For years, leadership styles have been adjusted and adapted based on the needs of the modern workforce. To get the best out of our staff, we must change how we act as leaders. Leadership practices from even a decade ago can feel outdated and incompatible with the kind of people we work with daily. That is why Transformational Leadership (TL) has gained so much traction in recent years.

If you have never heard of Transformational Leadership before, then the concept can seem quite confusing. This article breaks down the essentials of TL so that you can understand how it might benefit you and your organisation(s) in the years to come. 

Transformational Leadership: The Basics

What is Transformational Leadership?

Transformational Leadership is a leadership theory based on a simple but important concept. In TL, a leader is expected to work with their followers/colleagues to raise one another to a higher level of motivation overall. The general concept of Transformational Leadership is that a leader works with their team(s) beyond the immediate. 

Typical leadership focuses on getting things done today; Transformational Leadership focuses on something different. By creating a vision that elevates everyone beyond their immediate self-interest, Transformational Leadership goes a long way to making each individual involved more mature. Also, it helps them to become more concerned with the overall results and achievements.

Essentially, Transformational Leadership is about giving those within your control/command extra motivation and confidence. By inspiring those within your group to perform beyond their capabilities, incredible results can be achieved that is very much outside of the norm. 

James V. Downton coined the concept of Transformational Leadership. He is believed to be the first person to use the term. However, for most people, the ‘father’ of Transformational Leadership is James MacGregor Burns. He ran with the initial concept and used his understanding of leadership to build the idea. The essence of Transformational Leadership is to “make each other advance to a higher level of morality and motivation.”

Who invented Transformational Leadership?

The concept of Transformational Leadership was furthered by the release of Bernard M. Bass’ concept of the theory. 

Why is Transformational Leadership required?

One of the main reasons why Transformational Leadership is required is because it can be hard to help staff look beyond their immediate self-interest and motivations. This makes it hard to get everyone on the same page and can almost guarantee that conflicts and disputes will become part and parcel of the working day. 

This form of leadership instead sets goals and ambitions which are so lofty that buy-in is required by all involved. These leaders receive and build trust and admiration from those who work with/under them and thus encourage them to give more with the long-term benefit of the team and business in mind. 

From purely business terms, though, the benefits of Transformational Leadership are various. Indeed, studies from Harvard have found that employees with an intrinsic motivation beyond simply completing their day at work can produce exponential profit growth, as well as company growth. Having leaders who utilise Transformational Leadership can create more profitable results.

By removing a day-to-day approach to business in favour of looking at more long-term goals, helps staff to find purpose in the jobs they do each day. With a longer-term goal in mind, each day feels like it is progressing towards that goal as opposed to simply being a day where staff go through the motions. This creates motivation within each member of the team. 

They feel like they are respected, treated fairly, and capable of more than they were previously. This brings out the best in each member of the team. This extra layer of motivation helps to give each task more meaning and ensures that those taking part feel like the role they play is important. 

What makes Transformational Leaders so effective?

Typically, a leader in a business that follows Transformational Leadership will display the following attributes:

  • A capability to set goals with clarity as to why these goals matter and what they achieve
  • A capacity of fairness and integrity, allowing each member to do their best
  • A consistently high level of expectation that pushes staff to give their best efforts daily
  • Natural enthusiasm and encouragement, with a knack for lifting people when required
  • Authenticity and a natural passion for the role can engage the emotions of staff
  • Fluid, comfortable speakers who can relay their emotions in enjoyable, fair discussion
  • An inspirational attitude that inspires people to reach for the stars as opposed to the sky
  • Selfless attitudes that encourage their underlings and staff to look beyond themselves 
  • Encouraging staff to find opportunities that enhance personal and professional growth 

These are the kind of attributes that any Transformational Leadership candidate should portray. Transformational leaders are capable of creating an exciting vision for the future, putting a long-term plan in place to make that vision a reality, and ensuring that the vision is delivered upon. As the work progresses, a true Transformational Leader will build relationships that helps to keep staff focused on the long-term objectives and helps them to keep tapping into their personal resources for the good of the job.

The Advantages of Transformational Leadership

Creating clear goals to target

On of the primary benefits of Transformational Leadership is that it can help to set in stone clear, specific goals. Having clear goals gives each member of staff an obvious framework to work towards in the long-term. This also helps to ensure that all short-term, day-to-day goals work towards the long-term needs and interests of the company.

Developing accountability within

Another critical benefit of using TL is that it can play a role in creating in-house accountability. When everyone has a set task and goal, and each goal works towards the long-term, staff know they need to play their part. This helps to ensure that all members of the team are doing the role they should be doing. TL reduces the risk that staff will lose accountability and look to blame others for their lack of progress. 

A clear sense of progress and achievement

In a company where staff feel like they just work to the short-term goals without any purpose, they can feel like their days lack achievement. With Transformational Leadership, you show your staff what their short-term actions contribute towards the long-term goals. This gives them agency and purpose within the company, and makes it easier for your staff to be able to pinpoint how their daily contributions matter. 

