Many of the most-engaged business leaders are beginning to acknowledge the urgent need to address their company culture. Internal and external socio-economic and market pressures have prompted business leaders to acknowledge the impact that their company culture has on their ability to attract and retain talent, achieve operational performance objectives, and appeal to market-demands.
Business leaders have begun to realize their desired company culture is not reflected in the leadership behaviors and interactions that are observed daily. Thus, their company culture has impacted how their front-line teams perform. This revelation has prompted business leaders to attempt to adopt a transformational company culture.
Most business leaders approach the concept of a transformational culture incorrectly and have minimized their business results as an outcome. A transformational culture is an effective workplace culture with key factors identified as staff empowerment and continuing development of practice and self-knowledge. It is a culture that emphasizes self-energizing and self-organizing team members, who have a clear sense of purpose, can communicate freely, challenge and support each other, take responsibility for innovation and development, and think critically about issues as they encounter them on a daily basis (Manley, 2008). However, the challenge many business leaders have is attempting to transform their company culture without adopting a transformational leadership style and approach.
Transformational Leadership is a leadership approach that is adopted by individuals who seek to foster commitment to change among subordinates by creating and communicating a vision that serves as inspiration and the catalyst for team mobilization (Cowan-Sahadath, 2010). Bernard Bass, industrial Psychologist, defines transformational leadership with four critical components: Idealized Influence [purpose driven role model], Inspirational Motivation [inspires others], Intellectual Stimulation [people driven with genuine concern for others], and Individualized Consideration [innovating and challenges followers] (Cowan-Sahadath, 2010). These components are adopted by members of an organization who seek to foster change to achieve optimal business outcomes (Cowan-Sahadath, 2010).
Transformational Leadership aligns with the principles of Change Management as both approaches emphasize the need to shift an organization’s personnel, systems, and processes from the current state to the desired state by determining an organization’s capability and capacity to change (Luzinski, 2011). Therefore, most businesses require transformative leaders who can contribute to an organization’s efforts to adapt, control, and affect change as it occurs (Tamilarasu, 2012).
Business leaders seeking to transform their company culture must evaluate how they influence communication, change, and outcomes for their business.
Transformational leadership requires a leader’s ability to influence individuals through passion and motivation, often a derivative of a detailed vision that is captured with unique interpretations from subordinate stakeholders (Luzinski, 2011). A transformational leader considers the importance of face-to-face interaction as a method of reciprocal communication.
Communication must be information-rich; with an emphasis on identifying verbal and non-verbal indicators that recipients clearly understand and are aligned and ready to execute on one’s vision. This skill requires a measurable degree of cognitive and emotional intelligence (Henry, 2017). A leader with emotional intelligence has a distinct ability to remain aware of one’s emotions; with a strong capacity to control and express oneself with empathy (Henry, 2017).
As most methods of communication adopt the use of technology, transformative leaders recognize the value of interpersonal communication between individuals to exercise one’s emotional intelligence in a more diligent and effective manner. Furthermore, transformational leaders should nurture a workplace culture that encourages the development of fellow stakeholders’ emotional intelligence through education, training, and feedback.
Ultimately, transformational leadership plans should include a commitment to maintaining an apparent level of transparency among stakeholders, thus, contributing to a work environment that is focused on results, while avoiding lost-time due to individuals trying to seek and understand the motive behind a leader’s request or actions. Transparency in business requires transformational leaders to remain informative with subordinates about one’s goals, including the historical trends, potential barriers, and level of importance to the organization that may affect business outcomes.
Aligning transformational leadership approaches to foster change, this method focuses on the influence one can have over individuals and social systems (Luzinski, 2011). As a transformative leader, one must focus on driving inspiration among individuals and teams as the method to drive higher performance of subordinates. A transformational leader’s cultural change strategy includes active considerations of the factors that drive the need for change and how one can proactively design and implement change management initiatives that appeal to an evolving workforce.
In today’s uncertain social and economic climate, business leaders are faced with complex organizational challenges that are often a derivative of unanticipated changes in their workplace culture. These cultural changes are often a result of an inherent evolution of the workforce profile and demographic.
Oftentimes, the need for transformational leadership is heightened by the generation gaps that exist between a “legacy’” workforce and recent new-hires postured to drive the company forward, as with Baby Boomer and Generation X employees working with Millennial-born peers (Bodenhausen & Curtis, 2016).
