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Transformative Leadership

We all have suffered through unforgettably bad bosses, but incredible leaders evoke some of our best memories. Perhaps they were mentors, friends, or confidantes. Something about them motivated us. We wanted to work harder and better for them. We felt guilty if we did not give them our best effort. But, how did they inspire us? Can we identify a trait that made them so different?

We may not know how to explain it, but something in their leadership drew us to them. In today’s terminology, our best leaders probably would be referred to as transformational. Transformational leaders do not rely on “carrots” or “sticks” to get their followers to accomplish the mission. They do not lead through fear and intimidation, but, rather, by respect and compassion. Instead of telling us what to do, they allow us to figure things out on our own. A transformational leader can empathize with us, knowing when to offer encouraging words, as well as when to give us a firm push. Often, these leaders engage in small, subtle, yet powerful gestures that show us how much they care.

Qualities of Transformational Leaders 

There are four key components of transformational leadership, also known as the four I's. These consist of:

  • Intellectual stimulation - a transformational leader challenges followers to be innovative and creative. (outside-the-box thinking)

  • Individualized consideration - a transformational leader demonstrates genuine concern for the needs and feelings of followers.(compassion)

  • Inspirational motivation - a transformational leader has the ability to inspire and motivate followers. (excited masses, shared vision)

  • Idealized influence - a transformational leader serves as a role model for followers and truly "walks the talk." (actions speak louder than words)

When a leader is able to perform each component, serving as a role model, encourager, innovator, and coach all at once, they will transform those around them into better, more productive, and more successful individuals.

Being able to achieve this can be easier said than done, and requires both the possession of innate characteristics associated with transformational leadership and commitment to the guiding principles of this leadership style. To meet these four components, a transformational leader must be someone who:

  • Empowers followers to do what is best for the organization

  • Is a strong role model with high values

  • Listens to all viewpoints to develop a spirit of cooperation

  • Creates a vision, using people in the organization

  • Acts as a change agent within the organization by setting an example of how to initiate and implement change

  • Helps the organization by helping others contribute to the organization

Why Transformational Leadership?

There are so many different leadership styles that you might be wondering why you should focus on transformational leadership instead of another style.

Research shows that groups led by transformational leaders have higher levels of performance and satisfaction than groups led by other types of leaders. This is because transformational leaders believe in their followers: they know they can do their best, which leads members of the group to feel inspired, motivated, and empowered.

Similarly, transformational leadership often leads to wider success on a business level - transformational leaders help promote the success of the organization by tapping into the strengths of others.


...Browse Videos on Transformational Leadership...

The concept of transformational leadership was introduced by leadership expert James McGregor Burns in his 1978 book, Leadership, in which he described this style as a process by which "leaders and followers make each other advance to a higher level of morality and motivation." Several years later, researcher Bernard Bass expanded on this description in his classic text, Transformational Leadership, defining transformational leaders as: "those who stimulate and inspire followers to both achieve extraordinary outcomes and, in the process, develop their own leadership capacity. Transformational leaders help followers grow and develop into leaders by responding to individual followers' needs by empowering them and by aligning the objectives and goals of the individual followers, the leader, the group, and the larger organization."


