In today’s fast-paced business environment, creating a winning culture demands more than a little tweaking. What is needed is a full transformation of existing processes and systems that will no longer aid the organisation in winning and enhancing its performance. It’s imperative to change old and outdated mindsets that no longer serve the path forward.
Constantly analyse and search for ways to transform in order to move faster, become more agile, and develop a sense of urgency. Most importantly, what’s needed more than anything else is transformational leadership. Transformational leadership is one of the most studied leadership styles. It has been studied and talked about for decades.
James V. Downtown, a sociologist, coined the term transformational leadership in the early 1970s. From there, many people have contributed to the concept, which has grown in popularity over time. James Burns, a biographer of US presidents, expanded on the concept in 1978. The work of leadership expert Bernard Bass, who was inspired by Burns’ work, helped to popularise transformational leadership even further.
Bernard Bass and Roland Riggio defined transformational leadership in their 2006 book, Transformational Leadership, as: “Those who stimulate and inspire followers to both achieve extraordinary outcomes and, in the process, develop their own leadership capacity. Transformational leaders help followers grow and develop into leaders by responding to individual followers’ needs by empowering them and by aligning the objectives and goals of the individual followers, the leader, the group, and the larger organisation.”
Transformational leadership has the potential not only to produce exceptional business and organisational results but also to completely transform the lives of employees. It is extremely difficult to completely change culture, improve culture, or even maintain an already strong culture. A little tweaking here and there, along with some minor changes in approach, will not produce the results that are desired. Leaders need to display the best version of themselves and be ready to transform the lives of the people they lead if they want to transform the organisation.
Is it true that some leaders are more gifted than others in terms of inspiring their teams and the entire workforce? Without a doubt, outliers and once-in-a-generation talents will always exist in life, just as they do in everything else. Some of the greatest athletes in history were so gifted at such a young age that everyone around them just knew they were going to be stars one day. The same can be said of legendary musicians or even famous movie stars.
Those who have been singing or acting since the age of 4. They often make it appear so simple to others. Those athletes, musicians, actors, and even some of history’s greatest leaders are, however, not the norm. Just because those individuals exist doesn’t mean that someone can’t grow and develop to a world-class level if they don’t have the same skill set at an early age. The same is true of leadership. No matter where you are in your leadership journey, I believe you have an infinite amount of potential waiting to be unlocked and unleashed into the world.
Not long ago, I was speaking with an HR leader about specific leaders within the organization who were not performing to the best of their abilities. “We have to be honest here,” this HR leader said to me after thirty minutes of our conversation. “Some people are born with the leadership gene, while others are not. I don’t believe that great leadership can be taught.”
I respectfully disagree with that statement wholeheartedly. I have seen first-hand the transformation that can occur when a leader’s heart is in the right place, receives the right guidance, and becomes inspired. One of the greatest privileges of my work over the last decade has been traveling the world and interacting with some of the world’s most extraordinary leaders. It comes up almost every time that who they were as a leader ten or even twenty years ago isn’t even close to who they are now.
Horst Schulze, cofounder of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, admitted that, early in his career, he showed little promise as a leader. He claims that anyone can develop the inner strength to become a great leader over time if they can first lead themselves well.
There will always be naturally gifted leaders and managers with a rare gift for developing others, outstanding people skills, or exceptional emotional intelligence. That should never deter another leader who does not currently have the same skill set from taking the leap and striving to become a transformational leader.
Transformational leadership sounds great in theory, but how does it work in practice? How can a leader or people manager actively engage in a set of actions or processes that will not only increase their influence but also help them become transformational? There are four components to bringing transformational leadership to life and making the most of your impact as a leader for cultural change.
A leader must first undergo transformation before he or she can transform others or the organisation. The transformation of a leader enables them to then transform others. When an organisation’s people are transformed, the culture is also transformed. When the culture is transformed, the organisation itself becomes transformed. When organisational transformation takes root, performance vastly improves, increasing profits and satisfying key stakeholders.
This is an edited extract from Culture Is the Way: How Leaders at Every Level Build an Organization for Speed, Impact, and Excellence by Matt Mayberry (published by Wiley, February 2023)
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