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5 Secrets Of Transformational Leaders

Transformational leaders don’t proclaim their effectiveness to the world — their employees do it for them.

For about 30 years, transformational leadership has been considered by many as the optimal leader style. These leaders create top decile business growth, manage rapid change, and turn followers into leaders. They lead organizations with high levels of engagement, productivity and a low rate of employee turnover.

transformational leadership

Transformational leaders always create trust through transparency and results, set high standards and then walk the talk, communicate effectively and connect all work activities to the organization’s mission, vision and values.

A best guess is less than five percent of leaders can be considered transformational. The other 95 percent of us have to keep trying. However, research does point to behaviors that are consistently  observed in transformational leaders that can be learned. While there are many characteristics that contribute to transformational leadership, research finds the five listed below are foundational.

Accountable. Transformational leaders who generate exceptional results don’t take the credit — they give it with the entire organization. When results fall short, they don’t blame others. Instead, they accept responsibility, learn from their mistakes, try again, and share lessons with the entire organization. They set clear goals, hold themselves and other’s accountable, and work hard to strengthen organizational culture.

Ethical. In the long run, ethical leadership always wins out over charismatic leaders who cut corners and leap over legal boundaries. The list of leaders who killed companies and thousands of jobs in exchange for money and power is too long to list here. It also works out better for the followers to have an ethical leader who does what is right instead of what is right for them.

Courageous. Those who hold leadership positions but lack courage, good judgment or the confidence to make difficult decisions are not true leaders. Great leaders have the courage to make (and own) difficult decision, share bad news, listen to criticism with an open mind, and lead from outside their personal comfort zone.

Communicate. Leaders who hide in their office or think communication is someone else’s job to communicate  can only hope for mediocrity. The best leaders routinely round on employees, are open to bottom up communication, consistently share the organization’s mission, vision and values to all stakeholders, are open about business results, goals and the importance of everyone’s role in reaching those goals.

Flexibility. The best leaders are aware of their own shortcomings and weaknesses. They seek and accept input from strategic and content experts, as well as contrarians, before making significant decisions. Flexibility extends to being comfortable with ambiguity and leading constant change. And, they are able to adapt their management style to meet the unique needs of team members.

Gregory Alford, MS. Psy., is founder of Accelerated Coaching & Consulting LLC, in the Chicago area, and specializes in leadership and transition coaching.

Your Followers Know Your Leadership Style – Do You?

Be honest. What type(s) of leader are you?

As you go through the list, make a mental note that we are very good at fooling ourselves, and our opinions are biased in favor of protecting our self-image. In reality, the most accurate answer comes from 360 degree feedback (although low-rated leaders often dispute this). But, not everyone has that luxury, so please keep an open mind and read on.

The best executive is the  one who has (3)

Authoritarian/Autocratic. Derided by many as “you are lucky to have a job” leadership. These leaders rely on positional authority to motivate and achieve results. This style has waned in use for many reasons, including it rarely leads to long-term success. Most people can’t wait to get away from these distant and rule-bound bosses.

Paternalistic. A cousin of the authoritarian leader, these are bosses who tell their teams “because I said so,” in either direct or indirect language. As the name implies, these leaders treat their employees like they are children who should be seen and not heard. They often distrust employees, create rigid policies, and share little information. On the plus side, a few of these leaders are protective of their teams and take care of them like they are family.

Democratic. These leaders like to spread decision-making authority to individuals or teams. In a high trust environment, this style empowers followers to collaborate, take reasonable risks, own their success (or learn from failure), and develop a powerful team dynamic.If the leader excludes key people from the decision-making group or is too hands off, this leadership style can create conflict, role uncertainty, and finger-pointing when conflict or failure occur

Laissez-faire. This term describes the “hands-off” leader who gives more autonomy than guidance. This can be effective when followers understand goals, are confident, and highly skilled. It tends to fall apart when leaders do not provide needed resources, access, goals, or fail to reward followers for reaching milestones.

Transactional. A common style, these leaders use rewards and punishments to manage productivity. If followers feel supported, appreciated, and the environment is fair, these leaders can be very effective.

Transactional leaders also can be toxic  when followers feel rewards go to the “in-group,” resources are withheld (and failure becomes the only option), or fail to provide feedback to struggling followers until it is time to punish.

Transformational. Outgoing, energetic, empowering and consensus builders, transformational leaders strive to connect followers to the organization’s highest purpose. These leaders tap into latent energy and are able to unleash it in ways that create growth for the company, and its employees. Truly transformational leaders are few and far between.

Most leaders flow between related styles. It is easy to understand how a leader can be both transactional and Laissez-faire, or authoritarian and paternalistic. Still, you have a dominant style that others can identify, even if you can’t.

Self-awareness is the first step to self-improvement. If you want help with next steps, reach out to me.

Gregory Alford, MS. Psy., is founder of Accelerated Coaching & Consulting, LLC, and specializes in business, leadership and life coaching and consulting.

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