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What is a definition of transformational leadership?

By Atip Muangsuwan

definition of transformational leadership

“A definition of transformational leadership is… leadership that focuses on listening, asking, collaborating, inspiring and leading by example.” – Atip Muangsuwan, The Best Coach International

One of my corporate-leader clients showed up with his coaching topic: “How can I become a transformational leader?”

Our conversation went on like this…

Client: How can I become a transformational leader?

Coach Atip: First of all, we must know what transformational leadership is. Do you know its definition?

Client: I’m not so sure. So, what’s a definition of transformational leadership?

Coach Atip: Transformational leadership is the leadership style that focuses on stimulating and inspiring 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.

Client: Wow! That sounds like the leadership style that I’ve always wanted to possess. Can you elaborate more on this leadership style?

Coach Atip: Sure. This leadership style comprises 4 key components:

  1. Individualized consideration — Transformational leaders listen to employees’ concerns and needs so they can provide adequate support. They operate from the understanding that what motivates one person may not motivate someone else. As a result, they’re able to adapt their management styles to accommodate various individuals on their team.
  2. Inspirational motivation — Transformational leaders are able to articulate a unified vision that encourages team members to exceed expectations. They understand that the most motivated employees are the ones who have a strong sense of purpose.

    These leaders are not afraid to challenge employees. They remain optimistic about future goals and are skilled at giving meaning to the tasks at hand.

  1. Idealized influence — Transformational leaders model ethical behavior. Their moral conduct earns a necessary level of respect and trust. This can help leaders steer decision-making that works to improve the entire organization.
  2. Intellectual stimulation — Transformational leaders regularly challenge assumptions, take risks and solicit team members’ input and ideas. They don’t fear failure, and instead foster an environment where it’s safe to have conversations, be creative and voice diverse perspectives. This empowers employees to ask questions, practice a greater level of autonomy and ultimately determine more effective ways to execute their tasks.

Client: Wow! That seems like an ideal leader in an ideal world. And it seems very difficult to become one! Do you have any practical steps that I can bring forth to practice to become one of transformational leaders?

Coach Atip: I know the essential traits that transformational leaders have. May I share them with you?

Client: Yes, please share. I’m really curious to know.

Coach Atip: There are 5 essential traits that effective transformational leaders have in common. They are the followings:

  1. Good transformational leaders practice self-awareness.

Transformational leaders thrive on personal growth and know their strengths and weaknesses. They often take time to reflect and set daily or weekly goals. These leaders believe everyone, including themselves, should be continually learning and improving. They fundamentally have the so-called, “growth mindset”.

  1. They remain open-minded.

Remaining open to new ideas and fresh perspectives is an important aspect of transformational leadership. Rather than jumping to conclusions, these leaders regularly gather feedback and ideas from a range of sources before making strategic decisions.

  1. The best transformational leaders are adaptable and innovative.

Good transformational leaders understand changing business dynamics and are always finding innovative ways to stay ahead of the curve. They’re unafraid to alter traditional approaches that have worked in the past as they look toward the future.

  1. Good transformational leaders are proactive.

Leaders cannot simply sit around and wait for change to happen. Rather, they make proactive decisions and bold choices that can set the tone for others to follow.

  1. They lead with humility.

Finally, transformational leaders take little issue with admitting they don’t have all the answers. While they can remain confident in their goals and abilities, they’re also able to keep their egos in check and do what’s right for their team or organization.

Client: Great! These seem like the vital traits that I can bring forth to develop and make them my habits. By the way, I’ve heard about transactional leadership style as well. What are the differences between transformational and transactional leadership?

Coach Atip: Transactional leadership is based on a system of exchanges between the leader and each employee. Employees receive positive reinforcement for meeting specific goals.

An effective transactional leader is adept at recognizing and rewarding accomplishments in a timely manner. Within this leadership style, team members are typically evaluated and given feedback based on predetermined performance criteria. Workers aren’t necessarily expected to think innovatively about the tasks at hand.

In contrast, transformational leaders inspire employees in ways that go beyond exchanges and rewards. This approach can increase a team’s intrinsic motivation by expressing the value and purpose behind the organization’s goals.

