What is transformational leadership?

What is transformational leadership?

A transformational leader; that’s quite the title!

This leadership framework is powerful. Transformational leaders enact change, they adapt quickly and they thrive under pressure - and so do their teams.

This is the type of leader that genuinely leads and, therefore, has followers. Not the type that bosses and has subordinates.

Creating the right environment for people to do well even under challenging circumstances is not easy. But it is worth the effort!

What is transformational leadership?

Transformational leadership is a management style that focuses on inspiring and motivating people on the team to reach their full potential. It's all about leading by example, setting a vision for the future, empowering others to be their best selves and creating a cohesive effort to achieve the end goal.

As a result, the team becomes ‘greater than the sum of its parts’.

Similar to coaching leadership, this approach requires you to get to know your employees and help them achieve their goals. But this framework also focuses on change - hence ‘transformational’. So, a similar degree of interest in processes and policies is also useful to ensure that the benefits of your work are embedded into the organisation, rather than relying on you and your team.

This is like a combination of the charisma and ‘vision’ of a visionary leader combined with the applied know-how and planning abilities of the strategic leader.

Transformational leadership in action

For example, a transformational leader will spot an obstacle on the horizon and motivate their team to find and implement a solution together, playing to each of their skills. They are not afraid of innovation and creativity, and will push boundaries.

As a result, they may take a few risks, but they are capable of consistently achieving much more under pressure than other types of leader.

Is transformational leadership right for me?

Yes - it's not all about charisma or experience. It's about being brave... and having a toolkit brimming with tried-and-tested approaches to help you overcome challenges.

If you want to be a more ‘transformational’ leader, there are loads of Pip Decks tactics that can help you bring structure to your leadership practice. Try some of the below, which are absolutely crucial for any great leader:

When is transformational leadership effective?

It sounds like this leadership approach works best in times of change. But change is constant! This is a highly prized leadership style for precisely that reason. You never know when something huge is going to happen. A global pandemic forcing all your employees to work from home for a year, for example. Other examples include:

  • At the start of a new five-year strategy
  • Implementing changes to improve organisational culture
  • Pivoting to serve a new market or customer need
  • During periods of significant change to structure, leadership or policies
  • During (or ideally, just before) periods of ‘stagnation’, where teams aren’t working to their full potential.
  • During mergers, acquisitions, expansion, downsizing…

You get the picture. And while every organisation loves to have its own transformational leaders, it’s a skill that can also be outsourced to contract/interim managers.

And if you can describe your work, organisation or industry as unstable, volatile, turbulent or competitive? Well, let’s hope you’re not the only transformational leader they’ve got!

Pros and cons of transformational leadership

  • Pros: it catalyses positive change, it’s great in crisis situations and supports high team morale.
  • Cons: it won’t be effective if your team lacks the psychological safety, trust and communication skills required to work together towards a common goal (true of all leadership styles!).

How does transformational leadership compare to other leadership styles?

This framework is one of the most highly sought-after approaches you can apply to your leadership practice. It can be studied - there’s reams of research on it!

Take a look at How to lead: 11 leadership styles and frameworks to find out more about other approaches - or deep dive into situational leadership to find out how to blend different frameworks together.

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