Transformational Leadership

Born somewhere between 1960 and 1975? And feeling a little neglected at work?

According to Linda Duxbury, a professor at The Sprott School of Business in Carleton University, Ottawa, many members of the generation after the baby boomers, (those born between 1947 and 1964 are being thrown into leadership positions they may not be ready for.

So, if you are in this cohort (or its cusp, born between 1960 and1964), you probably received little training or experience in leadership due to tight training budgets and older workers who stayed long in leadership positions.

But rather than become bitter and cynical–this generation is too ambitious for that and wants to get ahead despite being thwarted by their birth dates – these folks tend to take matters into their own hands by teaching themselves and learning on the fly.

So, for “generation x’ers” (and others) who may want a quickie course on leadership, current research has pinpointed transformational leadership as the kind that gets results.

Psychologist Joyce Bono with the University of Minnesota and researcher Marc Anderson with the Department of Strategic Management and Leadership at University of Waikato in New Zealand, studied six organizations (a software engineering company, private high school, urban planning and tourism organizations as well as a neighbourhood center) to identify the elements that make transformational leaders such a success.

They identify four characteristics of a transformational leader that every incumbent “generation X” leader should know, emulate and subscribe to:

1. Be “Charismatic”

Contrary to the implications of the heading, you won’t need a personality transplant to gain a charismatic style. Rather, the authors identified past research that showed transformational leaders need to be able to articulate a desirable vision, one that the team can support whole-heartedly. This makes them good at inspiring others and motivating people to do their best. They embody optimism and are admired and respected. At the same time, the leader must demonstrate commitment to that vision by modeling behaviours that are in line with the intended goal. For example, if the vision you offer is “excellent customer service”, be sure to treat staff as respectfully as you hope they treat the customer. In this way, these types of leaders communicate high ethical standards and highlight company values and ideals as something to work towards.

And while you walk the talk, be sure to repeat the vision with confidence and enthusiasm. Don’t assume your actions speak louder than your words. People will listen to what you say, as well as how you say it. So, make sure your message is clear. Convey genuine passion for it when you talk to staff so employees will be drawn to you for advice and as a sounding board for their ideas.

2. Provide Intellectual Stimulation

Leaders who encourage critical thinking are more valued in the long run than those that push the status quo. The leader stimulates discussion about current practices and thought as well as supporting staff to take risks. Staff feel supported in their divergent thinking. Openly supporting staff when someone questions the assumptions behind a company policy or process and fostering a safe atmosphere for dissenting opinion is important. Opting for “do it because I say so or do it because that’s the way we do it here”” thinking reduces people’s willingness to engage intellectually at work. Creating an exciting climate where ideas are discussed and debated and suggestions for new ways of doing things is supported, leads to company and leader success. This can also mean encouraging an entrepreneurial mindset and courageous attitude in staff who wish to experiment with new ideas.

3. Develop People

While your development needs may have been neglected by past leaders, don’t make the same mistake yourself. Commit to developing your subordinates. Effective transformational leaders are interested in their staff’s individual growth and tie people’s growth to their role in the organization. For example, encouraging people to develop means helping them see how their style affects their teamwork skills, on-the-job interactions and abilities with customers. Finding ways to highlight individual growth and spending time regularly to discuss staff goals and their progress is key. Transformational leaders are frequently sought after for their advice and tend to lead effective departments and teams. They are high performers and are often recognized as such by the organization. They mentor others and people are attracted to them as a result.

Transformational leaders understand that when they develop their employees, their staff wield more influence organizationally. This is due to the fact that prestige is often conferred on people who receive positive attention from their manager. When your staff receive development opportunities organized or sanctioned by you, they are seen as high-potential employees. This, in turn, increases your influence over the organization and enables your department to be an even greater success.

4. Be Influential

Bono and Anderson’s research added a fourth dimension to our understanding of transformational leadership. They noted that transformational leaders tend to hold central positions in informal networks in the company, which means they are frequently sought after for advice and are considered influential. And their subordinates are considered influential as well. Having personal influence and an influential staff group translates into success. So, by adopting the first three elements of transformational leadership, you can wind-up well-respected, sought-after as a mentor and a high performer. Plus, you’ll have the organizational influence to make your endeavours a success.

The upcoming leadership vacuum created when the baby boomers retire can be filled with people knowledgeable about leadership and ready to take on the role. However, while generation X’ers can be self-starters, providing the next generation of leaders with quality development opportunities, rather than relying on catch-as-catch-can sources of leadership information is worth the investment.

And another characteristic of this age group that’s worth remembering is they will quit and move on if they sense they’re not getting the help they need. So, don’t wait too long.

Dr. Jennifer Newman and Dr. Darryl Grigg are registered psychologists and directors of Newman & Grigg Psychological and Consulting Services Ltd., a Vancouver-based corporate training and development partnership. They can be contacted at

Identifying information in cases cited has been changed to protect confidentiality.

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