The “Right” Leadership Mix to Transform Organizations

Let me ask you… What vision do you hold for your organization? To make that vision reality, will your organization or team need to undergo a transformation? If so, is your current leadership style and/or leadership mix set up to inspire and drive that transformation?

So many companies, leaders and leadership teams want to create change within their organizations. They can often clearly see what they want to create and the results they want to achieve, but it’s the path from A to B that remains unclear. Other times, the path is clear, but knowing how to get the people you lead to walk that path – successfully and enthusiastically – is where the vision gets murky.

This is where we come to the power of influence, and a leadership mix that leans into inspiration, motivation and empowerment. It’s most often called transformational leadership and its effectiveness can be widespread in organizations that fully embrace the approach.

In this article, we’ll explore:

What is Transformational Leadership?

Transformational leadership is a leadership style that was first introduced in 1973 by sociologist, James V. Downton, and was expanded upon in the 80’s by Bernard M. Bass (a scholar in the fields of leadership studies and organizational behaviour) to include methods of measuring the style’s success.

At heart, transformational leadership is an approach rooted in relationships, trust and accountability. It was pioneered as a management style that would inspire innovation without micromanaging, spark excitement for change, empower autonomy within people’s roles, and establish relationships of trust, respect, loyalty and support. The idea was that by focusing on relationship-building, employees would be inspired to want to go above and beyond, to bring their absolute best to the work that they do, and to be motivated by a sense of shared purpose.

In practice, it is an intensely hands-on leadership approach because it demands accountability on the part of leadership in terms of cultivating an engaging environment, building strong relationships and providing full support for employee growth and success. At the same time, it is incredibly hands-off, in that leaders must trust that people are naturally resourceful, creative and whole, and that when given autonomy in their roles, they will bring their absolute best to the work that they do.

How Does Transformational Leadership Differ from Other Leadership Styles?

Traditional leadership styles are transactional where people have a sense of duty that’s based on rewards and compensation. 

Now, it should go without saying that people deserve to be adequately compensated, and there can even be benefits to using money and other rewards to motivate, but as you’ll learn here, those pros come with cons. And, as you’ll learn from Harvard Business Review, the whole spectrum of intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation is pretty complex. One valuable pearl we can take from it all though, is that if we want people to be engaged with their work, money alone isn’t enough. Further, if we neglect the richness of non-transactional leadership, we could easily see epidemics of burnout and quiet quitting within our organizations.

This is where transformational leadership comes in. It is a relationship-centered style that hinges on leaders working with others – their own teams and others within the organization – outside their own self-interests in order to influence genuine, sustainable change and success.

While the desired result of this leadership style is, of course, business success (which includes financial success), the driving force behind it is deeply human, genuine and passionate. It’s a style of authentic leadership that can become the backbone of organizational resilience because it empowers leaders, teams and individual employees to stay energized, optimistic and focused, even during the most chaotic times.

What are the Key Benefits of Transformational Leadership?

The benefits can be far-reaching and specific to situations, industries, individuals, and so on.

Some of the more general benefits are that it:

  • Establishes a culture of trust
  • Empowers ownership and accountability
  • Focuses on building intrinsic motivation and finding joy and purpose in our work
  • Develops greater confidence in decision-making
  • Cultivates an environment of collaboration and co-creativeness
  • Empowers innovative, strategic thinking
  • Promotes professional growth and development
  • Involves all employees in the big picture vision
  • Promotes professional vulnerability
  • Eases transitions such as mergers, reorganizations and redeployments 
  • Generates sustainable motivation in individuals and teams
  • Cultivates resilience through challenging or chaotic times

That last one can be particularly impactful as just about every organization will experience upheavals. In such times, it’s common to switch into reactive-mode and focus more on immediate tactics over broader strategy. This can feel like it makes sense in high-pressure moments, but when we step back, we see how this tends to create long term problems, even if it does address short term issues. 

Establishing a transformational leadership approach during times of calm empowers you and the people around you to hold onto the big picture vision during even the most chaotic times, which puts you in a position to make those critical short term decisions in alignment with the long term big picture.

What are the 4 Elements of Transformational Leadership?

If you’ve heard of transformational leadership before, you may also have heard of the 4 elements, sometimes called the four I’s of transformational leadership. Transformational leadership is truly a way of being, so there is no step-by-step guide to implementing it. Instead, we have high-level elements or fundamentals that serve to guide our way of being. 

