Transformational Leadership: When You Need to Change Course

Let’s say you’re an executive coach to senior leadership in an organization that needs to redefine how to succeed going forward. The organization has had a successful past, but conditions have changed. Most organizations fail to adapt to these changes, and as a result, they get acquired or go out of business. What worked then won’t work now. (That’s why the average age of the companies in the Fortune 500 is under fourteen years.) The stakes are high. What do you do now?

You ask yourself, “What leadership approach does this senior leadership team, particularly the CEO, need to embrace?” You do some research. You go to Amazon. You search for “leadership books,” and get 60,000 choices. (Really! I tried it!) “Oh, boy!” you say. “Where do I start? What approach works best?”

Science to the rescue! Leadership research shows that a model called Transformational Leadership (TL) actually delivers in situations just like yours. The transformational leader works to transform the company and its workforce to the degree needed for a new version of success. (Hence the word transformational.)

But it’s one thing to sell leaders on Transformational Leadership. It’s another for them to actually follow the science and become transformational leaders. Let’s look at what Transformational Leadership really is, and given that this is a blog on Emotional Intelligence (EQ) coaching, let’s see how EQ supports the process of becoming a transformational leader.

Transformational leaders have four qualities:

  1. The ability to make people want to follow them (Idealized influence – TL Tenet #1)
  2. The ability to motivate through inspiration (Inspirational motivation – TL Tenet #2)
  3. The ability to stimulate followers intellectually (Intellectual stimulation – TL Tenet #3)
  4. The ability to connect with and mentor followers individually (Individual consideration – TL Tenet #4)

Each quality requires specific EQ skills to execute. As a coach, you can teach the model, and then help leaders build the requisite EQ skills.

  1. Idealized Influence. Transformational leaders are charismatic, idealized by followers. These leaders give up their own personal goals to focus on the collective good. They are on fire for their cause. When they say “We’re all in this together,” they mean it, and are seen as having a strong moral purpose. Such leaders are admired for their focus on values, beliefs, and sense of purpose. In response, followers shed their self-interest too, caring more about collective aspirations. As Bernard Bass, who was instrumental in formulating the Transformational Leadership model, said, “Transformational leaders shift goals [of followers] away from personal safety and security towards achievement, self-actualization, and the greater good.” Transformational leaders basically ask their followers “Are you with me?”

How does EQ fit in? Which EQ skills help a leader gain such devotion?

  • Social Responsibility: This is the ability (and courage) to put one’s needs aside in order to serve the greater good. When leaders do this, followers often follow. When leaders don’t do this, followers follow that example as well.
  • Emotional Self Awareness: Before leaders can authentically commit to something beyond their own welfare, they have to know what they care deeply about. Leaders who do not truly care about the new vision, but are unaware of that fact and its implications, let their true feelings leak out. Their initiatives fail.

NB: Transformational leaders must be charismatic in order to attract followers, but while charisma is vital to transformational leadership, it is important to have the Goldilocks amount – not too much and not too little. See: https://www.triplepundit.com/story/2017/science-says-too-much-charisma-bad-leadership/14591.

EQ can help get it just right.

  1. Inspirational Motivation. Transformational leadership is hard! It takes courage, new skills, and hard work, on the part of leaders and followers alike. A key message transformational leaders give to followers is, “You can do more than you believe you can!” These leaders inspire and motivate followers to achieve ambitious goals that may previously have seemed unreachable. Transformational leaders raise followers’ expectations of what they can do, and inspire action by communicating confidence that followers can achieve specific ambitious goals. By predicting that followers can reach these goals, and by showing absolute confidence and resolve that the goals will be reached, the transformational leader inspires followers to reach a level of performance which exceeds old expectations. Goals get reached. A self-fulfilling prophecy occurs, in a good way.

Every leader would like to inspire.

Three EQ skills help:

  • Optimism: When people engage in major change, things will go wrong. Before followers are likely to reach deeply inside of themselves to overcome setbacks, they must see their leaders modeling that behavior when things get tough. They need to see their leaders persevere in the face of challenging obstacles.
  • Reality Testing: Transformational leaders need to raise followers’ expectations of themselves, but within reason. There is a difference between inspiring high ambition and making unrealistic demands. When leaders’ expectations defy reality, tyranny arises.
  • Self-Regard: To model stretching one’s limits, transformational leaders must believe in their own ability to rise to an occasion or demand.
  1. Intellectual Stimulation. Transformational leaders appeal to followers’ intellects by creating problem awareness and engaging followers in problem solving, encouraging them to use their thoughts, imagination, beliefs, and values. As a result of such intellectual stimulation, followers’ understanding of the nature of the problems they face, and the solutions to those problems, is radically altered. Such involvement in the problem-solving process motivates followers, and results in a commitment on their part to achieving the goals at hand. Followers are encouraged to challenge assumptions, generalizations, and stereotypes, which stimulates followers to seek ways of improving, indeed transforming, current performance.

EQ skills that support this quality include:

  • Interpersonal Relationships: Involving people in the problem-solving process requires mutual trust. Trust is a product of strong relationships.
  • Stress Tolerance: Solving tough problems by engaging in dialogue that permits and encourages different opinions is stressful. Transformational leaders must be capable of maintaining clear thinking while engaging in this type of dialogue, because they themselves will be challenged.
  • Flexibility: While keeping a fixed eye on the ultimate goal, transformational leaders must be able to entertain creative thoughts about how to get there. They can’t be so rigidly focused on their own thinking that they fail to include others’ ideas.
  • Independence: Transformational leaders must rise above the social pressure to conform to old ways of thinking. Organizational transformation requires thinking differently.
  1. Individual Consideration. Transformational leaders don’t just speak to the masses. They reach out to key individuals to support them during the difficult process of transforming theorganization. The leader is concerned with developing followers to their highest level of potential, and with empowering them. Leaders in this instance provide a developmental or mentoring orientation toward followers. They coach and counsel followers, maintaining frequent contact with them, helping them to self-actualize.

EQ skills that support this quality include:

  • Empathy: Followers must believe that the leader truly cares about their welfare and success. In addition to caring, the leader must also read accurately what those followers care about, i.e., what is important to them.
  • Self-Actualization: It is difficult to stimulate growth in others without also engaging passionately in self-development. Followers notice.
  • Interpersonal Relationships: Relationships are built on the exchange of emotional information. Leaders must share the way they feel, including both passion for the cause and genuine fears. Such modeling allows followers to talk about their own fears and doubts, which is when mentoring can be of the greatest value.

The EQ Leader Program2.0 manual provides systematic processes that can be used with individual leaders and entire leadership cadres to strengthen the skills required to be transformational leaders. Please see The EQ Leader Program 2.0 – A turnkey program for building Emotional Intelligence (EQ) skills in leaders.

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