Leadership Is More Than a Noun

May 8, 2018, Feature, by Lori A. Hoffner

2018 May Feature Leadership 410

What leaders, past or present, can you think of who encourage individuals to go above and beyond? For me, they are leaders who exhibit the very traits they expect of their followers. Every individual is, at times, stymied by their perceived limitations. However, there are leaders who possess qualities and characteristics that motivate individuals to move past those perceptions. These leaders not only allow individuals to be innovative and take greater ownership in their work and projects, but they also encourage them to do so. Ultimately, we feel trust, loyalty and respect for these types of leaders because we, in turn, feel trust, loyalty and respect from them.

These traits can be found in individuals who embrace the principles of transformational leadership. According to biographer James MacGregor Burns, “Transformational leaders are able to inspire followers to change expectations, perceptions and motivations to work toward common goals.” Transformational leaders are those who stimulate and inspire followers to both achieve extraordinary outcomes and, in the process, develop their own leadership capacity. In fact, transformational leadership has the potential to result in performance beyond expectations.

Transformational vs. Transactional Leadership
The juxtaposition of transformational leadership is transactional leadership. In the book Leadership and Performance Beyond Expectations, Bernard Bass contrasts transactional forms of leadership with forms of transformational leadership, in which leaders clarify expectations and reward followers for fulfilling them. A transactional leader is someone who values order and structure. He or she appreciates the rules and regulations to complete objectives on time or move people and assets in an organized way. Transactional leaders are not a good fit for places where creativity and innovative ideas are valued.

These are just a handful of traits that compare the two leadership styles. However, it provides a solid example of the difference between the two. Understanding the power between these leadership qualities and the impact they will have within a department and organization is the responsibility of people in a leadership role. It is imperative that you ask yourself about your own leadership style. Do you continue leading out of passion and a desire to support your staff or because there is an expectation of structure and routine? Along with knowing your staff and their abilities, and knowing your own personality, consider the leadership style that best fits you, your work and your overall objective.

Although these leadership styles differ considerably, they are not necessarily mutually exclusive in a work environment. In fact, there are times in every industry that call for transactional leadership. For example, rarely does the completion, presentation and approval of a budget allow for a time of innovation and vision. However, the conversations leading up to a completed budget should do exactly that. They should allow for creative exploration of possible projects and programs that could enhance the budget and for thinking beyond the individual department or program and working toward the benefit of the team, organization and/or community.

Career Fulfillment
In the ever-changing landscape of employment, it’s time that leadership styles are seriously assessed to determine if they are meeting the needs of the organization. Does a leadership style encourage staff retention? According to Harvard Business Review, 66 percent of the millennial workforce says they want a career that is fulfilling and inspires them. Being inspired by the work done on a day-to-day basis is an intrinsic motivation. For many, it takes years to find that internal incentive. However, having a leader who inspires and encourages them to go beyond their perceived potential gets employees closer to that fulfillment.

Further research related to the powerhouse millennial generation states that being able to provide input is a highly desired workplace value. Transformational leaders urge that very mindset because it generates ownership of projects that will benefit not only the individual, but also the entire organization. This leadership style increases retention of staff and, in particular, millennial staff, through the important belief of fulfillment.

Transactional leadership and research surrounding this leadership style have not been proven to be a successful approach to meet the need of career fulfillment. Transactional leadership depends on self-motivated people who work well in a structured, directed environment. By contrast, transformational leadership seeks to motivate and inspire workers, choosing to influence rather than direct others. Rarely does transactional leadership influence followers to work collectively to achieve one vision. Rather, it is an existing knowledge-based approach that is directed from a supervisor level. It does not encourage a collaborative environment and, therefore, lacks a level of creativity. It is within this creativity that followers say they feel inspired and find fulfillment.

Personality and Leadership Traits
Using the four I’s, we can engage in a bit of self-reflection on our personality and leadership traits. There is immense strength in transformational leadership: the willingness to take the time and be aware of your staff members and know what motivates them; the genuine actions of showing concern for staff members — concern that is not just about them as a member of your team but as an individual who contributes valuable information to your team. Finally, there is the idea of integrity: being a leader who inspires with creative ideas and insight is important. In addition, being a leader who inspires through consistent actions as a role model is a step above. This kind of transformational leadership demonstrates the positive expectations you can have for your staff because you “walk the talk.”

Transformational leaders are generally energetic, enthusiastic and passionate. They can be described as concerned and involved in process, and they also focus on helping every member of the group succeed. Another key tenant of transformational leadership is the Pygmalion effect, also known as the Rosenthal effect, a phenomenon whereby higher expectation leads to an increase in performance. Essentially, “if you set the bar high, individuals will rise to meet it.” Because transformational leaders can change expectations and perceptions of their staff, they consistently set the bar high.

Have leaders in your life challenged you by setting the bar high? How was your life, career and personal perception transformed by meeting that expectation? You, too, can be that kind of leader, one who has high expectations but also provides the motivation, stimulation and consideration for a successful outcome. And, that outcome not only benefits the individuals you lead, but the organization you work for and the community you serve.

In an industry that has had to be adaptable to budgets, trends and community needs, how is your leadership transforming staff? Can you inspire them to go above and beyond through creativity and innovation? Leadership is meant to set things in motion and to accompany others. It’s about movement — movement into the future and movement that supports new leaders and encourages new ideas. How are you moving your staff and your projects into the future in a way that challenges the status quo and alters the culture of your organization to support a new level and idea of success?

Lori A. Hoffner is a Professional Speaker, Trainer and Consultant for Supporting CommUnity, Inc.

Join Hoffner at the 2018 NRPA Conference in Indianapolis, Indiana, where she will be presenting a session titled, “Moving into the Future: The Power of Transformational Leadership.” Visit www.nrpa.org/conference for more conference information.