Transformational leadership influences outcomes by adopting an approach with subordinates that expresses a genuine desire to identify a need for change and collaboration to develop an aligned vision for desired outcomes (Luzinski, 2011). Successful transformational company culture objectives are achieved when leaders recognize the impact that purposeful development and personal motivation can have on a workforce (Luzinski, 2011). Transformational leaders understand and apply the principles of influence by relating to a worker’s personal inspirations and connecting them to the outcomes one desires to achieve.
Bodenhausen & Curtis (2016) noted that Millennial workers are more respondent to leaders who adopt a role-model, mentor, or coaching approach: emphasizing the importance of allowing teams to make independent decisions while trusting that the alignment is strong enough to endure. A transformational leader must work to drive teams to achieve a state of high-performance, requiring workgroups to overcome the challenges associated with bringing independent thinkers together to achieve a common goal.
Strengths and Weaknesses of Transformational Leadership
While there are many factors that can be attributed to the strengths of a transformational leadership approach, one of the most critical advantages of this leadership style includes the ability to formulate a vision for growth and mobilize a group accordingly (Luzinski, 2011).
Inspired by positive examples of present-day practitioners of leadership, many progressive business leaders aspire to adopt a transformational leadership approach like notable business professional, Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Airlines, investor, and philanthropist (Branson, 2017).
Some of the key characteristics that describe Branson’s leadership approach includes “self-motivator, aggressive, risk-taker, financially organized, excellent negotiator, creative, flexible, very competitive, proactive, hardworking, and charismatic” (Branson, 2017). Branson always networked with talented and important people, behaviors indicative of a Transformative leadership style (Luzinski, 2011).
Branson applied a naturally transformative approach to his leadership style; attributing his success to his ability to motivate and mobilize his team around him (Branson, 2017). Branson (2017) shared his belief that maintaining a family-like organization with a strong team who all believed that “employees or associates come first, customers second, and shareholders third”.
Branson believes that higher compensation is not the key-motivator of his employees; on the contrary, he supports the notion that a good work environment, healthy work-life balance, and feeling appreciated and empowered are the principles of driving a successful team (Branson, 2017).
A leader’s adoption of a transformational approach, seeking to engage, motivate, and empower others to act, will positively impact how one approaches a company culture transformation. Cultural transformation requires a workforce that is energized by the notion that the leadership team trusts one’s ability to perform at a level that does not require constant oversight.
A strong advantage of transformational leadership is the level of empowerment that is realized because of one’s effort to achieve a state of high-performance among workgroups. Transformational leaders establish a clear and concise mission, vision, and value statement, including the notion that these principles serve as the driving force behind the strategic decision-making practices in the organization, from talent acquisition to business development (Tankovi, 2013)
However, contrary to the success experienced by many business leaders because of one’s focus on empowerment as a tool to drive performance outcomes, transformational leadership also has a few disadvantages. Transformational leaders often rely upon on one’s ability to “paint” a clear and concise vision that teams can rally behind. The challenge with this approach is a lack of detail orientation that may be required to ensure outcomes are precisely what was appropriate or necessary for the business.
Many business leaders have experienced business scenarios that included mobilization of workgroups that appeared to be aligned regarding project expectations. While the teams where motivated and reached a state of high-performance, upon examination of results, there was a mismatch between the vision, objectives, and desired outcomes.
This misalignment was attributed to a lack of detail and transactional focus and oversight. Furthermore, transformational leadership approaches can rely too-heavily on passion and emotion to influence change and outcomes, thus “clouding” the reality of the work-environment.
For example, one may establish a vision for a team that includes each member’s ability to execute with excellence on a very complex process. It may also include the organization’s ability to support the acquisition of resources in a timely manner to do so.
While one’s passion and enthusiasm can successfully mobilize a team, one must not over rely on this enthusiasm and invest in due diligence of research and reasoning to address potential barriers to success. Transformational leaders must be willing and able to share the reality of a situation and address how these circumstances may influence desired outcomes. These same principles apply to transforming a company culture.
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Branson, Richard (2017;1998). Losing my virginity: how i've survived, had fun, and made a fortune doing business my way. Virgin Books. ISBN 978-0-81296-714-2.
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Tamilarasu, V. (2012). Change management. International Journal of Management Prudence, 4(2), 26-31. doi: 10.1002/9781119967316.ch8