4 Steps of Transformational Leadership in Practice

This post was from September 2013.

This is a guest post by my Canadian friend Naomi Cheng, she was an inspirational leader for the Avenue 15, SIFE/Enactus project. Motivating people and giving personal consideration are no stranger to her. As a recent graduate and HR Analyst at Shell she found the time to make this incredible guest post, please visit her Tumblr

Transformational Leadership in Practice

Leadership has always been a particular interest of mine ever since I started university and became involved in many extracurricular activities. Like you probably have, I’ve come into contact with many ‘good’ leaders, and also many ‘bad’ leaders in both school and work. So although I had a general idea as to what makes a good leader due to these past experiences, I wanted to see what the research said and consciously make an effort to become a better leader to other people. In addition, there is an increasing trend of companies evaluating potential interns and new grads not just on their grades, but also on their leadership experience. Extracurricular experience, at least in Canada, is now no longer an option if you want to be competitive with other students when looking for jobs. And it’s not just a line on your resume – it’s your tangible leadership experiences that employers want you to be able to explain and quantify.

Although there are varying definitions of leadership, it is generally accepted as the process where an individual influences others toward the accomplishment of collective goals. So what makes a great leader?

There are many theories of leadership and what makes a great leader, but transformational leadership has arguably been one of the most popular areas of leadership research in the last two decades. Research has shown that transformational leadership produces higher job satisfaction and increased productivity and morale, among other things. As job satisfaction is another interest of mine, I delved deeper into transformational leadership.

Bass’ 1985 theory sets out four dimensions of transformational leadership. These components were initially drawn from interviews where participants described the types of leaders that caused them to perform above and beyond their expectations, and later, through refined questionnaires and analysis. The four dimensions are as follows: idealized influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, and individual consideration.

1. Idealized Influence

Idealized influence is often seen as the most important dimension because it includes being a role model to others around you. In practice, it means ‘walking the talk’. If the group you’re a leader for prescribes to a certain set of standards and behaviour, make sure you embody these standards. Others will want to look up to you and respect you if you follow the rules and act in a way you expect your followers to act. Your behaviour should influence your followers and as a result, they will become empowered due to the your dedication, purpose, and confidence to the group. They want to be like you.

2. Inspirational Motivation

Inspirational motivation includes communicating an engaging and inspiring vision to others and transferring your enthusiasm for your vision over to your followers. In practice, this means being truly passionate about your vision and spreading that passion to others through words and actions. For example, if your student club is focused on volunteerism and making a difference in the community, you can start your group meetings by highlighting one notable volunteer event coming up or having everyone come to the meeting prepared with a community organization your club may want to partner with. By making your vision a focus at every meeting and event, your followers will be more likely to ‘buy-in’ to the greater goal of your organization. As well, you are providing meaning for the tasks at hand so that your followers understand how their work contributes to the larger objective.

3. Intellectual Stimulation

Intellectual stimulation is defined as stimulating innovation and creativity among your followers by questioning and challenging the status quo. This means adopting a more participatory style of leadership where your subordinates are able to question your ideas and think for themselves. For example, I ran a project that taught job skills to homeless youth and pregnant young women. While I had a basic slide deck for my presenters to use, I encouraged them to be creative when facilitating these sessions and use their own experiences and resources to deliver the class. I was pleasantly surprised to see many new ideas come up from my group members that made the job skills sessions more interactive, interesting, and relevant to the target population. In addition, my team felt more empowered to make decisions themselves and hold themselves accountable. They were challenged, and responded well to the challenge.

4. Individual Consideration

Individual consideration involves being supportive of and giving attention to each individual follower’s feelings and needs. Especially if you’re in charge of a large number of people, it is easy to focus solely on the work that needs to be done and making sure all deliverables are completed on time. It’s extremely important to make time for each of your followers by checking up on them once in a while on a personal basis, and listening to their concerns or ideas. Your followers need to feel like they are a valued part of the team (especially if they’re volunteering their time) and that you truly appreciate their contributions and care about them.

Final Thoughts

I believe we can all learn to be better leaders not just by emulating those we look up to, but also by structuring our own behaviour to reflect what research has shown makes a great leader. And even if you don’t have time to stay up-to-date with research publications, my best advice would be to be open to feedback from others. Ask your group members or direct reports how they feel about your management style and solicit suggestions for improvement (this is like individual consideration, see?). I find people will respect you more when you’re a confident, capable leader, and also willing to take constructive feedback and always looking to improve yourself.

References & Further Reading:

1. Bass, B. M. (1985). Leadership and performance beyond expectations. New York, NY: Free Press.

2. Bass, B. M. (1998). Transformational leadership: Industry, military, and educational impact. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

3. Hautala, T. M. (2005). The effects of subordinates’ personality on appraisals of transformational leadership. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, 11(4), 84-92.

4. Judge, T. A., & Bono, J. E. (2000). Five-factor model of personality and transformational leadership. Journal of Applied Psychology, 85, 751–765.

5. Judge, T. A., & Bono, J. E. (2004). Personality and transformational and transactional leadership: A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 89, 901-910.

6. Kent, T. W., Crotts, J. C., & Azziz, A. (2001). Four factors of transformational leadership behavior. Leadership & Organization Development Journal, 22(56), 221-229.

Written by Naomi Cheng

Naomi Cheng is a student leader just turned employee leader – she will get very far in life