When a leader is transformational …

Tomorrow I fly home from Bangkok after five glorious weeks absorbing the warmth, the beauty, and the culture of Thailand, as you can  see from the photograph. I was mixing a cocktail for the lady to my left, out of camera shot. My wife, clearly having a brilliant time to my right, was mixing me a mocktail, as I don’t do alcohol. During my time here I’ve learned so much more. Over the coming weeks I will post my observations and reflections.

koh-samuii-1-sep-thai-exp-16-106On my travels, I’ve encountered a lot of transactional leadership, and one shining example of transformational leadership. This got me thinking about the core differences and so, in this post, I outline what focus is taken by a transactional leader and a transformational leader. Look at the key differences between the two foci, and assess how you might change, first internally, then externally, if you feel you align more with a transactional approach. Finally, if you need to refine your approach, use the key characteristics list in the last part of the post to determine what strengths you need to develop, then plan your action to address your list.

When a leader is transactional …

They will typically have a strong, often exclusive focus on:

  • Their team, unit or department.
  • Short term goals.
  • Rewarding or punishing performance, though not always equitably.
  • Measuring that performance relentlessly, though not always with relevant measures.
  • Using tried and trusted methods or systems, with rare, if any listening to staff opinions or ideas about useful improvements or modernisation.
  • Fitting people to the job, though often using the ’round peg, square hole’ model.
  • Developing programmes for corrective action, rather than reflecting on whether the system needs a major change.

When a leader is transformational …

They will typically have a strong focus on:

  • The organisation and its longer term goals.
  • Rewarding people’s contribution, not just their efforts.
  • Aligning systems and strcutures to overall goals.
  • Fitting the jobs to people’s strengths and development.
  • Requestinf feedback and showing they listen by taking positive action on that feedback.

You will note from the comparison that, broadly speaking, though not wholly or exclusively, a transactional leader tends to take a narrower view and is usually less focused on people matters. While a transformational leader tends to have a broader perspective and is very much focused on the people side of things.

Key transformational leadership qualities

From my own observation and practice, and prompted by the shining example I saw on holiday, here’s my take on the key transformational leadership qualities:

  • Showing genuine concern for staff, customers and others they encounter.
  • Enabling staff to grow, through leading by example and demonstrating how things might be done differently or more effectively.
  • Being accessible – whenever we encountered Jon he always had time, however brief, to speak to us.
  • Encouraging change – both in staff approaches to situations, and in offering us an opportunity to interact with his resort in a manner not widely published on their website.
  • Facilitating change sensitively – Jon had a relaxed, calm, and confident manner, which put staff and guest immediately at ease. You could see this, even without being involved in the particular experience or encounter.
  • Networking and achieving – Jon was excellent at working a room, and in demonstrating how much the resort had developed over the past five years.
  • Focusing effort – in Jon’s case, this was ensuring his staff were very much customer focused, teaching and explaining to them how they might improve.
  • Building a shared vision – the staff team at the resort all had a clear vision of where they were going and what they were trying to achieve.
  • Supporting a developmental culture – Jon, as noted in points above, was a great guide, advisor, and teacher and gave excellent feedback to his team.
  • Being honest and consistent – Jon was as good as his word. Even when we were no longer guests at the resort, he facilitated our return for our last massage and evening meal on the island, and did so personally.
  • Acting with integrity – Jon did this on a number of occasions and never varied in his approach.
  • Being decisive – the instance above of facilitating out final evening’s activities were dealt with by him, personally and decisively.
  • Inspiring others – talking to staff, many had been at the resort for more than five years. Apparently in Thailand this is still uncommon, as people move around a lot and many come from other parts of the country to work to earn money to send back to their families.
  • Resolving complex problems – although I observed no real evidence of this in Jon’s activities throughout our time at the resort, this is still a key characteristic of transformational leaders. It is typically handled as a group effort, so that everyone’s ideas and opinions are heard, listened to and acted upon.

So, considering the list, how do you stack up? Which are the qualities you need to strengthen? How will you go about doing that?

What do you think about the comparison? Does it resonate with you? Which do you think would lead to a more satisfying, productive, and enriching working experience?

I am always happy to listen and ready to help. Please reach out to me if you feel I might be of assistance. I love to engage in meaningful dialogue, and I’d appreciate your connection.

Thank you for reading.

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