I was recently asked to give a one-hour talk on transformational leadership. What can we say within one hour that can make the difference? How can I bring out the essence of leadership that will inspire a group of people whom I have not met before and who have various degrees of leadership experience? I could just jump into the research of Bernard M. Bass, whose Bass Transformational Leadership Model had shaped the topic for years. But that would be like swatting a bug with a sledgehammer – it takes too much effort for what may be a futile outcome. So I decided to take the practical approach – let the audience tell me what transformational leadership was, and I primed that discussion with the screening of a segment of the movie, Invictus. I invite you to watch it now, identifying the keys to transformational leadership from this dialogue…
I am sure you got quite a few but here are five of the key lessons to take away from this dialogue that will help us become strategic and transformational leaders:
1. Lead by Example
A transformational leader provides the vision for the future and leads from the front. A transformational leader does not exhort people to greater heights without first doing it. A transformational leader does not so much as say, “Go conquer” as “Come follow”. If the transformational leader cannot accomplish what he asks of his people, he will not ask it.
2. Inspire Greatness
Transformational leaders inspire people to go beyond themselves. In fact, they get followers to do great deeds not because of their fear, but despite them. The tools of inspiration are vision, communication and action. According to Bass, this is known as Charismatic Leadership. Yet it is charismatic not in a showmanship basis, but on a performance basis. Transformational leaders inspire great deeds from their people, leading them through the fog of uncertainty, without fully knowing where the safety of land is. Indeed, the transformational leader trades in uncertainty, and thrives within it.
3. Use the works of others (aka leverage other people’s talents)
In the movie, Mandela spoke about finding inspiration from a poem and from a song. In fact, Francois Pienaar (played by Matt Damon) also shared how he used a song that everyone knew to galvanise action. Both leaders agreed that to achieve greatness, they didn’t have to do it by themselves; they could – and should - leverage the talents of others. And the others may well just be someone sitting in the next cubicle. Use the talent all around you generously and they will come back to contribute much more than you can do on your own.
4. Expect more
We all know the effects of the Pygmalion Effect. This was the basis of the movie, “My Fair Lady”. By expecting more from our people, they rise to the occasion, even if they may not have shown the potential early on. The Pygmalion Effect can only be achieved with great leadership, the belief that everyone can do much better than they do, and empowering them to accomplish it. The transformational leader achieves this by shielding followers from premature repercussions, allowing them to grow through learning and doing. Failure is not the end of an initiative, it is the beginning of growth and accomplishment.
5. Exceed our own Expectations
Finally, a strategic, transformational leader acts to exceed expectations. To bend over backwards to give more than (s)he promised. Yet (s)he does this not by under-promising, but by over-delivering. Stretching themselves beyond their comfort zone, they also lead their followers to do the same. Being a growth leader, they look not for ways to look good, but to learn more, be more, and give more.
It sounds like a tall order and yet it is not. Everyone can rise to become a transformational leader. The key is the conviction that we can be better than who we are today, the application of our knowledge and intellect to get that done, and the humility to accept that we don’t know everything, and we can move ahead despite that. The transformational leader is the growth leader who makes things happen. And that is YOU!
I would like to leave you with a quotation from Bass: