership the art of influencing… a means of motivating… a form of persuasion? Well… yes, leadership can be all of those things – but unfortunately no one definition provides enough direction to definitively say what a leader actually does. To understand what actions are taken, it is often better to consider what purpose is to be served by leadership – and in the majority of my work, the purpose of leadership is almost always transformational.
Transformational leadership involves influencing others to be better versions of themselves and is frequently found in situations where organizational change is central (although it may also be a indication that change is needed or approaching). This type of change is somewhat evolutionary as followers begin acquiring new effective traits or habits and leaving behind ones that are less efficient or no longer needed. Effective transformational leadership builds stronger follower commitment and loyalty while increasing satisfaction with the organization (that second part is key). If your in the midst of change, look for these four transformational leadership components:
Transformational leadership includes acting as a role model. Transformational leaders are not primarily filling the role of the rebellious, rabble rousing arch types. Instead their actions are more admired and respected for their effectiveness. Followers identify with the transformational leader and want to emulate him or her. This creates a sense of trust in the transformation without sacrificing trust in the organization as people believe that the leader will do the right thing.
Transformational leaders behave in ways that inspire and motivate others. They get followers involved in envisioning an attractive future – one that the follower wants to be a part of and is willing to work for. Transformational leaders provide challenge and meaning to their follower’s work. While the followers see a leader who is optimistic, acts with purpose, and has the communication skills to make the vision understandable and engaging, the transformational leader is actually improving the skill set and building confidence in the ability of people to get things done.
Transformational leaders challenge followers to think about problems in new ways. They question assumptions, reframe problems, and encourage creative solutions. This doesn’t have to be radical or rebellious either; simply allowing for experimentation, exploration, or even additional research often does the trick. Intellectual stimulation is all about encouraging others to consider new approaches, thinking creatively, and contribute their ideas.
Transformational leaders understand the role that positive mentorship plays in the achievement of others. They not only see their followers, they value them as individuals and are sensitive to their differing personalities, needs, concerns, and goals. Transformational leaders create a supportive environment where contributions are individualized but success is collaborative.
Like most interpersonal skills, you can work on each of the components of transformational leadership with a good coach. Naturally the bigger goal here is to use transformational leadership skills to help your organization respond to challenges (especially those surrounding change) while consistently pursuing goals.
Have you experienced a transformational leader? Share your story.