The 4 elements are:

  • Idealized influence: Idealized influence is essentially charisma, and contrary to popular belief, it can be learned and become an authentic element of your way of being as a leader.
    To exercise idealized influence means being an agent of positive influence and setting the ultimate example for how to be within the team and organization. It does not mean being perfect; rather, it includes owning your mistakes, acting with integrity, being willing to take risks, and standing by an established set of core values, especially when it’s hard to do so.
    A leader with idealized influence models the way forward with courage and compassion. In this way, they build trust within their teams, and their teams develop confidence in their leader.
  • Inspirational motivation: This is the ability to inspire others, particularly through cultivating a sense of shared purpose. Someone with inspirational motivation is able to articulate a vivid and compelling vision, illustrate how each person’s (and the overall team’s) contribution fits into that vision, and is clear in their expectations of both themselves and others.
    With inspirational motivation, it’s critical to communicate a vision and expectations that genuinely resonate with people. Key to this is a skill known as bounded optimism – essentially, optimism about the future, about potential and about possibilities, while staying grounded in the reality of circumstances. Let’s say your team is down a member, but still expected to achieve the same results within the same time period. Bounded optimism doesn’t shy away from this. Instead, you get real about what that will mean for the team, while still communicating optimism about success, and digging in as a co-creator to help find the way forward.
  • Intellectual stimulation: This is the ability to keep people engaged by keeping their work interesting, challenging and intellectually rewarding.
    Keeping people engaged and intellectually stimulated also means empowering autonomy, involving them in decision-making, providing opportunities to take risks, challenging assumptions, and always opening the floor to new ideas.
    Critical to this is that it must be safe to be wrong, take risks, make mistakes, and so on. Truly top-tier talent wants intellectual stimulation. If they don’t have the opportunities, or if they don’t feel safe to challenge themselves, your best people will likely move on.
    Remember that creativity is what keeps organizations relevant, competitive and successful, and it can only thrive where it is fully embraced.
  • Individualized consideration: As a leader, you have to consider the well-being of the team and the organization. As a transformational leader, you must also consider the individuals within the team.
    This means getting to know their individual strengths, interests, values and goals, continually guiding them to bring out more of that, and actively finding and creating opportunities for them to use their strengths and grow in the direction they want to grow.
    It’s about taking a genuine interest in people as human beings to understand what motivates them and what drains them, to support their development, and to be excited for their personal growth. Remember that at the heart of transformational leadership is relationships. If you want people to back you as a leader, you need to back them as people.

What are the 5 C’s of Transformational Leadership?

We just did the 4 I’s… and now the 5 C’s? Over the years and leadership research, theory and practice, there have been many efforts to simplify the way leadership styles are taught, making those styles more accessible during stressful or chaotic times. After all, who wants to be reaching for a textbook mid-crisis?

Some of these efforts have been more impactful than others and thus, you’ll hear them referenced more often. When it comes to transformational leadership, the 4 I’s and 5 C’s are the ones that come up most. 

There’s a lot of overlap between the two, so I’ll keep the explanations brief here:

  • Clarity – Be clear in your vision, your expectations, a shared purpose, what challenges may lay ahead, and your plan to overcome them, even if that plan currently includes unknowns. Be transparent about it all.
  • Confidence – In yourself and others. Trust that you and the people you lead are naturally resourceful, creative and whole, and that you all have the skills to problem-solve and co-create solutions.
  • Connection – Build genuine connections with the people you lead. This doesn’t have to mean being everyone’s best friend. It means cultivating relationships wherein others come to know that they can trust you, rely on you, and count on your support.
  • Commitment – Commit to integrity, to your shared purpose, to your vision and to the success of the people around you, including the people you lead, others within the organization, your customer base, partners, suppliers and so on.
  • Creativity – Adopt a continual willingness to explore different ideas, perspectives and ways of doing things. Always ask, “How can we create from this?”

How to Begin Implementing Transformational Leadership

One of the most impactful leadership principles I’ve learned through my years of training with the International Coach Federation, particularly through my Master Certified Coach training, is that a true leader takes 100% responsibility. I always work with people to bring this forward as a principle of empowerment, not blame. 

Old, traditional forms of leadership and management lean heavily into a sort of carrot-and-stick approach that puts people on the defensive and understandably reactive to the concept of blame. Unconditional responsibility is completely separate from blame. Instead, it’s about recognizing that each one of us has full authorship of how we show up and respond and that it’s up to us to grab onto that, get ourselves into the CEO seats of our own lives, and begin creating what we want for ourselves.

What does that have to do with implementing transformational leadership? Well, the first step of any transformation is to transform your own approach. If you want to transform your team, you have to transform the way you lead. To be able to meet people with the 4 I’s and 5 C’s, you need to first develop your inner leader to ensure that you are bringing your best self to your role before expecting anyone else to do so. It’s key that you do the work to tune into your whole self, to get up close and personal with your own hopes, fears, values and motivations, to connect with your intuition and the messages of your own body, and to fully understand what it means to you to be fully engaged with your work before you turn to inspiring others.

If you would like guidance for yourself, your organization or your leadership team on embracing and implementing transformational leadership, I invite you to connect with me, check out my workshop topics, and see what coaching approaches are available through CEO of Your Life. 

Key Takeaways:

  1. Transformational leadership is relationship-centered and rooted in trust that you and the people you lead are naturally resourceful, creative and whole.
  2. This approach to leadership builds sustainable, intrinsic motivation that empowers both creativity and resilience within your organization.
  3. Implementing transformational leadership demands first igniting transformation within yourself.