The article offers suggestions on how business leaders can improve workplace morale and employee productivity. It suggests that managers demonstrate efficiency by consistently performing, provide clarity to employees regarding organizational goals and plans, and trust subordinates and frontline employees to succeed.
The article outlines not only issues related to increasing the productivity of employees without adding time and resources, but offer ideas for successful implementation. Topics discussed include setting goals for employees and explaining them their role on the job, the importance of policies and procedures within organizations, and the accountability provided by job description.         
Wellbeing initiatives boost productivity. People Management. Sep2017.              
Corporate wellness programmes have been proved to save organisations money by reducing absenteeism - but new research from the University of California has shown they also improve productivity by the equivalent of one additional work day per month for each participant. The study gathered health and productivity data from 111 workers employed at several laundry plants over three years. A free voluntary wellness programme was offered to the employees. Those who signed up for the scheme were offered a simple health exam and survey. They were given personalised information about their current health, and recommendations for improving it. Researchers found that participation in the programme increased average worker productivity by more than 5 per cent. Those who did more exercise and changed their diet saw the biggest improvement in productivity. Researcher Timothy Gubler says: “The result is healthier and happier employees who are not only less expensive and less absent, but also more productive.”
The top productivity killers:
-Space between work settings, dividers and noise levels.
-The winner of the open-plan vs. private office debate: Both open-plan and cellular solutions can be equally good and bad. Across more than 2,200 workplaces surveyed, employees in the highest performing locations will almost certainly sit in an open-plan setting, so demonizing this way of working is not the way forward.
-Workplace transformation projects are not always transformative: With large investments in refurbishment and relocation fit-out projects, leadership teams expect them to deliver significant operational benefit. But evidence shows this to not always be the case.
-Workplace + behavior = effectiveness: Based on Leesman’s research across 11,336 employees in 40 activity-based spaces, these employees rarely work in an activity-based way. In short, employees don’t just change the working habits of a lifetime because employers tell them to.
*Academic Study*
2 Distinct Types of Daily Work Planning
1. Time management planning (TMP)—creating task lists, prioritizing tasks, and determining how and when to perform them.
-Employees create a schedule for their prioritized list of tasks. This defines goals at the daily level and highlights goal discrepancies that help to prevent wasted time & energy.
-Self-induced distractions are lower when individuals have a goal and do not have other goals in mind that can take attention away from that focal goal
-Employees prioritize and set apart different tasks and, thereby, reduce off-task
-Provides the necessary information or checkpoints for employees to infer or understand their goal progress
-Can encourage employees to invest more physical, emotional, and cognitive resources into their work
2. Contingent planning (CP) - Involves a general sense of the tasks they want to accomplish for the day while employees seek to anticipate possible disruptions in their upcoming work and plan alternative actions
- For example, an employee who considers a possible delay in a deliverable from a colleague and thinks through what he or she may do if that occurs is engaging in CP
- Anticipation and planning of such possible disruptions could motivate people to work harder, work smarter, and make greater progress at a faster rate before interruptions potentially occur on those days where CP is used
- Account for historical information (e.g., past daily interruptions)
- More realistic about what is possible and set more feasible or attainable goals
- More likely to experience greater work engagement on these days because they feel less frustration or anxiety about not meeting their planned goal progress
- On days without planning of possible threats to getting work done, employees may feel less urgency to accomplish their work
- Many individuals neglect to consider interruptions or disruptions when developing their plans and set unrealistic goals  
Findings indicate that TMP’s positive effects are conditioned upon the amount of interruptions, but CP has positive effects that are not influenced by the level of interruptions.  
-Organization design is the alignment of five factors: positions, accountabilities and authorities, people, deliverables and tasks
The CEO should set context and prescribed limits (e.g. why we are doing this; what the expectations are; etc.); would likely hold the operational direct report managers accountable for the organization designs within their areas; set up a project executive (often the head of human resources), who would have cross-functional accountabilities and authorities including recommending policies and standards, monitoring, advising , service providing, coordinating, and perhaps stopping work or prescribing work; and set up an issue resolution and context clarification process.
Continuous improvement plays a huge role in managing processes and developing best practices. It covers a wide range of methods and is practiced by companies all over the world, both in manufacturing and service sectors. The two types or methodologies that will be examined here are Six Sigma and, perhaps the less well known, Performance Solutions by Milliken.
When implemented correctly, agile innovation teams almost always result in higher team productivity and morale, faster time to market, better quality, and lower risk than traditional approaches can achieve. What if a company were to launch dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of agile teams? Could whole segments of the business learn to operate in this manner? As enticing as such a prospect is, turning it into a reality can be challenging. Companies often struggle to know which functions should be reorganized into multidisciplinary agile teams and which should not. And it’s not unusual to launch dozens of new agile teams only to see them bottlenecked by slow-moving bureaucracies. The authors, who have studied the scaling of agile at hundreds of companies, share what they’ve learned about how to do it effectively. Leaders should use agile methodologies themselves and create a taxonomy of opportunities to set priorities and break the journey into small steps. Workstreams should be modularized and then seamlessly integrated. Functions not reorganized into agile teams should learn to operate with agile values. And the annual budgeting process should be complemented with a VC-like approach to funding.


Stephen M.R. Covey defines trust and its importance in leadership vs. management and it's place in organizational culture.

The library will have copies of this book in print & audiobook starting 21 Sept.

