As the new reality continues to change and challenge the world as a whole, resource-depleted leaders fail to recognize the levels of burnout experienced by their loyal employees. It’s like a vicious circle within a vicious circle that spins chaotically, leading to negative business outcomes.

Author Radiana Pit | Copperberg

Both on-site and remote workers need a sustainable management framework to be able to function well in the new normal. And forward-thinking leaders know all about it: transformational leadership.

If you are willing to set yourself as an example and acknowledge the human being behind the desk or screen that makes efforts every day to rise up to your expectations, then this approach is for you.

What is transformational leadership?

Transformational leadership is a management approach that enables change and transformation that starts at an individual level. Transformational leaders create visions for their employees and inspire them to manifest those shared visions by making the necessary changes both inward and outward. They support their workers in exceeding their perceived capabilities and motivate them to transcend their limitations. 

Unlike the widely spread transactional leadership style, which leaders use to enforce employee compliance via conditional rewards and punishments, the transformational leadership style follows a different philosophy that is oriented toward long-term commitment.

Especially for today’s climate, it’s important to note that transformational leaders also embrace value-based behavior and care for their workers as real human beings. This is just one of the reasons why transformational leadership is associated with positive mental health for the workforce. Put into practice, this concept can boost employee morale, encourage psychological well-being, decrease employee burnout levels, and alleviate high stress, especially in times of crisis or uncertainty — such as a global pandemic.

Although it is perfectly relevant for us today, transformational leadership was first introduced as a term by sociologist James V. Downton in his 1973 book Rebel Leadership: Commitment and Charisma in a Revolutionary Process. The term was later developed into a management concept by leadership expert and presidential biographer James MacGregor Burns, who described it as the relationship between leaders and followers that make each other advance to a higher level of morality and motivation

This concept became part of a robust theory known as the Full Range Leadership Model, which was developed by leadership experts Bruce Avolio and Bernard Bass in 1991. As Bass expanded upon Burns’ ideas for his model, a practical behavioral style started to emerge. As such, the main behaviors exhibited by transformational leaders were identified and today they are known as the four I’s:

  • Idealized influence (II);
  • Inspirational motivation (IM);
  • Individualized consideration (IC);
  • Intellectual stimulation (IS).

Let’s dive deeper into each of them below.

The four I’s of transformational leadership

Idealized influence (II)

Transformational leaders are easy to trust and follow because they practice what they preach. They set an example at the executive level of how performance should be and adjust expectations in doing so. By using their own example, they motivate workers to follow suit.

And by being loyal to the shared cause and willing to join the frontlines, they show conviction regarding the vision they set out and empathy toward their workers. This is how leaders become role models for their followers who internalize their ideas and emulate their work ethic and performance.

Last but not least, through idealized influence, leaders establish a foundation of mutual trust and respect upon which they build long-lasting relationships. They achieve this by:

  • Instilling pride in their employees for being a part of the company;
  • Exhibiting confidence even under high-stress situations;
  • Recognizing the moral and ethical ramifications of each decision.

Inspirational motivation (IM)

Idealized influence enables leaders to gain the trust of their employees, motivate them, and provide them with a sense of purpose. In doing so, they prepare their followers for inspirational motivation, which the leader manifests by communicating a consistent vision, realistic expectations, and well-defined values. These help workers understand their roles in achieving mutual objectives.

By being aware of what is expected of them and by putting their best efforts into maximizing their skills and abilities, employees surpass their own limitations and make room for creativity and innovation.

While employees go through this process, their transformational leaders motivate them with tangible objectives, positive feedback, and optimist outlooks. This makes employees feel empowered and important for the cause. They recognize that if a leader is willing to invest so many resources into them, they have what it takes to focus on self-development and maintain or even enhance that level of appreciation. 

To summarize, transformational leaders motivate and inspire their employees by:

  • Being positive about the future;
  • Showing enthusiasm toward targets and objectives;
  • Telling employees that they will achieve their mutual goals.

Intellectual stimulation (IS)

If inspirational motivation fuels employees to surpass their own limitations and make room for creativity and innovation, intellectual stimulation is the spark that lights the fuse.

Intellectual stimulation consists of shared decision-making between leaders and followers. By trusting followers with ownership and autonomy, the transformational leader allows followers to have the freedom they need in order to develop creative ideas and perform in innovative ways.

This approach encourages workers to make propositions and solicit ideas without the fear of negative feedback or destructive criticism. Transformational leaders don’t stifle innovation by making negative remarks. Instead, through intellectual stimulation, they are:

  • Seeking different perspectives and solutions alongside their employees; 
  • Suggesting new ways of completing assignments;
  • Trusting employees to make their own decisions without micromanaging.

Individualized consideration (IC)

What distinguishes transformational leaders from traditional, transactional leaders is individualized consideration — the fact that they consider their employees at an individual level and understand their contributions to the shared cause. They recognize their needs and desires and tries to accommodate them.

Transformational leaders use tailored approaches for each employee. Whether it’s for motivation or training, they will adjust their methods according to each employee in order to truly align the individual to larger operational objectives. They focus on the fulfillment of the individual need for self-actualization by:

  • Coaching workers more often;
  • Helping employees develop their skills through formal training;
  • Accommodating the different needs, abilities, and aspirations of all team members.

On this note, remember Seth Godin’s words: Transformational leaders don’t start by denying the world around them. Instead, they describe a future they’d like to create.

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