Keep employees motivated 

Motivation is a huge reason why people either lose interest in their position and/or change to a new company. If your staff do not feel motivated, they are more inclined to look for a new opportunity. With the introduction of Transformational Leadership, though, you make it easier for your staff to retain motivation. They see what their contributions create, and thus they feel happy sticking around to continue.

Increase confidence and productivity

By giving each member of the team a clear goal that they can follow both short and long-term, staff see progress. They see a direct correlation between what they do and what the company achieves. This helps them to feel more confident, and confident staff will be more productive. This is incredibly important and ensures that your staff can feel like they are an active contributor to the success of the entire company.

Creating avenues for progression

The setting of goals and aims with Transformational Leadership helps to give your staff a clear idea of how they can progress. Leaders who follow TL will be able to pinpoint where staff can be at their most effective. They can give employees the tools they need to develop, improve, and grow as professionals. This also adds accountability: if each staff member is given the tools they need to grow, then excuses for failure become less likely to wash. 

Sharing the load

Lastly, another key benefit of using Transformational Leadership is that leaders no longer need to take on every decision themselves. Staff are no longer at the whims of a small group of senior individuals and leaders. Instead, they all contribute to the direction of each project. This helps to ensure that senior staff do not burn out, and that innovations and ideas come from every part of the staff as opposed to an overreliance on senior staff to set the tone and tempo of the project. 

Criticisms of Transformational Leadership

Of course, while the benefits of Transformational Leadership are clear to see, they are not always easily understood. There are also some common criticisms of the concept, and these criticisms can include:

Short-term pain for long-term gain

For just about any company, having a long-term vision is great. But a long-term vision is not much use if the short-term is so lacking in success that the business is not around for the long-term!

As such, one of the criticisms of Transformational Leadership is that, in some environments at least, the short-term overtakes the long-term in terms of importance. While there might be a long-term dream in place, leaders need to avoid losing focus on the short-term to ensure progress continues accordingly. 

The risk of burnout

Another common criticism of Transformational Leadership is that it can lead to extensive employee burnout. TL aims to have people working harder and, if needed, for longer. To put the success of the project ahead of their own personal needs and motivations.

Therefore, it is easy for a leader who follows Transformational Leadership to overwork their staff. This leads to the same issues of motivation, burnout, and negative attitudes that traditional leadership struggles with. 

Adapting to change

While the long-term is always good to have in place, taking too long to reach that goal can mean being left behind. Anyone engaging in Transformational Leadership must keep their finger on the trigger with regard to industry change. Ensuring quick enough progression means it is easier to avoid running into such issues down the line.

Decision delays

The other primary criticism is that since Transformational Leadership involves the team so much, decisions can take longer to be made. A leader is still in charge; they should still be the one to spearhead choices and live by those decisions. Those engaging in TL mustn’t become bogged down in extensive democracy, which means decisions take too long to be made. 

Can software assist with Transformational Leadership?

Software can be very useful in adapting TL into any business that intends to use this leadership system. Essentially, if you intend to use TL, you should consider using software to help make the process smoother. Why?

Our software doings is made to promote transformational leadership:

  • you can match employees to tasks that they have the right skills and motivation for and use their intrinsic motivation
  • you have an easy way to bring all of the essential data together and make better and more suitable decisions
  • referencing the project and its goals for the long-term is much easier with doings
  • doings is made for monitoring projects from the perspective of any KPI you wish
  • you can also save a lot of time with the auto assign features of doings

In companies where there is a link between the day-to-day task and the long-term change in the company, software can definitely be of assistance. This helps to set up long-term goals that everyone can follow along with, and also ensure that tasks can be more readily allocated across each department and individual. This ensures that tasks are accurately allocated in a way that suits the interests, needs, and preferences of each individual employee. 

These benefits are just some of the reasons why you might wish to consider using software in Transformational Leadership.

When does Transformational Leadership make the most sense?

While Transformational Leadership could be beneficial in many settings, it is not always the best choice in more rigid working environments. TL is most effective in industries where creativity and independence is required for the role. For more specific roles where the da-to-day tasks are set in stone and there is no real need for staff innovation – for example, in a warehouse setting – TL might not be as effective.

Some companies simply have a set plan for what each day will involve, and therefore the short-term, day-to-day is all that matters to the typical staff member. In companies where staff are expected to help lead change as opposed to simply follow a set routine that keeps things going, though, TL might not be as effective or as useful.

In any business where creativity is required from staff and where initiative is expected, though, TL is a fantastic concept. Though leaders and senior members of any organisation like this should consider the implementation of TL.  

Is Transformational Leadership right for you?

This is a question that can only really be answered internally. It is advised that senior staff members speak with one another about TL, and understand the benefits that it might bring to the table. As noted above, not every industry and project is going to be applicable for Transformational Leadership. 

In many industries, though, implementing this kind of process could be beneficial in the short, medium, and long-term. At the very least, companies should focus on investigating whether or not TL could benefit the company as a whole. Given its practical benefits and advantages, it is worth considering. 

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