What do you think of when you picture a leader? For most of us, myself included, we still envision some sort of cross between a powerful executive and a general leading troops into battle. A type of person born with a charisma that gives them an unspoken authority – even though that type of leadership no longer works in as many places as it once did. I am certain that on a battlefield or in dangerous work environments it can be a very useful leadership style. For most of us however, the powerful leader with a thousand helpers model only serves to alienate our workforce or causes them to resent us. The fact that our idea of leadership is so tied up with an idea that no longer holds the power it once did can make the task of leading that much more difficult. I want to introduce you to a new style of leadership that many of you probably already utilize without thinking about it, transformational leadership.
Transformational leaders work in a way far more subtle than their authoritarian counterparts. Instead of giving orders they tend to parcel out projects, and authority, to those that work under them and offer them guidance and help as they require it. The model is much more like a mentor or a coach than a genius who requires monkeys to do their bidding. This approach has many advantages as it encourages independent and creative thinking amongst a person’s staff and new solutions and approaches to challenges become abundant. It allows each individual within the team to value their own strengths and respect those of others which creates an environment of mutual respect. As a transformational leader, one does not have to have all the solutions, but rather has a vision that inspires everyone on the team to perform at their highest level.
Importantly, this is the only reliable form of leadership for our times. We have all noticed the dramatic changes that have taken place in the workforce over the past 10, much less 50, years. In the late 1970s women started entering the workplace en mass. In the 80s and 90s computers began to dominate workplaces shifting the emphasis from brute strength to intellectual rigor, and the number of different generations occupying the same work space has skyrocketed as older workers tend to stay at jobs for longer. A major strength of the younger generations working today is their willingness to question authority and innovate – something the governments of China and Singapore regularly study about Americans. The older generations offer wisdom and experience and when these two groups work in harmony the results can be astounding. Yet this dynamic environment can make leading a challenge unless you use a transformational style that includes everyone in the process.
A transformational leader approaches leadership in a fundamentally different way than the older leadership models. As a transformational leader you must, first and foremost, offer a compelling vision for others to buy into. It could be as grand as changing the world in which we live through the work you do or as focused as being the most productive and helpful team in your organization. A vision that allows everyone to be included can bring everyone on board together and encourages people to work through petty differences or personal issues because of the greater good the vision offers. A great example from history comes from the space race of the 1960’s. Nearly everyone in America felt involved in putting the first man on the moon even though a relatively small percentage of the population directly worked on the project. By offering this compelling vision to others you help them feel personally involved in the overall mission and this will bring out the best in your workforce.
The next key in being an effective transformational leader comes from a place of generosity and authentically wanting others to be their very best. It is very easy to become so focused on our own ideas that we shut the ideas of others out. A transformational leader works against this tendency by soliciting the ideas and opinions of others. Transformational organizational cultures will even offer employees time to work on projects of their own creation. A major strength of Google comes from the two hours of every work day in which team members are required to work on independent projects. This has given Google the innovative edge by allowing them to bring to markets thousands of product offerings that would not have been possible if the senior leadership controlled every decision about which products workers ought to spend their time on. A transformational leader often has an open door policy allowing workers to bring in new and creative ideas and the willingness to let people run with their ideas coming in only to update you and ask for guidance as needed. Of course not every single project will be given the full go-ahead at the end of the day, though the goodwill generated by allowing this type of creative and independent thinking will build priceless amounts of cooperation and enthusaism amongst employees – causing them to feel much more driven and passionate about their personal involvement with the company.
In addition to encouraging these creative and independent lines of work, a transformational leader must call attention to the individual strengths offered by each employee during team meetings. This could simply be an opportunity for everyone to update each other on their personal projects and solicit advice and feedback from everyone on the team. As the leader, you will have set a tone that involves everyone in any project that helps move the company or team closer to the guiding vision and each team member will intuitively understand that asking the opinions of others only makes them stronger. This prevents the type of turf-warfare seen at so many places of business and can go a long way in building a high-performance team.
Consider your own leadership style now and think about what changes you need to make in order to truly become a leader that transforms others and the business. Do you need to work on creating that compelling vision and getting the message out to others? Perhaps you need to work on relinquishing creative control over every single project? Take a moment and write down the first step you must take in order to become a transformational leader. For more information and interactive exercises that will develop your transformational leadership style please contact us at Corinne@edgeofchange.com