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To Lead Well, Take a Transformational Approach

Doing a quick search of “how to be a good leader” on the internet will pull up thousands of pages of information with theories, tips, studies, and personal stories all purporting they have found the best way to lead. However, one of the most widely studied of all the theories of effective leadership is the […]

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Doing a quick search of “how to be a good leader” on the internet will pull up thousands of pages of information with theories, tips, studies, and personal stories all purporting they have found the best way to lead. However, one of the most widely studied of all the theories of effective leadership is the transformational leadership theory. In my own personal experience running large commercial organizations  at some of the biggest names in pharmaceuticals in the world, I have found greater successes in every scope of business with the integration of humanity, empathy, personality, and understanding. But frankly, I wasn’t born with it either. As a young leader, I have found that giving direction, often detailed, gets things done. But it only gets you that far. Much more can be achieved by creating a sense of purpose, ownership, creativity and autonomy. My role is to provide the systems and resources and more importantly guardrails so that people and ideas can grow to drive amazing results. 

Each member of the team you put in place is crucial towards the overall success of the operation, and as a leader it is your call to ensure that they work well together, and have everything they need to do so. This is the transformational leadership style: one in which leaders encourage, inspire, and motivate employees to innovate and create change that will help grow and shape the future success of the company. People follow cultural norms and behaviour form the top. If the executive level conveys a strong sense of corporate culture, employee ownership and independence in the workplace people are more likely to follow with the same spirit. 

The original concept of transformational leadership was formed by James V. Downton in 1973, and was then expanded by leadership expert and presidential biographer James MacGregor Burns in 1978. It was Burns who said “In real life, the most practical advice for leaders is not to treat pawns like pawns, nor princes like princes, but all persons like persons.” Later in 1985, researcher Bernard M. Bass expanded upon Burns’ concept, developing what is today known as Bass’s Transformational Leadership Theory. Within the theory, the original ideas were further developed to include ways for measuring the success of transformational leaders. According to Bass, transformational leadership can be defined based on the impact that it has on followers, and encourages them to demonstrate authentic, strong leadership with the idea that employees will then be motivated and inspired to follow suit. Transformational leaders, Bass suggested, garner trust, respect, and admiration from their followers.

Although created and developed over thirty years ago, transformational leadership remains one of the most often-cited strategies in leadership training. This style of authentic leadership hardly changes, except for newer communication ways, and is applicable across every industry. An effective leadership strategy has the ability to make or break an organization, and through the strength of their vision and personality, transformational leaders are able to inspire followers to change expectations, perceptions, and motivations to work towards common goals. Bass identified four essential components to transformational leadership, known as the “four I’s” which are explored below. 

Intellectual Stimulation

In a survey of hundreds of professionals, the most important criteria respondents selected for being satisfied with their jobs was the chance to do intellectually-stimulating work, and a growing body of research suggests that intellectual stimulation may directly help maintain a healthy brain. A transformational leader has the ability to create an intellectually stimulating environment for each and every one of his or her team members. They encourage their employees to explore new ways of doing things and new opportunities to learn by challenging the status quo and stimulating their efforts to be creative and innovative. Transformational leadership values autonomy, and supports the members of their team by involving them in the decision-making process. They take a non-critical stance, instead working to help those they lead to see the big picture for their vision and frame their efforts in the context of achieving said vision. 

Individualized Consideration

A transformational leader is interested in fostering supporting relationships, offering support and encouragement to each individual within their team. They recognize that each team member has specific needs and desires, and by identifying these desires one can not only bring out each individual’s best efforts, but also develop their own leadership potential. For example, some people may be motivated by monetary rewards, while others find change and excitement the most stimulating. A transformational leader gives individualized consideration to each employee and is able to recognize and determine the motivation behind each individual. They show genuine concern for the needs and feelings of those below them, and work on providing mentoring and one-on-one coaching to allow team members to grow and become fulfilled in their positions. Even when not working individually with each team member, they keep lines of communication open so people feel free to share their thoughts and ideas. 

Inspirational Motivation

This quality in transformational leaders goes beyond offering encouraging words and praise. Instead, it is about the ability they have to inspire confidence, motivation, and a sense of purpose in the members of his or her team. To do so, they must have a clear vision for the future, and be able to articulate clearly the expectations for the group while also demonstrating a personal commitment to those goals. Strong communication skills are a must, as they need to be precise in delivering their expectations while also using optimism and enthusiasm to help their team members experience the same passion and motivation to fulfill them. 

Idealized Influence 

At its simplest definition, idealized influence means a transformational leader serves as a positive role model to their team members. This is achieved through a charismatic personality that leads individuals to trust and respect their leader, while also desiring to emulate and internalize her or his ideals. To do so, a leader must develop and follow a core set of values, convictions, and ethical principles in every action they take. In doing so, team members can know the leader wouldn’t ask them to do something that he or she wouldn’t do themselves, or say one thing and then do another. By not only expressing their ideals but also ensuring every decision they make is rooted in them, transformational leaders are able to build trust with their followers, who in turn develop confidence in their leader. 

How to Embrace A Transformational Approach 

So those are the four main elements of transformational leadership. In my own personal experience within the pharmaceutical and biotech industry, I have found that this form of leadership has helped me not only make the best decisions for my career, but ones that have also benefited both my company and the patients whom I was working to help. 

