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Student Experience

Becoming a Transformational Leader

By Paul Smirl

August 23, 2018

Illustration of an individual talking to students about a 5 year plan

The leader-employee dynamic can make or break an organization. To be successful, you need to have people with vision, people to carry out that vision, and a culture that encourages employees to achieve great things in their roles.

When these critical elements become unbalanced, organizations aren’t able to reach their full potentials. They often become over-managed and under-led, with many people overseeing processes, and few empowering people.

The Different Types of Leaders

Understanding the three main types of leaders can help you steer your organization in the right direction: Leaders are typically laissez-faire, transactional, or transformational.

Laissez-faire leaders are very rare, hands off, and fail to provide value because of their lack of leadership. They expect to be treated like a leader, but do little to warrant the title.

Transactional leaders are the most common kind of leader and produce solid, but middle-of-the-road results. The relationships they create elicit a response of compliance, either because subordinates don’t want to face the repercussions of doing poorly or because they will be rewarded when good work is done.

Transformational leaders are leaders who fully leverage the potential of their workforces. While transactional leaders use authority to get employees to perform well, transformational leaders have true vision for their organizations, know how to inspire people, and are emotionally committed to the mission of their work.

Illustration of groups of people representing laissez-faire, transnational, and transformational

Alex Stajkovic, associate professor of management and human resources and M. Keith Weikel Distinguished Chair in Leadership at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, researches transformational leadership and describes it as leadership that inspires and takes people’s performance from good to “above and beyond.”

Organizations and employees alike benefit from “above and beyond” performance: Organizations get efficient and innovative workforces and employees become empowered to grow their skills and knowledge, which positions them better for future career advancement.

Motivating Above and Beyond Performance

If you want to be a transformational leader and get “above and beyond” results from your team, there are four key behaviors to master:

Idealized influence

  • Be a role model. Lead by example and embody the qualities you want in your team.
  • Charisma. Be personable, relatable, and encourage enthusiasm from team members.

Inspirational motivation

  • Have a vision. Know the values you lead by and where you want to take the organization.
  • Present your vision. Lay out why your strategy helps the greater good.

Intellectual stimulation

  • Encourage people to be creative. Creative thinking can push employees beyond the status quo.
  • Challenge employees to go beyond norms. Thinking outside of a strict job description can yield amazing results.

Individualized consideration

  • Truly get to know your people. Understanding personalities, strengths, and motivations will help you lead with empathy.
  • Develop trust. Positive relationships lead to increased buy-in from employees, and decisions can be made quicker.

Being a transformational leader is not easy, but understanding the behaviors that can get you there is a great start. Stajkovic encourages people to assess their skill sets and where they are in their careers. “The world doesn’t function without managers,” states Stajkovic, but if you think you have what it takes to change your organization, activate the talents of other team members, and inspire new results, Stajkovic says “go for it!”

It’s up to you—the leader—to inspire people and motivate them to go above and beyond.

—Alex Stajkovic

“It’s up to you—the leader—to inspire people and motivate them to go above and beyond,” says Stajkovic. If you have the personality and the tools to lead, mastering transformational behaviors can take your organization to new heights.

Sought after by Fortune 500 companies, Alex Stajkovic is an organizational behavior expert who has earned acclaim for his world-renowned research on transformational leadership. He regularly advises C-suite professionals and key executives at global companies on transformational leadership and teaches in the Wisconsin Professional MBA and Wisconsin Executive MBA programs at the Wisconsin School of Business at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.