In “Leadership,” released in 1978, historian James MacGregor Burns wrote, “Leadership is one of the most observed and least understood phenomena on earth.” In a market that requires organizations to respond to constantly evolving environmental factors — global markets, constant technology developments and fluctuations in the current economy — organizational leaders and managers are often adrift without the proper resources.
Cue transformational leadership — a leadership style and theory that is now more than 40 years old.
Burns first posited his transformational leadership theory in “Leadership.” Researcher Bernard Bass on the theory in 1985, defining transformational leadership as “the leader moving the follower beyond immediate self-interests through idealized influence (charisma), inspiration, intellectual stimulation and individualized consideration.” Further research has also shown that knowledge-based models like transformational leadership help companies in the pursuit of innovation and that today’s market requires.
Transformational leaders can be change agents and positively influence group and organizational outcomes. But leadership isn’t an all-purpose idea. Everyone has the capacity to work toward developing effective leadership practices that contribute toward their professional, organizational and employees’ growth.
Here are four strategies for accessing your inner transformational leader:
1. Captivate: Captivating employees requires creating a desirable vision and then articulating that vision in a way that brings individuals and their unique skills into the future you hope to create. This means not only communicating the action-steps of your next project or product launch — but also drawing employees into that conversation and hearing their unique perspectives, thoughts and ideas about what you’re considering. The ability to dream big and know how to accomplish those dreams sets an example for employees to strive toward innovation and be more performance driven.
2. Inspire: This strategy means energizing employees, always reminding them of the bigger purpose of any project, launch or transition. It means reminding yourself and others of the organization’s mission, values and objectives in everything you do. It’s celebrating the short-term wins, creating time for connecting and dreaming with employees and solidifying a shared vision or goal.
3. Challenge: Challenging employees requires promoting innovation, creativity and problem solving. However, it first requires creating a psychologically safe environment in which individuals can be creative and not feel like they’ll face consequences for speaking up or sharing ideas. A key characteristic of a transformational leader is challenging individuals to think in new ways and facilitating a space to share. This can take the form of one-on-one meetings, brainstorming sessions and communicating a genuine interest in others’ perspectives.
4. Recognize: Recognizing employees as individuals means supporting their personal and professional development. It requires recognizing their differences, their aspirations for growth and determining how to help them achieve their goals. This can take the form of coaching sessions or mentoring meetings or even delegating tasks as opportunities for professional growth. For this strategy to be successful, it must be rooted in keeping communication open and being attentive to each person’s unique capabilities.
Transformational leadership can change the culture of an organization into one that values relationships and employee development and pursues these amid the mission, goals and objectives of the organization. Being a transformational leader doesn’t mean you have to be born with innate leadership qualities. It’s about practicing leadership behaviors and strategies that provide a guiding force for the way you interact with others.
As a leader, manager or just someone who is looking to do better, remember another quote by Burns: “In real life, the most practical advice for leaders is not to treat pawns like pawns, nor princes like princes, but all persons like persons.”