How does a leader practice transformational leadership and influence change?
Take Henry Ford, founder of Ford Motor Company, for example. Ford not only transformed society by innovating the automobile industry, he also transformed cultural beliefs about work. According to History, the entrepreneur began paying his workers almost double the average rate for factory work in 1914. He also cut down their hours and introduced the 40-hour workweek. With less time spent working, working-class Americans could spend more time with their families, rest, and enjoy leisurely activities. In addition to this, Ford built housing for his workers and provided health benefits. He even helped out with war efforts during both World Wars. Because of this, people from across the country wanted to work for Ford and push the company’s mission forward. As a result, Ford and his company became iconic. Glimmers of his innovative, inspirational, and influential leadership style can still be seen in American culture today.
As demonstrated by Ford and others such as civil rights movement leader Martin Luther King Jr., advertising legend David Ogilvy, and technology magnate Steve Jobs, transformational leadership style is a powerful approach to leadership. Over time, leaders who guide their followers this way have become synonymous with innovation, progress, and modernity.
Learn more about transformational leadership, its key characteristics, examples of it in action, and the three steps every entrepreneur should take when practicing it.
What is Transformational Leadership?
Transformational Leadership Definition
Those who practice transformational leadership skills enable others to accomplish positive change through emotional connection and inspiration. By communicating their vision of the future, they motivate and encourage followers to keep pushing forward. As a result, they incite collective action, which often results in innovation, massive transformation, and the betterment of society.
The Development of Transformational Leadership Theory
During the 1970s and 1980s, scholars began forming the transformational leadership theory. Sociologist James V. Downton coined the term “transformational leadership” in Rebel Leadership: Commitment and Charisma in the Revolutionary Process. Afterward, the idea attracted attention from James MacGregor Burns and Bernard M. Bass, two additional key players in the development of this leadership style.
Burns analyzed political figures such as Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy to identify the characteristics, traits, personalities, and goals of transformational leaders. One of his biggest contributions to the study was qualifying transformational leaders as people who also transform their followers into leaders. However, Bass focused more heavily on the impact transformation leaders have on their followers through The Four I’s.
The Four I’s of transformational leadership consist of:
1. Idealized Influence: Serving as a role model and demonstrating established organizational values.
2. Inspirational Motivation: Passionately communicating an exciting vision of the future while also encouraging followers to keep pursuing the overall objective.
3. Intellectual Stimulation: Supporting followers’ learning, growth, and development toward becoming the highest version of themselves.
4. Individualized Consideration: Acting as a mentor or coach who is genuinely interested in working with each person in the group.
Key Characteristics Shared By Transformational Leaders
Over the last 50 years, leadership experts have identified several traits that transformational leaders share. These traits include but are not limited to the 15 leadership qualities listed below.
A person practices transformational leadership when they:
- Clearly define a collective vision.
- Communicate a shared mission.
- Unite people through a common cause.
- Speak with conviction when sharing their passion.
- Emotionally connect with their followers.
- Lead with influence rather than authority.
- Demonstrate effective, open communication.
- Ensure that team culture is ethical.
- Serve as an example for those they guide.
- Establish organizational values.
- Motivate and inspire others to take action.
- Provide mentorship and opportunities for development.
- Multiply leaders in the company or community.
- Eliminate self-interest and practice servant leadership.
- Create positive outcomes.
Modern Transformational Leadership Examples
Many of the world’s most transformational leaders such as Jesus Christ, Nelson Mandela, and Abraham Lincoln are part of history and still inspire greatness. But there are also current transformational leaders to emulate. The leaders listed below serve their organizations and communities using the characteristics mentioned above.
John C. Maxwell
“A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.”
One of the strongest transformational leaders to follow is John C. Maxwell. As a best-selling author and successful business owner, his core mission is multiplying leaders at all levels. Because of this focus, he has created an incredible impact as just one person. Throughout his career, he’s written 18 books and sold 20 million copies of his leadership books. Additionally, Maxwell established a leadership center. In fact, one of his programs, EQUIP®, has influenced six million leaders across the world.
“There is no greater thing you can do with your life and your work than follow your passions—in a way that serves the world and you.”
Richard Branson is one of today’s most well-known transformational leaders. In 1972, he launched Virgin Records. Since then, the Virgin brand has been involved in exploring and evolving a wide variety of industries. One reason Branson is a well-loved leader is his charismatic, passionate personality that inspires customers and employees alike. Additionally, he is an environmentalist heavily involved in finding creative solutions for sustainable living. Undoubtedly, he’s spent his life working toward making the world a better place.
“Be brutally honest about the short-term and optimistic and confident about the long-term.”
The CEO and co-founder of Netflix communicates and fulfills his company’s long-term vision of being the leading source of global entertainment. As a transformational leader, Reed Hastings saw room for improving DVD rentals by making movies and TV shows more accessible. Furthermore, Netflix continues to refine its streaming service and creates its own in-house content. As a result, the company continues to pave the way for online entertainment.
