The Building Blocks of Transformational Leadership

By focusing on the needs of followers, transformational leaders can enable their followers to grow as individuals and as members of a group.

Patti Fletcher

Entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial leaders who want to catalyze change—lasting change—hear the term transformational leadership a lot. It’s become that often eye-rolling thing: a buzz word.

Before getting bastardized, transformational leadership represented a body of scholarly research founded on the seminal work of James McGregor Burns in 1978. Up until then, transactional leadership and other leader-centric theories ruled the academic roost. Burns’ work flipped the script and put the focus on the follower with the leader in the role of inspiring others to achieve unimaginable success.

To break it down, transformational leadership, in theory and practice, places importance on the effective leader’s impact on and relationship with followers in five distinct yet related areas: Impact, role, personality, skills and competency, and actions.

Impact

    For years, change management focused on the process components of change—they weighed hard numbers like revenue and market share gain against operational efficiencies (i.e., low-cost outsourcing). It’s no surprise that 75% of these change programs failed. Quantitative-driven effectiveness and progress dashboards miss some of the most crucial aspects of change, including the benefit for followers to understand the value and impact of their contributions. Transformational leaders who succeeded, embedded cultural-impact indicators into program outcomes. Some examples:

  • Connect followers and leaders on shared values, vision, and organizational identity
  • Cause change in individuals and complex social systems
  • Create valuable and positive change in followers with the end goals of developing followers into leaders
  • Enable all stakeholders to effectively drive cultural and process change
  • Enhance individual and collective motivation, morale, and performance

Role

    Change catalysts know that they must walk the talk. During the early days and at certain intervals of time along the change continuum, a leader must manifest the change she wants to see. The four aspects of the transformational leader who catalyzes lasting change includes:

  • Build the right brand
  • Inspire stakeholders throughout the transformation process
  • Challenge followers to take greater ownership for their work
  • Understand and effectively utilize strengths and challenges of followers
  • Target activities that continuously engage, educate, and measure change effectiveness

Personality

Leading change is tough. Emotions often run high on both sides of change (those leading the change and those who are seeing change happen to them). An effective change leader must manage her own feelings and equip her team with the skills needed to navigate the ups and downs of catalyzing change.

Emotionality, also referred to as Emotional Intelligence (EI), is a key personality trait of effective change leaders. Popular EI models fall into two categories: ability and mixed model.

  • An ability view of emotional intelligence talks to a person’s capability to perceive, use, and manage emotions in order to facilitate thought in others.
  • A mixed model view of emotional intelligence describes a person’s competence to self-motivate, self-regulate moods and responses, regardless of the circumstances.

Skills and Competencies

Transformational leadership models emphasize soft skills and competencies needed to effectively lead change. They focus on the leader creating an environment where the leader-follower and follower-follower relationships are collaborative and intentional.

The five skills and competency based traits include:

  1. Set and hold a clear vision that acts as a beacon of change
  2. Engage others toward the same vision
  3. Enable the right teams to deliver on the vision
  4. Be open to true Socratic dialogue
  5. Develop individual and team talent

Actions

    Actions speak louder than words. Being a transformational leader means catalyzing change in a way that is welcoming and inclusive—not ostracizing the very people who will make or break the realization of that change.

    Research on effective change catalyst leaders places emphasis on key actions including:

  • Challenging the process
  • Inspiring vision
  • Encouraging through emotion
  • Showing the way

  • By focusing on the needs of followers, transformational leaders can enable their followers to grow as individuals and as members of a group. But catalyzing change does not always come naturally. Fortunately, the skills required for implementing effective, follower-centric leadership and creating lasting change can be learned and developed.

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Sharon Vosmek CEO Astia