Leading people to a purposeful destination
While transformational leadership is about change, there must be a worthwhile purpose to support that change. Without purpose, leadership becomes dysfunctional.
Many organizations and their leaders try to avoid any change. They live by the adage “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” – even when not expressed openly. Change is inevitable, so leading change in a positive direction is the plan and passion of every transformational leader.
During my recent travels, I arrived in Dubai through terminal 1. The airport terminal can handle approximately 25 million passengers a year. With the opening of Terminal 3 and a new concourse, about 60 million commutes occur through Dubai each year. By any standard, the terminal wasn’t broke. It was operating efficiently and had even won awards as one of the best airports in the middle-east. As I walked through the renovation area with temporary walls and signs to direct travelers, I was remembering the nice facility it had been only weeks ago. Now, I was confused by all the changes. Making my way to the taxi, I was asking myself what all this change was about. Then I saw a sign that answered that question! The message was: Sorry for any disturbance- but it’s going to be worth it!
I was experiencing the transformation of Dubai Terminal 1! Currently, it is an unfinished project, but the goal is to be the best airport in the world. The process can be very messy and create confusion for weeks and even months. The transformational leader, however, is committed to the greater vision and purpose for why the change is necessary and communicates that vision to both the worker and the customers. Instead of seeing the dust, I began to imagine what the future facility was going to look like. The message completely changed my feelings about my current situation.
Research data on the transformational leader
The experience at the terminal follows our research about the transformational leadership style. We give credit to Carter and Greer (2013) for their findings. They determined that transformational leaders focus more on influencing the “internal mind-set of the organization’s people, its culture, and even cultures beyond the organization”. They also state that transformational leaders thrive in helping followers relate and connect with the vision, mission and values of any organization. Carter and Greer further explain that building this strong connection with what an organization stands for is essential for a high-level, strategic leader to operate effectively. Leaders that behave in this way according to their article, can support followers and the entire team by helping them see the value and importance of their contributions to the organization. This leadership ability encourages the team to look beyond their current situation to strive for the greater good of the organization. This “appeals to the higher order needs of followers” to be part of a grander plan. Carter and Greer are referring to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, where growth & development, achievement and status are at the top of the list.
Transformational leadership influence every follower to rally around the worthwhile cause because they can contribute in a significant way to it. Including others in the process of developing a vision and then allowing participation in the planning and communication helps ensure that followers are enthusiastically engaged in the implementation of the changes needed. Transformational leaders ensure that their followers are on the same page with them before changes are made.
Based on this research and our experience, Strong Advice concludes that transformational leaders have developed competencies that promote change by energizing their followers. They succeed where transactional leaders may fail because they have learned to appeal to the significance of the mission. The normal resistance to changes by workers, like anxiety and confusion over the unknown, or fear of losing what they have, is overcome by a greater and higher purpose. This style of leader transforms the organization by first transforming the mind of the people who carry out the work of transformation. According to Jack Welch, the 21st Century organizations can only “win” (i.e. beat competitors) by ensuring that their people are aligned and able to make independent, innovative and intelligent decisions in the face of uncertainty and still maintain consistency with the mission and values of the organization.
Transformational leadership and organizational performance
When performance is compared with the transactional style, it may seem that transactional leaders win in the short-term. Like the example at the airport, performance may suffer at first due to dramatic changes. The benefits take longer to materialize. Many leaders prioritize short-term gains over longer term sustainability. However, the transformational leader takes the time to build trust, not only with the workers, but with stakeholders, including stockholders, board members and customers. The result is higher performance and improved sustainability in the long term.
Where the Transactional leader improves efficiency and reduces costs, the transformational leader, over time, can match efficiency while increasing performance in additional areas, such as:
- Improved employee performance through job satisfaction and challenging work that leads to personal growth and development.
- Improved organizational identity as a trusted member of the community.
- Improved work environment with better equipment and resources to fulfill the mission of the organization
- Healthier work culture and relationships within the organization.
If any organization wants to remain successful in the longer term, these additional performance improvements are non-negotiable. Strategic leaders must demonstrate the capability to transform. A few leaders may have a natural tendency to be transformational and just need refining. For the majority, coaching and training are required before these skills can be added to a strategic leader’s toolkit.