Early on in my career, I was placed in charge of the marketing and release of one of the first prescription drugs that had proven weight loss results. This was an exciting discovery, as there was nothing of its kind like it at the time, and many were hoping to market the drug toward the general population as a quick way for anybody to lose weight. However, without a low fat diet the average user of the drug was likely to experience unpleasant gastrointestinal side effects. I knew initially when everybody looking to drop a few pounds purchased the drug sales would seem high, but we would quickly lose them and also potentially cause pain to those who weren’t willing to make the necessary lifestyle changes necessary to not experience the adverse effects. Even within the profit-driven pharmaceutical industry, I have always held a patient-first approach to my work and proposed to my team that we instead market the drug toward doctors specifically. This way, they would be able to present the side effects to their patients and help them make the right judgement call on whether it was right for them. Because of the trust I had built within my team, they believed in our marketing strategy and stood behind it in rolling it out. The drug ended up being quite successful particularly for those who were struggling with obesity, and in its first year alone had sales of over $1 billion. 

I have also learned as a leader that more can be achieved by helping my team to work out a solution together than to directing a decision made. I was in charge of a team working on the launch of a new colorectal cancer treatment. We were mere weeks away from the approval when we were notified that a biomarker had recently been discovered that would help predict whether a patient would respond to our new treatment. I knew that while my team had been working incredibly hard on this launch for over a year and would be disappointed about delaying the launch, the obvious move would be to do so. However, instead of ordering the team to pull back regardless of dissent, I organized an all-hands meeting so we could discuss it. Once together, I laid it out that we could see initially higher sales if every patient received the treatment without the prior test, but every second patient was unlikely to respond and the perception of the drug efficacy would sooner or later deteriorate. The team got it straight away and a conviction evolved followed py passion that we must pursue a different path to launch our new treatment. Before that meeting, the choices were to launch without the test or to delay the launch. The passion of the team forged a new launch plan accelerating the biomarker test roll out in record time. Through that meeting, our team was able to come up with a new launch strategy, changed the customer communciation and all that without major delay for patients. 

Although it may take some work, there are concrete ways in which you can begin to take a transformational approach to leadership. Below, I explore just a few. 

Work on Yourself as a Leader

While your instinct may be to look at your team or your organization in order to make changes, it is important to first take stock of yourself and identify how you function as a leader. Do you show empathy for your employees? Are you a person that inspires those who follow you? While it may seem like these traits are something people are born with, they are actually skills that can be developed with time and effort. 

If you haven’t yet, sit down and take the time to get to know the people you work with. This means more than simply knowing how they fit into your organization as a whole. Instead, it is about getting to know them as individuals by asking about their backgrounds, personal goals, and what causes them stress. In taking the time to connect with those you work with on a more personal level, you not only make them feel more understood, but also gain a better understanding of what is the best way to provide them with feedback, how they will react to change and newness, and how best to inspire and motivate them as an individual. 

It can be easy to compare yourself with the person who is always the center of attention and assume it is because they are innately more charismatic than you, but true charisma is the ability to be the best version of yourself. This means if you’re not a naturally boisterous person, there’s no need to start pretending to be the loudest person in the room. Rather, your team members will respond to your authenticity and genuine interest in them. This can be as simple as maintaining eye contact, avoiding multitasking with things such as your phone or email, and summarizing and asking genuine questions when in conversation with someone. A good exercise is to think about and write down your three best qualities, and try to convey them in every action and interaction you have. Charisma is about consistently revealing who you are, whether that is loudly or quietly. 

In order to have people follow us, they need to feel inspired. While there are thousands of books and articles on how to best inspire and motivate people, at the root of every single one of them is the idea that we must approach every situation according to your own personal value system with the greater good of the organization in mind. Leaders who truly conquer this skill naturally create a level of trust and accountability among their team, which allows those being led to feel safe and secure in choosing to follow.

Create the Proper Culture in Your Workplace

A hot topic these days is a company’s culture, and there is a good reason for that. Numerous studies have increasingly shown just how important environment is to someone’s overall work experience. However, a transformational leader goes further than perks like a free lunch every now and then, ensuring that the culture of their team is rooted deeper in an effort to make each individual feel appreciated by the organization, and thus motivated to work harder. 

As discussed earlier, transformational leadership is rooted in the idea that all employees are working together towards a singular common goal. As a leader, it is your job to not only identify and communicate these goals, but also encourage an environment of collaboration in order for them to be achieved. Collaboration is obviously important when it comes to things like large group projects where teamwork is essential to achieving your common goal, but it is equally as important for team members to see and understand how their own singular work is contributing on a daily basis to the bigger picture. 

Similarly, while it was my intention to steer my team toward changing the colorectal cancer drug, it was because I facilitated an environment that encouraged innovation that our group was able to come up with the solutions we did. It can be a common misconception that ideas come from the top down, when in reality more often than not the most creative ideas will come from the team members who are spending the most time with your products or services every day. In order for these ideas to be implemented though, employees must feel the culture in which they work is receptive to them. This is why it is essential as a transformational leader to make sure your culture encourages things such as sharing suggestions, improvements, and ideas from team members no matter their position. 

Practice Identifying and Facilitating Core Values

At the very root of transformational leadership is a strong set of values that serves as motivation and inspiration. Employees can only truly thrive within their work environment when they are able to not only see the bigger picture, but also that their leader is exemplifying the values and mission on a daily basis. In order to begin to develop this skill, we need to first identify the greater vision and mission of our organization as a whole, and then create even more focused goals for our group. No matter what they are, as a leader we can now rely on them as guard rails that we use as a basis for every decision. This consistency is what will inspire trust from your team members, and put you well on your way to transforming those who work with you. 

Connect with Carsten Thiel on CrunchBase and Twitter.

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