In any industry, there is a variety of organizations, each with its own distinct structure, culture, and leadership ethos. In many of these organizations there’s a prescribed way to be a leader, and everyone must fall in line, whether it’s aligned with who they truly are or not. In other companies, leaders may be left to bring their own personal style – or let’s face it, lack of style – to the role.
Organizations which insist on leadership being portrayed in one established way are as unlikely to reach the peak of their industry as those which adopt a laissez faire approach, leaving it up to each individual. In fact, there’s about 100 years of research on leadership to pore over, if you’ve got a spare afternoon and a pot of strong coffee to hand. But let us break it down for you: the days of didactic and autocratic leadership are long gone. We’re now in the age of leaders as real people, where personality, preference and authenticity are prized – as long as they’re blended with an ability to maintain task focus and a deliver results for the business. That’s because the best leaders, and leadership teams, are human, with all the jumble of attitudes and character traits that that implies.
Leadership in the context of disruption
Put this into the context of today’s disruptive workplace, where many of us are looking towards a future of AI, working alongside smart machines, and increasing levels of remote working. Teams are often decentralized, possibly matrixed into several project teams, and pushed to the limits of what is possible in a world of rapid technological innovation. In the face of such overwhelming change, it’s clear that the role of the leader – and so their ability to motivate and inspire the people in their care – becomes ever more integral to organizational success with each passing year.
Taken together, these factors tell us that organizations are crying out for transformational leaders. Leaders who know how to pull a disparate team together with a strong vision, underpinned by a solid plan for execution. Someone who knows how to give people real clarity of role, but can also pull on the interdependencies in the team to get projects over the line. A leader who holds a passion for action and results, but never, ever, leaves any one person behind.
In recognition of the fact that each of us in the workplace is a unique individual, leaders should be equipped with a set of skills which form a toolkit they’ll have at their disposal every day, in every situation. Leaders with a tapestry of different strengths and qualities, which they use to motivate and inspire those in their charge, are what we call transformational leaders.
Transformational looks different on everyone
What’s inspiring about transformational leaders is that they’re not cookie-cutter leaders – nor should they be. Their real genius is that they are naturals at some elements of leadership, they’re willing to work on those that don’t come so easily, and that they embody the critical balance between getting results and nurturing a cohesive team. At Insights, people who embark on our Transformational Leadership program learn where they lie on each of our eight leadership dimensions: delivering results, leading change, creating a compelling vision, communicating with impact, fostering teamwork, facilitating development, leading from within, and agile thinking.
Just that short list demonstrates that transformational leadership is a mixed bag of characteristics, and the contents of everyone’s bag will look different, depending on their natural style. What takes a leader from merely transactional, to highly transformational, is the willingness to look critically at how they’re performing against all eight dimensions. When they put the dimensions into practice – and transformational leadership is certainly a daily practice – they learn how to display what people need from them, in any given moment, meeting, or tough conversation. So in the next difficult meeting, think about your leadership skillset like a set of dials – what should you dial up to get the best outcome, and what could you turn down the volume on? Drawing on that flexible toolkit will take you from transactional to transformational – and on to career success