Transformational Leadership

Traditional leaders say - I'm the leader - you're the follower; I have something you need and you have something I need. So let's make an exchange.

Transformational leaders understand there is something bigger at stake. Transformational leaders not only challenge their organization to grow professionally, but also emotionally and intellectually.

Within this different paradigm, there are four human needs the transformational leader recognizes must be satisfied if he and the organization are to succeed:

First - the need to love and be loved. That sounds touchy-feely, but people who are not receiving and giving love - focused concern and action directed at another exclusively for that person's good - cannot be fully healthy, biologically and psychologically. We usually think of love as being irrelevant in today’s fast paced busy world, but the transformational leader vividly understands tough-minded caring is essential to leading and developing a powerful, fully expressed organization.

Second - the need to grow. The only alternative to growth is decline and decay. The transformational leader recognizes balance or equilibrium is a myth that exists only in the human imagination. Nowhere in nature is there such a thing as stability. Even in a balanced ecosystem, there is either expanding, unfolding growth, or degeneration, decay and ultimately death. By creating a culture which allows our organization to grow, we are expanding our capacity both as leaders and members of that organization.

Third - the need to contribute. This need may be described as having two distinct poles. The negative pole reminds us - that which does not contribute is eliminated. We see this in nature and we all know - failing to contribute in a significant way creates anxiety of which we are usually only vaguely aware. The other pole, the positive one, answers this anxiety. When we are contributing in a significant way, we have peace of mind. We know we belong. The simple principle at work is - life works when we forget about ourselves and contribute to others. To feel fulfilled and empowered, members of the organization must know they are contributing to the whole.

Fourth - the need for meaning. Humans are meaning-seeking creatures. If our lives lack a clear sense of meaning and if we are not engaged in some larger purpose, we will not be fully satisfied, regardless of whatever else we may have.

The transformational leader understands that satisfying all four of these needs is not easy, but when they are being met in the day-to-day affairs of an organization, something magnificent happens. People instinctively play a bigger game, and they show up in a more passionate, creative, engaged and effective way. The consequences are measurable, and in many instances, astonishing.

If people have the opportunity to affiliate, grow, contribute and have a sense of belonging, they will be motivated and engaged, even without a clear vision of the future.

So, as a leader, focus on these things today. Sit down for an hour and think, one by one, about each member of your team - including yourself.

As the leader, ask:

  • is this person working on something meaningful and challenging - something for which they have a good chance of succeeding?
  • is this person relating to other people - people they like and to whom they feel close?
  • is this person being recognized for the work they are doing? Can they influence decisions and outcomes?

If the answer is yes - great. That person will be motivated. If not, create the appropriate opportunities immediately.

Give people clear goals and the autonomy to achieve them. Make sure they are working on something they find challenging, interesting and meaningful.

Give them opportunities to collaborate and celebrate with others. This is especially important because in times of uncertainty, people become more political. They start to suspect their colleagues are trying to be noticed, or they are trying to take more credit, or work on better projects. But as people work on projects collaboratively, trust grows.

Also, give your team opportunities to offer their input on how things should be done. Reward their participation with public recognition.