What is Transformational Leadership?

April 6, 2014 | Posted in Leadership, Purpose | By

Over the past month I have been involved in a study to examine the leadership styles for a variety of senior-level administrators at different higher education universities around the United States. The goal of our research group was determine if there are particular types, or styles of leadership that are most prevalent at the American higher education institution.

The results of our findings (from the group of senior-leaders we interviewed)  indicate that  all leaders display  characteristics from a particular approach to leadership,  described as Transformational Leadership.

So, what is Transformational Leadership?

Transformational Leadership

Transformational Leadership is a approach to leadership that ehances the motivation, morale, and performance of followers through a variety of mechanisms. These include connecting the follower’s sense of identity and self to the project and the collective identity of the organization; being a role model for followers that inspires them and makes them interested; challenging followers to take greater ownership for their work, and understanding the strengths and weaknesses of followers, so the leader can align followers with tasks that enhance their performance (Bass & Avolio, 1994).

Transformational Leadership can be additionally described by the following four elements:

1) Idealized Leadership

  • Being role models; modeling the way
  • Considers the needs of others over his/her own need
  • Is consistent and shares risks with follower
  • Does the right things and demonstrates high standards of conduct
  • Avoids using power for personal gain

2) Inspirational Motivation

  • Provide meaning and challenge to follower’s work.
  • Display enthusiasm and optimism.
  • Involves followers in envisioning desired future states.
  • Arouses a team spirit.
  • Clearly communicate expectations and goals.
  • Inspires a shared vision.

3) Intellectual Stimulation

  • Employees participate in decision making and are encouraged to be innovative and creative by questioning assumptions, re-framing problems and trying new approaches to existing problems
  • Does not publicly criticize for mistakes.
  • Does not criticize an employee’s opinions if different from the leaders, rather rewards “out of the box” thinking.

4) Individualized Consideration

  • Pays attention to their employees’ needs for achievement and growth through coaching and mentoring.
  • New learning opportunities are created in a supportive climate.
  • Individual differences are recognized and accepted.
  • Communication effectively and practices “management by wandering around”
  • Sees the individual as a whole person, not an employee.
  • Delegates tasks to assist in developing others.
  • Monitors to provide support and direction, not to check up on people.

Another great model describing some practical examples of Transformational Leadership can be found from the authors Kouzes & Posner: The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership Model

This research study got me to thinking, is this coincidence, or did these administrators, from all different parts of the country mind you, stumble upon a leadership style that is truly most effective? Moreover, do leaders that embody these characteristics seem to make the greatest contribution to their organizations and onto others? Is this is why they have risen to the ranks of senior-leadership at these institutions?

My conclusions have lead me to the belief that this is not coincidence. I believe these leaders all identify with this particular approach to leadership because it is most effective. Additionally, each of the leaders we studied all have a “timeless purpose” they are committed to. This purpose helps to define their meaning, a meaning in which they believe that they are creating a “life changing” impact on the people, communities and world around them. I believe this is why Transformational Leadership seems to resonate the strongest from these leaders.

So, the last question, are you a Transformational Leader?


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Let’s Do War, Together.

December 15, 2013 | Posted in Leadership | By

There is one particular scene from Mel Gibson’s 2002 movie, We Were Soldiers, that has an important truth for us as leaders, especially for those who lead or work alongside the millennial (those born between 1980-2005).

Mel Gibson plays Army Lt. Colonel Hal Moore, who commands the 7th Calvary during the Vietnam War. This particular unit was responsible for blitzing the enemy by transporting soldiers via helicopter right onto right onto the most dangerous front-line battlefields. The Army 7th Calvary was known for its aggressive and very dangerous strategies during the Vietnam War. This particular unit would be consistently led onto what could be called the “depths of hell” during the Vietnam War.

The following video is a powerful speech by Lt. Colonel Hal Moore right before they leave for Vietnam. Knowing full well that his troops would be landing under fire, and that casualties would be expected, Army Lt. Colonel Hal takes a unique approach to motivating and embodying trust for his men.

Take a moment to watch this video here: Lt. Colonel Hal Moore’s Speech (or click on the image below):


“I will be the first person to set foot on the field, and I will be the last to step off, and I will leave no one behind …”

Imagine as an employee that your leader embodied this value. “We are going to do this work together.” The “I’ve got your back” mentality displays the high levels of trust and admiration between the leader and the employee. In their book The Leadership Challenge, Kouzes and Posner describe this trait of leadership as “Modeling the Way”.

“Modeling the Way” establishes principles concerning the way people should be treated and the way goals should be pursued. They create standards of excellence and then set an example for others to follow.

Particularly for the millennial workforce, this approach to leadership resonates very strongly. From my years of working with and hiring the millennial generation, I have noticed they want to “do work together”. The millennial wants the relationship connection, they want to be mentored, and they value work that has variety, as well as opportunities for personal growth. Compensation, while important for the millennial, does not hold the same weight as it did for their parents.

Through relationships that “Model the Way”, we can “pull along” the millennial to develop professionally. Additionally, we can also come alongside the millennial to fill their needs for connecting and feeling valued. I have seen the results of this kind of leadership which has a profound effect on the millennial, as well as on their contribution to the organization. In fact, as a millennial myself, I can attest to the positive example that this type of leadership engenders.

As the millennial continues to enter the workforce, let’s embody an approach to leadership that “Models the Way”. Let’s come alongside our colleagues and say, “I’ve got your back, let’s do this together … And I will never leave you behind.”

In the words of Mel Gibson, “Let’s Do War, Together.”

(p.s. Thanks to Eric Bruntmyer who initially shared this story with me, it still has meaning all of these years later).

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