“I am those 66 million girls who are deprived of education. And today I am not raising my voice, it is the voice of those 66 million girls.”
In 2012, a terrorist boarded Malala Yousafzai’s school bus and shot her for publicly advocating for education rights in Pakistan. She was only 15-years-old. In 2013, Yousafzai wrote her best-seller, I Am Malala. In 2014, she established the Malala Fund and continued her work as an activist for female education. That same year, she became the youngest person in history to receive a Nobel Peace Prize. Four years later, Yousafzai influenced leaders at the G7 Summit to commit $3 billion to girls’ education. Additionally, her organization connects to leaders in other countries, which has resulted in more educational rights and the intervention of child marriages.
The Effects of Being a Transformational Leader
It’s important to note that, due to its nature of committing to a just and ethical cause, the transformational leadership style is most prominently practiced by those who serve social, political, reformational, or spiritual movements. Nevertheless, deploying characteristics of this leadership style in business benefits organizations, too.
Benefits of being a transformational leader include increased:
- Locus of control (the belief that a person has control over their outcomes in life)
- Mental health
- Business performance
- Positive change
- Job engagement
- Decision making capabilities
- Sense of fulfillment and purpose among followers
3 Steps to Practice Transformational Leadership
Reading to acquire knowledge about transformational leadership is a beginning, but applying that knowledge as soon as possible is key. After all, being action-oriented is one of the main characteristics of a transformational leader. Start practicing this leadership style as a business owner, executive, or manager by working on the three action items listed below.
1. Define the Business’s Vision and Mission
Vision and mission are two important aspects of the transformational leadership style. As one of the most transformation-driven entrepreneurs of the 21st century, Steve Jobs, once stated, “There’s an old Wayne Gretzky quote that I love. ‘I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.’ And we’ve always tried to do that at Apple. Since the very, very beginning.” Transformational leaders have foresight. This means they’ve created a clear picture of a better future that the business achieves through its work. Using this vision, they create on-the-ground business strategies—the company’s mission—to direct team members on how to make this concept a reality.
To lead with vision and mission:
- Construct a precise vision statement and mission statement.
- Communicate these guiding principles to employees.
- Explain the “why” behind the vision and mission so team members are aware of the reason their work matters.
- Base all business strategies and work around the organization’s vision and mission.
- Tie the vision and mission into the picture when delegating tasks and jobs.
- Establish a daily visualization practice to get clear on where the company wants to go.
- Provide shared leadership opportunities so employees feel more emotionally invested in the business.
2. Inspire and Motivate Team Members
Transformational leaders prompt collective action by motivating people to bring change. First, a problem is identified. Then the leader articulates that problem by resonating with the emotions of others who identify with it. For example, this might look like discussing discomfort or confusion caused by an issue. Next, the leader paints an inspiring picture of what the future could look like, then a clear action plan is presented. This plan explains the leader’s solution and how it will be accomplished. Finally, the group is called to action with an invitation to join the leader in ethically propagating change.
When inspiring collective action:
- Speak with passion, conviction, and confidence.
- Gain support and buy-in by describing the big picture purpose behind all initiatives and work.
- Regularly express gratitude and appreciation for team members.
- Find people’s strengths and speak to the greatness within them.
- Hold weekly one-on-one meetings to discuss individual goals and the strategies for achieving them.
- Protect employees from burnout by checking in and providing sufficient time to rest and recover.
- Learn how to be more charismatic and inspire people to achieve a collective goal through charismatic leadership.
3. Practice Servant Leadership
Being a servant leader often coincides with being a transformational leader because servant leadership is often the mentality and heart motivating transformative experiences. Having a growth mindset and guiding positive change are top qualities shared by these two leadership styles. Additionally, both build trusting communities around causes that serve others, rather than the leader.
To practice servant leadership:
- Focus on the needs of others above all else.
- Increase your emotional intelligence for more effective communication.
- Create, communicate, and follow a set of organizational values.
- Hold team members accountable for these important guidelines.
- Develop a team culture rooted in kindness and trust.
- Mentor team members while growing them into the company’s next leaders.
Learn more about becoming a servant leader by checking out this article.
Progress Cannot Exist Without Transformational Leaders
Transformational leaders are the driving force behind groups who accomplish impossible feats. By not seeking self-interest, speaking to the strengths in their teams, growing new leaders, and inspiring people to reach new heights, these leaders motivate collective action that results in significant change. Without this type of leader, work that creates positive societal and cultural changes through innovation and progress isn’t possible. Additionally, innovation keeps an organization alive. As John Chambers, former chairman and CEO of Cisco Systems tells Box CEO Aaron Levie in an interview, “At least 40% of all businesses [Fortune 500 companies] will die in the next 10 years” if they’re unable to adapt to the fast-paced technological changes of the 21st century. Aside from being an ethical, values-driven way of leading, becoming a transformational leader is an effective way to ensure the longevity of your endeavors.
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