Friday, December 21, 2012

Three “T”s in Transformational Leaders

“I only ask to be free. The butterflies are free.” --Charles Dickens

Fundamentally there are two basic categories of leadership: transactional and transformational. Transactional (some call ordinary) managers keep their organizations on the historical track, and exchange tangible rewards for the work and loyalty of follower; but transformational leaders (or some call extraordinary) who inspire with vision, engage with teams, focus on higher order intrinsic needs and raised consciousness about the significance of specific outcomes and new ways in which those outcomes might be achieved. 

As many businesses are at a crossroad, facing unprecedented change and uncertainty, the significant transformation is needed to digitalization, globalization, radical management as well as innovation pursuing, transformational leaders are in higher demand, as transformational leadership is all about change. Here are three “T” substances in transformational leaders:

1.    THOUGHT Leadership 

"TRANS" is derived from Latin and as a prefix means "across, on the far side, and beyond." "trans" connotes a bridging characteristic, thus, transformational leaders practice forward-looking, future-connecting thought leadership. Transformational leaders also facilitate a redefinition of a people’s mission and vision, a renewal of their commitment and the restructuring of their systems for goal accomplishment.
  • Develop the Vision: The transformational leaders must transform the organizations and head them down the new tracks. What is required of this kind of leader is an ability to help the organization develop a vision of what it can be, to mobilize the organization to accept and work toward achieving the new vision, and to institutionalize the changes that must last over time.
  • Grow more leaders. Transformational leaders develop a relationship of mutual stimulation and elevation that converts followers into leaders and may convert leaders into moral agents. Hence, transformational leadership must be grounded in moral foundations. It takes a leader to grow leaders.
  • Promote Changes: Transformational leadership theory is all about change. Transformational leaders inspire others to follow a vision. They create opportunities for people to show flair and to take responsibility for new ideas.
  • Build Trust: Transformational leaders are said to engender trust, admiration, loyalty and respect among their followers. The transformational leader has to be very careful in creating trust, and their personal integrity is a critical part of the package that they are selling. In effect, they are selling themselves as well as the vision.
  •  Self-reflective changing of values and beliefs: Transformational leadership requires that leaders engage with followers as ‘whole’ people, rather than simply as an ‘employee’. In effect, transformational leaders emphasize the actualization of followers. Transformational leadership is also based on self-reflective changing of values and beliefs by the leader and their followers. From this, it emerges a key characteristic of transformational leadership.

2. Transcendence 

Transformational leaders are transcendent, as they are finding an appeal that can transcend unique leadership difference:

  • Create Something New out of Old: Transformational leaders create something new out of something old: reach the new horizon out of an old vision, they must develop and communicate a new vision and get others not only to see the vision but also to commit themselves to it.
  • Take Leapfrog. Where transactional managers make only minor adjustments in the organization’s mission, structure, and talent management, etc., transformational leaders not only make major changes in these areas but they also evoke fundamental changes in the basic political and cultural systems of the organization. The revamping of the political and cultural systems is what most distinguishes the transformational leader from the transactional one.

  • Four “I”s: Transformational leaders have four common 'I's: Idealized Influence upon building vision & goals, Inspirational motivation to attract more people to commit to the vision; Intellectual Stimulation to encourage innovation and creativity, and Individual Consideration through coaching to the specific needs of followers, also develop the structure to foster participation in decision (Leithwood’s Six),  the leaders with such 4 “I”s can be transcendent.
  • Elevate People to Up-level of Maslow’s Pyramid: Transformational leaders elevate people from low levels of need, focused on survival, to higher levels of purpose and mastery. They may also motivate followers to transcend their own interests for some other collective purpose.

3. Transdisciplinarity

 “The fluttering of a butterfly’s wings can effect climate changes on the other side of the planet.”      -Paul Erlich

Transdisciplinarity is the ability to understand concepts across multiple disciplines to connect and effectively move between divergent knowledge disciplines

  • Solve high-complex problems: In the next ten years, we will be confronting a number of high-complex problems in the hyper-connected world, the solutions will require integration of different sets of knowledge and fluency across multiple disciplines. Thus, transdisciplinarity—ability to work across disciplines—will emerge as a key skill for the future of leaders and workforce.
  • Holistic thinking to perceive “wholeness” of the business ecosystem: Transdisciplinary leaders will breakdown business functional silos, synthesize cross-disciplinary information to bridge the gap and enforce creativity. Transdisciplinarity will also be valued as a key driver of innovation.
  • “T-shaped” quality: Transdisciplinary leaders also are T-shaped talent, who have both depth and breadth in their skill set. The vertical bar of the “T” represents depth in one field, the horizontal bar represents the ability to collaborate across other disciplines and to apply knowledge in areas of expertise other than one’s own. Leaders with T-shaped quality are specialized generalists, will respect others viewpoint, also as effective communicators to understand multiple dialects of knowledge disciplines.
Transformational leadership is like a butterfly, graceful and enchanting, built to change, and make a sunny impact on humanity.


Hi, Andi, thanks for your kindly comment, happy holidays.

Very nice article!
There's also an application of a similar concept on the role of the CIO, which may be worth reading: The latter article was published in the "360° – The Business Transformation Journal".


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