Transformational Leadership


N. Venkateswaran
Asst. Professor
Department of MBA
Panimalar Engineering College

In recent years there has been an interest in something called 'transformational leadership'. It was a term coined by political scientist James McGregor Burns in 1978. He wrote that: "Transforming leadership occurs when one or more persons engage with others in such a way that leaders and followers raise one another to higher levels of motivation and morality…transforming leadership ultimately becomes moral in that it raises the level of human conduct and ethical aspirations of both the leader and led and, thus, has a transforming effect on both."

The most significant essence of transformational leadership is then the relationship between leaders and followers. Transformational leaders have the ability to identify their own values, and those of others in the organization, to guide their actions, thus developing a shared, conscious way of behaving and doing. Power is distributed because these leaders do not see power as limited but expansive. Transformational leaders are concerned with substance and truly empower others.

In business, transformational leaders don't follow the short termism of bottom line or shareholder value, but that of all stakeholders: customers; employees; shareholders; suppliers and communities. By looking after all stakeholders, shareholders also prosper.

How does transformational leadership work?

This question was the basis of the work of Bernard Bass who built on the theory of Burns to describe a process that resulted in high levels of performance in organizations where transformational leadership was expressed.

According to Bass, there are four behavioral components that make up transformational leadership: charisma; inspiration; intellectual stimulation and individualized consideration.

Charisma is regarded as the ability in leaders to arouse emotions in followers that will result in a strong identification of the followers with the leader. This includes the leader providing vision and gaining respect and trust. Inspiration is based on behaviors espoused by the leader to such things as communicating high expectations, the use of symbols to gain the focus of followers and modeling the appropriate behavior. Intellectual stimulation includes promoting intelligence and rationality, enabling followers to be creative problem solvers. Lastly, individualized consideration, whereby leaders give support and personal attention to followers and express appreciation of their work thus developing their self -confidence.

These behaviors are then supposed to affect followers in a positive way by elevating them to be the best they can be and in doing so are motivated by achievement and self development rather than 'doing a job' that provides security. The drawback with this work is that Bass still assumes leadership is a position, ie, 'I am the boss' and omits the moral aspect that Burns regards as an important element of transformational leadership. Recently, Bass has realized his omission and is now bringing this into his model.

Evidence has shown that transformational leadership does result in improved performance. It also aligns everyone around a common purpose and has a future orientation. In addition, transformational leadership encourages everyone to challenge and question assumptions and look at problems from new perspectives. Hence the need for this leadership throughout organizations including boards of directors. For this reason, I have worked at identifying both what is required for boards of successful organizations and how to incorporate this into transformational leadership. It was interesting to discover that this model works regardless of the size of organization or where, geographically, it is in the world.

However, transformational leadership has its critics especially those who want to maintain transactional leadership (whereby the exchange is based on followers' expectations of reward or avoidance of punishment and the leader expects compliance). It has been accused of being manipulative or even dangerous from those who feel threatened by transformation that could topple their individual power base.

Transformational leadership begins with different beliefs about oneself and others. The first changing belief is that leadership isn't a job but a way of being. The second is that, whereas in the past leadership meant power and control over others, today leadership beliefs begin with a desire to enable others to realize their own power and leadership potential. Thirdly, leadership in the past was based on believing it made people do things that you wanted done whereas, today, leadership is about a mutual relationship where each can transcend to a worthy purpose and behave with moral fiber, courage, integrity and trust.

Why is transformational leadership a challenge for organizations today?

Today many organizations are focused on short-term measures, such as cost cutting and targets, in a world that is hard to keep pace with. In fact, what is required is to ask big questions such as why do we educate? What is a healthy life? What is the purpose of business in the twenty first century? As I see it, the purpose nearly everywhere today is for transformation.

Transformation needs new information and fresh perspectives but the present, myopic managerial cultures are blocking the needed learning required. Kotter states: "The combination of cultures that resist change and managers who have not been taught how to create change is lethal." (1996).

Nearly a decade later the requirement is more than change – it requires transformation and this, in turn, requires learning not training. Teaching abstract concepts or functional skills is inefficient.

Nearly a decade later the requirement is more than change – it requires transformation and this, in turn, requires learning not training. Teaching abstract concepts or functional skills is inefficient.

What is required is for women to bring their transformational leadership skills into the forefront and this includes using it on boards of companies and in public appointments. How can women do this?

Firstly, women can draw on their social skills to transform individual self interest into a desire to achieve organizational goals. Secondly, their more participative style of leadership is helpful to employees in new or changing circumstances enabling everyone to respond creatively to change. Thirdly, through transformational leadership, women need to use their work achievements, contacts and power based on their personality, rather than power based on authority or position, to feel confident. Finally, women need to appeal to the intrinsic rewards of employees rather than extrinsic rewards as these are more empowering.

At the same time, company chairmen need to be more courageous in their choice of directors and this means choosing individuals who are different from them. They need to consider not only internal candidates, but individuals with different experiences.

Transformational leadership is needed today because it ultimately becomes moral in that it raises the level of human conduct and ethical aspirations of both the leader and the led and, thus, has a transforming effect on both. Following Enron, Shell, Equitable Life and so on, business needs to assert its ethical standing again to customers and consumers. Women are more likely to adopt this form of leadership. We should value their contribution by now allowing them to use it on the boards of companies.

Transformational Leadership
and Executive Management Retreats have great influence in the survival and efficacy of an organization. These transformational sessions guide the organizational leadership groups through a series of self-examination processes, resulting in the clear understanding of current and new high value activities the organization should continue focusing on.

To be more effective, transformational leadership retreats should be held periodically throughout the year by an outside competent party. The critical transformational discipline activities revised by business executives during the retreats teach leadership participants how to correctly apply them in their organizations, increasing the success factors for the business.

Finding the link between leadership and management is of great importance in making the improvements required for the overall business transformation.

* Management is more formal and scientific than leadership. It relies on universal skills, such as planning, budgeting, and controlling. Management involves a set of tools and techniques, based on reasoning and testing that can be used in a variety of situations.
* Leadership, by contrast, involves having a vision of what the organization can become. Leadership requires cooperation and teamwork from a large network of people and keeping the key people in that network motivated to achieve the appropriate transformational results.

Guidelines for Becoming a Transformational Leader

* Develop a vision that is both clear and highly appealing to followers.
* A clear vision will guide followers toward achieving organizational goals and make them feel good about doing so.
* Articulate a strategy for bringing that vision to life. Don't present an elaborate plan; rather, state the best path toward achieving the mission.
* State your vision clearly and promote it to others. Visions must not only be clear but made compelling, such as by using anecdotes.
* Show confidence and optimism about your vision. If a leader lacks confidence about success, followers will not try very hard to achieve that vision.
* Express confidence in followers' capacity to carry out the strategy.
* Followers must believe that they are capable of implementing a leader's vision. Leaders should build followers' confidence.
* Build confidence by recognizing small accomplishments toward the goal.
* If a group experiences early success, it will be motivated to continue working hard.
* Celebrate successes and accomplishments. Formal or informal ceremonies are useful for celebrating success, thereby building optimism and commitment.
* Take dramatic action to symbolize key organizational values.
* Visions are reinforced by things leaders do to symbolize them. For example, one leader demonstrated concerns for quality by destroying.
* Work that was not up to standards.

N. Venkateswaran
Asst. Professor
Department of MBA
Panimalar Engineering College

Source: E-mail February 02, 2007


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