Every leader wants employees who will innovate for their company and create change that will help grow and shape its future success. Just give the subject a quick search on the internet and you will find a seemingly endless list of articles on everything from what traits to look out for to red flags in the interview process. However, what these articles often fail to recognize is just how big of a role a person’s leadership strategy plays. An effective strategy can mean the difference between thriving and failure, both for employees and for the organization as a whole.
There are many different approaches to leadership, and the discerning leader should be able to utilize more than one depending on the scenario in order to achieve the desired results, but on a macro level the transformational approach is one that has proven time and time again to create results. In transformational leadership, rather than giving orders and then reinforcing those orders through punishment or reward, the role of the leader is instead to provide their employees with the tools they need for success, give the guidance needed for growth and instill confidence in the company’s mission.
According to Greg Blatt, an American executive who has held C-level positions at some of the country’s largest internet and mobile app companies, the higher he rose within a company the more essential he found it to integrate personality, humanity, empathy and understanding into his management. After working for a time as general counsel for IAC he was made CEO of Match.com, one of the holding company’s subsidiaries that was struggling at the time. Turning the company around in less than a year to become one of the most successful dating websites in the world, he went on to successfully run its conglomerate company Match Group, IAC itself and the burgeoning dating app Tinder, turning it into an international phenomenon through his transformational leadership style.
What is transformational leadership?
While there are some people who naturally have a transformational style of leadership, it is actually a well-established concept that has been studied since the 1970’s. The researcher Bernard M. Bass expanded considerably on the idea in the 1980’s, developing ways to measure the success of transformational leaders and developing four essential components to transformational leadership. According to Bass, transformational leaders garner respect, trust and admiration from their followers by demonstrating authentic strong leadership, and in return employees are motivated and inspired to follow them organically. Because of the focus on authenticity and reliability, the transformational approach can be applicable across practically every industry, company and leadership position. The clue is in the name: transformational leaders are looking to transform, and through adapting a strong vision and taking a people-centric approach they are able to inspire their followers to change their expectations, perceptions and motivate everybody to work toward a common goal.
A leader who is taking a transformational approach places a high value on piquing their team’s creativity and imagination. Research is showing with growing consistency that intellectual stimulation is one of the most important factors when it comes to job satisfaction over more tangible rewards such as wages or benefits, and through transformational leadership one can create an environment in which every team member feels intrinsically motivated. They encourage their employees to explore new ways of doing things and new opportunities to learn by challenging the status quo and encouraging their efforts to be innovative.
“It’s cliched, but I’m like my five-year-old daughter in that my response to almost everything someone one tells me is to ask ‘why,’” says Blatt. “Honestly, I think if you ask why enough you will realize that many things can be done better, and by pursuing that path you spur innovation.”
The transformational approach sees leaders valuing autonomy and supporting the members of their team by involving them in the decision-making process in a non-critical manner, working to help those they lead to see the big picture for their vision and frame their efforts in the context of achieving it. Through creating an intellectually-stimulating environment, a transformational leader can get the best out of each and every one of their employees.
In addition to intellectual stimulation, a leader must have the ability to inspire confidence and motivation in the members of their team in order to give them a sense of purpose. Going beyond offering encouraging words and praise, to inspire and motivate employees the transformational leader creates a clear vision for the future and has the strong communication skills needed to clearly articulate it. Precision is key to delivering realistic expectations, and by using optimism and enthusiasm they help their team members experience the passion and motivation that is needed to feel fulfilled in their positions. Demonstrating a personal commitment to the goals that are put in place can go a long way in inspiring others to follow.
A transformational leader also has the ability to recognize that in order for every employee to experience both intellectual stimulation and inspirational motivation, individualized consideration must be given. Every person has specific needs and desires, and it is by offering support and encouragement to each individual within their team that they are able to bring out their unique best efforts. They seek to foster supporting relationships with their followers, understanding that in doing so they can better know how to motivate each person. For example, while some people may need monetary rewards such as bonuses in order to meet deadlines and goals, others may find excitement and motivation in challenges or competitions. They are also empathetic, showing genuine concern for the needs and feelings of those they lead and work on providing mentoring opportunities to help them grow and feel fulfilled. While for some it may be impossible to give one-on-one coaching to every single person below them, just keeping the lines of communication open so people feel free to share their thoughts and ideas can do wonders.
Finally, good leadership starts from within, and a transformational leader is one who embodies what they ask of others. They recognize their unique position as a role model to the members of their team and do not take such responsibility lightly. By developing and following a core set of values, convictions and ethical principles, they inspire trust and respect amongst their followers. They know that the leader wouldn’t ask them to do something that he or she wouldn’t do themselves, or say one thing to their face and then take a different action. It takes more than simply expressing ideals –– employees must see these ideals put into action in every decision made and step taken. It is only through this that the type of trust can be built to achieve extraordinary things.
All in all, transformational leadership is a powerful tool for creating results in the workplace. Those who practice recognize that in order for a team to work well together, each person must be seen as an individual with a unique motivation, outlook and goals. For many, this may be a different kind of “work” than they are used to. Leadership is often seen as being able to give orders, but the transformational approach turns this idea on its end. It is a method of trust, integrity and vision, in which the leader’s main job is to enable each individual to reach their full potential.
“Once you get high enough up in an organization you tend to enable ideas to be brought to life, but you don’t really bring them to life yourself,” Blatt says. “You make sure you have the right people. You make sure they’re facing the right direction. And you empower them to bring the ideas you’ve all agreed on to life.”