A transformational leadership style inspires employees to strive beyond required expectations to work toward a shared vision, whereas transactional leadership focuses more on extrinsic motivation for the performance of specific job tasks.

Client: Thank you for the clear distinctions between the two leadership styles. If so, should I become a transformational leader rather than a transactional leader?

Coach Atip: What do you think?

Client: Perhaps, I need both styles! But I just need to balance between the two.

Coach Atip: What a great insight! Learning to balance both styles can help leaders reach their full potential.

Client: Can you give some examples or role model of transformational leaders?

Coach Atip: Sure, I can. They are the influential leaders like Oprah Winfrey, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Reed Hastings of Netflix, Steve Jobs, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa.

Client: Those renowned leaders are business leaders, political leaders and spiritual leaders.

Coach Atip: Yes, transformational leaders can be in all arenas of life if they match the definition of transformational leadership as we discussed earlier. I can even give my own example as a transformational leader. Would you like to hear? 😊

Client: Absolutely! I’d love to hear it from your own experience.

Coach Atip: While I was working in Chevron as a geologist, I was assigned by a senior executive to lead the green team in the company’s sports day activity. The sports day was intentionally designed to be an activity to foster an ‘employee engagement’ and to unite the employees to ‘become one’. Because during that time, Chevron just completed the acquisition process of Unocal.

All employees were grouped into 4 sports teams by color; i.e., green, red, orange and blue. The members in each team were randomly selected by using a computer algorithm.

My given role was to lead over 400 employees who were under the green team. This sports day activity last around 3 months. It was not a one-day sports event. This was because the senior management wanted to create the ‘employee engagement’ so they wanted to prolong the event to foster engagement and collaboration among employees.

There were around 10 sports categories; e.g., soccer, basketball, golf, badminton, volleyball, running, etc. There were sports tournaments in almost every evening after office hours for a period of 3 consecutive months.

So, what I did as the green team leader was… I called for a townhall meeting with all green team members. Then, I shared the vision, mission and values of the green team with them. Next, I asked for volunteers to become the head of each sports category. Then, I delegate my leadership to the heads to find the athletes to join their individual teams.

Then, I communicated to all green team members regularly by using emails and a few meetings. I empowered and supported the heads to do their duties and helped solve the problems and tackle all rising obstacles along the way until the finish line.

Although our green team won the third place from this sports day activity, I felt so proud of my team members who volunteered as athletes, my heads of each sports category for their leadership and myself as a leader.

When I looked back on this sports day activity, I learned that… I had become a transformational leader in this situation. Why? Because I had led the team of over 400 people without using the reward or punishment system (transactional leadership) and I was not their boss who would use the position or job title to force them to join as the athletes or the heads of each sports-category team.

I led them by using my charisma, my shared vision, mission and values with them. And they did their best work based on the volunteer basis. They didn’t receive any money or reward to perform their jobs, in this case, competing in the sports games on behalf of the green team.

They were inspired to play the sports games for the shared vision or victory of the green team as a whole. They were inspired by me! For the heads of the sub-teams, they were given the opportunity to develop their leadership skills and grow to become a better and more effective transformational leader.

So, how does my story resonate with you?

Client: Wow! Your story really inspires me! You’ve convinced me that we can become transformational leaders in any situation or circumstance if we want to and we have good strategies to work on to become one.

End of conversation

Then, my client and I worked on the strategies together in our coaching conversations and follow-up sessions for his particular situations and organization.

6 months later, he shared with me that… not only was he himself totally transformed, but his organization was also transformed. His organization’s employee- engagement score was enhanced from 60% to 80%. And the revenue was increased 200%.

This client of mine now is a transformational leader. This is because of the way he leads. He leads by a definition of transformational leadership which is…

He focuses on stimulating and inspiring his followers to both achieve extraordinary outcomes and, in the process, develop their own leadership capacity.

For me, “A definition of transformational leadership is… leadership that focuses on listening, asking, collaborating, inspiring and leading by example.”

If you want to become a transformational leader like this client of mine does, you can get in touch with me via my homepage for a discovery session @ Home – The Best Coach International (thebest-coach-international.com)

To your transformation,

Coach Atip