Skip to content

Transformational Leadership: The Most Effective Way to Motivate Your Team

When you’re a leader, it can be really frustrating when your team is executing on the tasks at hand but members aren’t taking the initiative.  Instead, they are waiting for you to tell them what to do.  When this happens, it can feel like the world is on your shoulders and you are in the middle of everything.  It can take the form of frequent fire-fighting, feeling stress and overwhelmed, and leaves little time for strategic work. The best way to get out of the weeds and better empower your team is through transformational leadership. In today’s business landscape, it is the most effective way to motivate a team. I’ll dive into why and how to apply it but first, a story from my past to illustrate how leadership can go incredibly wrong when applying the wrong approach.

When I was a new manager, I made a lot of blunders along the way trying to discover the right way to support and motivate my team.  When I was first promoted, I inherited a content manager who was underperforming.  Specifically, she was delivering the bare minimum to the task at hand and wasn’t operating at the strategic level that her position was scoped for.  In addition, she had recently had her first child and was previously working for a manager who had little to no empathy for that demanding first year as a parent.  Instead, her manager spent time barking orders while complaining about her behind her back (I know this because she was my manager previously too).  To say that she was demotivated and checked out when I inherited her was an understatement. 

At the time, in addition to being a new manager, things were moving really fast at our rapidly growing start-up.  Everyone was wearing many hats and my to-do list got bigger every moment.  Everyone was drinking out of the water hose, it seemed like there was no time to slow down.

Because I didn’t have experience or training in management, I was very task oriented with her.  We would review her to-do’s and then I would check-in on progress.  Over time, she started to feel like more of a liability than an asset and given the history of low performance, I was advised to put her on a PIP (performance Improvement Plan).  The PIP required that I get really specific with her goals and highlight milestones needed to hit them along the way.  Interestingly enough, her work performance started to improve.  When I asked her why, she said that the step-by-step instruction really helped her.

A couple of months later, she submitted her resignation.  No one was surprised and it might have been the best decision for everyone, including her.  Admittedly, I was not skilled or equipped enough as a new manager to help recover the trust and motivation that had been lost and my task-oriented approach didn’t help the situation. But losing an employee wasn’t pleasant. And that experience really led me to stop and reflect.

Did I do everything I could to help her shine?  The answer is no.  I was operating as a transactional leader instead of a transformational leader.  To truly get the most of your team, today’s research shows that leaning into strategies of a transformational leader is the way to go.  If you haven’t had the opportunity or experience to expose yourself to this latest model of what effective leadership should look like, I’m going to give you the cliff notes today.

I’ll talk to you about the difference between transactional vs. transformational leadership, why transformational leadership is taught at many of the world’s top business schools today, and what the four components to transformational leadership are so you can lean into these to get more out of your team.  And feel better about yourself as a leader.

Transformational Leadership vs. Transactional Leadership

Transactional leadership is based on a system of exchanges between the leader and each employee.  Employees receive positive reinforcement for meeting specific goals.  Team members are typically evaluated and given feedback based on predetermined performance criteria.  However with this approach, workers aren’t necessarily expected to think innovatively about the tasks at hand. 

Transformational leadership inspires employees in ways that go beyond exchanges and rewards.  It includes an individualized approach to each direct report that gets the most of each one.  Also, the time to positively reinforce behavior isn’t just specific to performance review time- it happens in everyday interactions.  The reason why it’s taught at many of the best management programs around the world, including MIT, London Business School, and Harvard- It’s a style of leadership that caters to the basic tennets of human motivation.

Where Does this Style Come From and is There Proof It Works?

This style comes from a biographer named James Burns who studied political leaders in the 70’s.  In 2018, this style of leadership was statistically tested to measure results and published in Frontiers in Psychology.  The study found that leaders who modeled transformational leadership saw a significant increase in employee job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and proactive behavior (in that order).  In short, when you model this approach, you’ll see less turnover, higher commitment, and greater initiative.

Ok so this approach works.  But what exactly does a manager need to do to embody the transformational leadership style?

There are four components to the transformational leadership style:

  1. Idealized influence
  2. Individualized Consideration
  3. Intellectual Stimulation
  4. Inspirational Motivation

That’s a lot of “I” words!  Let’s break this down

The Four Components to Transformational Leadership

 1. Idealized Influence- how you show up for those you influence

Idealized influence describes leaders who model ethical behavior.  This means they make values-based decision that consider the needs of the entire organization, not just their own needs, and are mission-focused.  They are the first to take responsibility when things go wrong. This leads them to foster a climate of trust and motivation among the team.  We’re all in this together.  When things go right, I’ll give you the credit.  When things go wrong, I’ll take the fall.  Loyal team

2. Inspirational Motivation- how you motivate

Transformational leaders focus on inspiring people by inherently believing in their abilities.  In short, they lean into trust and set the tone that their people can do anything they set their mind to (if you’re a parent, this approach may sound familiar as the most effective way to motivate humans is rooted in the philosophy of trust and positive reinforcement).  This belief increases the dedication and commitment from each individual on the team.  Think about that teacher you had growing up who believed in you who you wanted to do well for- that’s what we’re going for here.

There’s also a piece to clarity and communication to this component.  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.

For example- “we create products that make the lives of busy professionals easier” – company mission

Team vision- “we operate with the core belief that everyone on our team is skilled and capable of doing their job well and we support each other to win together.”  This team vision should be widely known and communicated and supported in every action that the team takes.

3. Intellectual Stimulation- how you contribute in team conversations

Transformational leaders regularly challenge assumptions, take risks and solicit team members’ input and ideas. There is an idea that I see often when working with teams that challenging a teammate will hurt their feelings or damage the relationship.  When trust is intact and the team has the right framework to challenge ideas, this will take your team’s ideas from good to great.

These leaders don’t fear or excessively focus on avoiding failure.  Instead, they foster an environment where it’s safe to have conversations, be creative and voice diverse perspectives. When creating this environment, it’s important that the leader doesn’t criticize the thoughts or opinions of the team members. Premature shutting down of ideas can create a climate of distrust and hurt.

Instead, these leaders empower employees to ask questions, practice a greater level of autonomy and ultimately determine more effective ways to execute their tasks.

4. Individual Consideration- how you demonstrate how well you know your team

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.  The main skills that shine here include listening, understanding, and Emotional Intelligence.

Individual consideration is the degree to which a leader attends to each follower’s personal needs. Transformational leadership encourages members by focusing on the way each person effects the overall goal.

These leaders recognize and value the motivations, desires, and needs of individual members. Upon recognizing the motivation behind the drive of the individual, leaders then provide opportunities for customized training.

This allows team members to grow and learn in an environment they feel comfortable in.

Applying Transformational Leadership

If you haven’t taken time to get to know yourself and the foundational values you want to leverage as a leader, start here. Once you’re clear on who you are and what you stand for, lean into transformational leadership to enable you to foster a culture where team members take initiative and are proactive in solving problems.  This starts to get more things off your leadership plate to enable you to be more strategic and ensure the things you’re adding to your plate are really those items that are going to set up you for success moving forward.  This is another way to increase your happiness as a leader.

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap