Has “transformational leadership” lost its impact as a rallying cry in Corporate America by overuse? Great ideas can use out if overused by the ignorant to appear smart. already if the chief idea has tremendous value, it loses the ability to inspire. This wearing-out comes from too many sycophants (or consultants!) wandering about spouting it mindlessly without understanding how it has to work to be effective.
Toss the bathwater. Keep the baby.
A great idea like “transformational leadership” deserves retrieval and rehabilitation whenever we see it sliding towards cliché. It has real value because it precisely describes a truly useful mindset for leaders who wish to build sustainably productive cultures within their area of responsibility.
Let’s move past the mindless parroting of the phrase as “business speak”, and take the time to understand the original intent behind the phrase, and how to use it properly. Let’s review the chief concept:
Transformation vs. Transaction
We press “transformation” in an effort to discriminate “transactional leaders” from leaders who original, include, encourage and motivate (the last two are not the same) their teams to perform at higher levels consistently. Not for a month, or a special project, but all the time.
- The verb “transact” implies getting a series of responsibilities done. Most leaders who show up get this far. Transactional leaders excursion performance. They focus on results, and “accomplish what they can” with limited time and resources.
- The verb “transform” captures what a leader must do to create a fully engaged, highly productive and inventive workforce. Transformational leaders also focus on results, but solve the limited resource problem by unlocking additional productivity within their team, engaging fully with them to tap more of the capabilities, energy and desire inherent in each team member.
Transformational leaders see employee engagement as “Job 1”.
Transactional leaders get stuff done. They focus the energy that their staff is willing to give (about 60% in most companies) to accomplish the team’s stated objectives. They hit their marks, as an actor would say, but they don’t win any academy awards because they do not go above and beyond. They are reliable, but not inspirational.
A transformational leader must also be reliable, and hit his or her marks. But such leaders create a culture that churns out results almost as a byproduct of their contribution, consistently moving the organization forward, in spite of of specific goals handed down by management, because the employees simply want to and enjoy the challenge.
Moving from “transact” to “transform” is the hard part of leadership, and is the jump that so many stated leaders (those in official leadership roles) fail to make.
This failure is not from a without of desire to be the best. Most people want to succeed and earn recognition for what they unprotected to. But, if their organization does not provide the training, tools and permission to build a sustainably productive culture, team leaders will not make the change from transactional to transformational.
If you want to become a transformational leader within your organization, start by adopting a more engaging communication style that is established on personal responsibility and is action-oriented:
Eliminate the “Blame Game”:
- Take the rule in identifying and interceding in conversations that include blame or adopt “victim position”. Teach your team members to drop the need to assign blame and adopt instead your forward-focused mindset.
- Redirect the energy in the group by asking “What can we do now?” We call this “keeping a next-action focus.” It is your job to aim everyone to adopt that mindset permanently.
- Publicly accept personal responsibility for any results, good or bad. Challenge your people to do the same, and never stop leading by example.
Open up Communications:
- Stop directing, start listening and supporting. If you are always doing the talking, you will never hear about a problem, or a new idea.
- Expand your definition of “need to know.” Engaged employees need to know a lot about the company’s goals, its limitations, and the truth behind those energy-sapping rumors. Employees work harder if they know how their piece of the question fits strategically.
Communicate with a “next-action focus”:
- In meetings, define desired outcomes for each discussion
- Turn every discussion you have about work from cause of problems to what to do next
- Finish each meeting with a summary of mutually agreed actions
- Follow up based on these actions. You must be reliable and predictable in applying these habits to all your co-worker interactions.
Whenever you meet with your team members (one-on-one or in meetings), focus relentlessly on just these three meaningful communication mindsets or habits and you will find that conversations between you and your team will steadily enhance, usually within 90 days. Set a goal to make these habits standard behavior within your team, and keep that goal at the top of your to-do list forever!
Great leaders, at any level within an organization, are transformational instead of just transactional. They work hard at inspiring performance by engagement instead of whip-cracking oversight. Leaders who adopt a transformational mindset will unprotected to greater success, simply because the people following them will bring more passion to what they do.