Want to be the best possible leader? True North Leaders Are Transforming Leaders


“Transforming” is a term that, in certain circles, carries a subtly different meaning than in the leadership literature.

Certainly we all universally recognize the change part of the word.

Christians immediately gravitate to our belief in the transforming power of the Gospel. Indeed, the concept is clearly contrasted in St. Paul’s own understanding of “being conformed to this world…” (Romans 12:2)

Years ago, in the Leadership world, James Burns (1978) and later, Bernard Bass (1985) developed a theory that helped explain the levels of positive influence a leader might exert on followers. Transformational Theory became one of the most researched theories by scholars in the field. And has been the basis for many prescriptions for strong and healthy leaders styles and behaviors.

Transformation v Transaction

Let’s begin with a contrast. Transactional leadership is most easily explained as a style in which the leader makes exchanges with employees:

· “You flip 100 burgers an hour and I’ll pay you $8.00” (think: fast food restaurants). It’s simple. It’s clear. We exchange your productivity with my compensation.

· “Vote for me and I promise you…” (easy to remember since we recently endured a national election season). Your vote is exchanged for the hope that I’m telling the truth and will deliver on my campaign promises.

· “Finish this project on time and under budget, and I’ll pay you a bonus!”

You get the picture, right? The effective transactional leader is adept at rewarding accomplishments. There isn’t a hint of personal care, investment or intrinsic motivation. Your success in this type of system is almost exclusively based on meeting performance criteria. Little or no expectations for creativity, innovation — or for that matter — excellence. Rather, simply meet the goals and the deadlines, and we’re good.

In the appropriate settings (McDonalds, for example), there is nothing wrong with this leadership style. In fact, you may recognize yourself in this example. At times, all leaders may need to be transactional.

By contrast, the transforming leader is inspirational and motivating. This leader cares for their followers in a personal way. The theory offers four components found in transformational leaders:

· Individualized Consideration

Now here is the quintessence of the transforming leader: they are so concerned for and aware of their employees that they customize their support. They recognize each person in way that, as Bob Chapman puts it, “…is someone’s precious child” and as such, deserves individualized attention. What motivates you may not motivate the next person. But everyone deserves to be considered and paid attention.This is a hallmark of the emotionally intelligent leader.

· Inspirational Motivation

All about vision and the leader’s ability to espouse it clearly and effectively. A visionary who inspires, creates a strong purpose for each employee. Optimism and hope are the super powers of this leader. When the leader provides meaning and relevance for tasks, followers respond with fervor.

· Idealized Influence

Every definition of leadership includes the concept of influence. The ideal influencer is one who models the integrity, excellence and innovation they desire to see in their followers. It’s a matter of walking the talk — every day. They’re inclusive and collaborative. Team matters for the transformational leader.

· Intellectual Stimulation

Here is the process challenger’s goal: to stimulate followers toward productivity and greatness in ways that work for them individually and for the enterprise corporately. Boredom kills. So, transformational leaders provide a safe environment for experimentation and risk-taking. Empowered employees become more creative and are free to voice diverse opinions. When a follower feels “heard,” they will come back time and again with new ideas that move the organization forward.

So what happens if you don’t lead with these styles. But want to?

First, you’re not born with a leadership style. Your original family, environment and life experiences may have ganged up on you to create who you are today — how you think, behave and lead. But none of those is set in stone making you that ____ forever.

Second, transformational leadership is a style. It’s one way of leading. At times you may also need to be more hands-off, more adaptive, more authentic, more direct or autocratic. Look, no one size fits all. In fact, that’s the essence of transformative leadership: the healthy True North leader must be able to transform (verb used with yet another meaning) to find the best solutions for the challenges they face.

But if you want to “try on” this style, here are five traits you should focus on and practice. These are habits common to transformational leaders:

· Practiced Self Awareness

This leader recognizes the need to be introspective; they practice personal growth; they’re aware of their own strengths and weaknesses. They believe in and model life-long learning and improvement.

· Always Open Minded

Think of a sponge: always absorbing new ideas, feedback, fresh perspectives from anyone who matters — stakeholders, customers, employees or the surrounding environment. Innovation results from continuous input.

· Adaptive and Innovative

Changing times demand new approaches and solutions. The transforming leader relishes the challenges and is unafraid to alter traditional methods. This leader eschews the old sacred cow mentality: “But we’ve never done it that way before.” (BTW, those may be the most damning words uttered by failing leaders.)

· Constantly Proactive

All the above traits lead the transforming leader to stay ahead of the curve. It’s not just a cliché; standing and waiting — fearing to move forward — is really a recipe for falling behind. The paralysis of analysis will kill your organization.

· Humility Wins

Admitting mistakes. Your people know you have never pretended to have all the answers. Confidence is never mistaken for unbridled ego and narcissism. The goal here is doing what’s right for followers and enterprise.

So I guess the answer to the question, “Do I want to be the best leader I can be?” begins with an authentic personal inventory analysis. Who am I? How do I lead today? Is that style working in our current environment? Do I really want to change?

Then, consider the constructs of Transformational Leadership theory and the traits most often employed by these leaders. Will those work for you? If so, study them. Try them on like a new suit to see if they’re comfortable. Talk with you closest advisors and employees and get the type of honest feedback a leadership style change demands.

Finally, True North leaders can and must trust the wisdom provided by God’s Spirit who physically resides inside you. With the brilliance of the Creator instantly available to you, how do you lose?

Norm Mintle