A Few Key Points

Related Readings - Articles

Related Reading - Academic Articles


A Winning Team: The best team players are humble, hungry and smart

An interview with author Patrick Lencioni is presented in which he discusses teamwork in the workplace, employee engagement, and his thoughts on why employees dislike meetings.

- What is the biggest threat to an effective team? A lack of trust. If people can’t trust each other, they’ll be unwilling to admit when they make a mistake or need help.

- What causes workers to be disengaged? Anonymity, irrelevance and a lack of meaningful performance measures. Employees need a way to assess for themselves that they are doing a good job and making an impact, separate from the feedback they get from management.

- Why do people hate meetings so much? Often we come together for a kind of “meeting stew.” We throw every possible topic into the mix.

- Four types of meetings worth holding:

Daily check-ins - five-minute standing huddle

Weekly tactical meetings - 15 minute review of how we’re doing against our immediate goals

Monthly strategic meetings - tackle big problems, challenge & debate, explore the future

Offsite quarterly reviews – Assess your team’s morale, conflict issues: How are we doing?

Collaboration or Distraction? How leaders can promote effective team work

- Avoid collaboration for collaboration’s sake, too many joint projects can lead to collaboration overload. Have a strategy.

- Model collaborative behaviors – Delegate decision making, create an open idea friendly environment

- Build strong networks – Connect people with others that can enhance their skill sets. Share best practices.

- Encourage collaboration across the enterprise – Establish connections across departments and outside of your organization

- Structure the work to avoid overload – Be aware of the burden of too much time in meetings or answering e-mails.


As organizations become more global, matrixed, and complex, they are requiring employees to collaborate with more internal colleagues and external contacts than ever before. According to research, most managers now spend 85% or more of their work time on e-mail, in meetings, and on the phone. And although greater collaboration has benefits, it also leaves significantly less time for focused inpidual work, careful reflection, and sound decision making. Organizational solutions are, of course, necessary to eradicate collaborative overload across the board. But research shows that with some strategic self-management, inpiduals can also tackle the problem on their own, clawing back 18% to 24% of their collaborative time. The first step is to understand why you take on too much work for and with others; this often involves challenging your identity as a “helper,” a “team player,” or a “star performer.” Next, figure out how you add—and from where you derive—the most value and eliminate any collaborations that distract from that work. Last, ensure that the collaboration you continue with is as productive as possible.

Have We Gone Too Far In Promoting Collaboration? All teamwork--and no individual play--can make for dull employees

-Topics discussed include the specific roles of inpiduals in the workplace despite a team-oriented culture, how solitude and quiet moments can help workers enhance creativity, and tips to build a better balance between individual time and teamwork.

- Teams of “genius opposites”— that is, those that balance introverts and extroverts—get exponentially more accomplished together than their individual members would alone.

- The reality is that, no matter how team-oriented our cultures are, individuals will always have specific roles that require solo contributions. Our overly team- and meeting-focused work culture doesn’t always acknowledge that.

- Moreover, when all brainstorming happens in meetings and conference calls, the ideas of quieter contributors may never surface.

- Giving workers sufficient solitude allows them to tap into their unique skills and experience to solve problems and cultivate new ideas. Preparation is a key success strategy for any meeting, coaching session or process-improvement initiative. But in order for people to plan adequately—or to digest information afterward—they need to pause.

- The right half of our brains—the side that is more experimental, innovative and visionary - works at its fullest capacity when people are in a relaxed state.

Team Development Interventions: Evidence-Based Approaches for Improving Teamwork (Academic Article)

Team development interventions (TDIs) increase effective team competencies and processes, thereby leading to improvements in proximal and distal outcomes. The effectiveness of TDIs is evident across domains (e.g., education, health care, military, aviation), and they are applicable in a wide range of settings. To stimulate the adoption and effective use of TDIs, the current article provides a review of four types of evidence-based TDIs including team training, leadership training, team building, and team debriefing. In doing so, we aim to provide psychologists with an understanding of the scientific principles underlying TDIs and their impact on team dynamics. Moreover, we provide evidence-based recommendations regarding how to increase the effectiveness of TDIs as well as a discussion on future research needed within this domain.

A little more...

4 Ways to Help Different Generations Share Wisdom at Work

Igniting Your Team to New Levels of Performance           

The Perceived Impact of Leaders’ Humility on Team Effectiveness: an Empirical Study

These resources are intended as overviews of relevant discussion and do not represent endorsement by TRADOC.