The ‘how’ of transformational leadership

Ashok Malhotra, CEO Spark Leadership Inc | April, 2012


A mother once brought her child to Mahatma Gandhi, asking him to tell the young boy not to eat sugar, as it was not good for his diet or his developing teeth. Gandhi replied, “I cannot tell him that, but you may bring him back in a month. The mother was frustrated as she had expected the great leader to support her parenting. Four weeks later she returned, not too sure what to expect. The great Gandhi took the child’s small hand into his own hand, knelt before him, and tenderly cautioned, “Do not eat sugar, my child; it’s not good for you”. Then he embraced the child. The mother, grateful but perplexed, queried, “Why didn’t you say that a month ago?” Well, said Gandhi, a month ago I was still eating sugar myself.” Gandhi knew that to effectively lead others he must first lead himself. Gandhi wrote “How can I control others if I cannot control myself?”
Gandhi believed that an ounce of practice is more than tons of preaching. This subject could not have started without above example, the illustration which is so simple in reading but so in depth and complex that it may take some time before some of us absorb the essence of transformational leadership practice which is “Be the change you want to see in the world” as well defined by Gandhi who gave definition to Transformational leadership style. It will also be important to note that transformational leadership is required at its maxima when you are leading volunteers and is not supported by any external mechanism except to follow the principles yourself, otherwise, for example in Industry/Corporate its comparatively easier to implement this style with very high productivity because of support from external factors such as employee’s salary, perk growth and security which is absent when you are leading volunteers.
In simple words, let’s define transformational leadership as: "Leadership that motivates followers to ignore self-interests and work for the larger good of the organisation to achieve significant accomplishments; emphasis is on articulating a vision that will convince subordinates to make major changes." These leaders have a profound effect on their followers’ beliefs regarding what the organisation should become and also on their subordinates’ values. Some examples of individuals who are considered transformational leaders include Bill Gates of Microsoft, Steve Jobs of Apple, Michael Dell of Dell Computer Corporation, Jeff Bezos of, Lou Gerstner of IBM. 
It is also true that people who have the potential to become transformational leaders can easily lose this opportunity by making serious mistakes. Indeed, President Clinton may be an example of an individual who botched the opportunity to become a highly successful transformational leader, because of several mistakes. Though in between a course correction was done to some extent.
There is a significant amount of evidence that transformational leadership is more effective than transactional leadership in achieving higher productivity, higher job satisfaction, and lower employee turnover rates. To explain this further, we need to reiterate here that one of the most comprehensive leadership theories of organisational transformation is the theory of transformational and transactional leadership as quoted by Eisenach in the year 1999 also by Burn in the year 1978 held that leadership could be broadly classified into two forms, transactional and transformational leadership. Transactional leadership occurs when the leader takes the initiative in making contact with the teams for the exchange of valued outcomes. Transformational leadership on the other hand focuses purely on leading change. The transformational leader engages with others in such a way that both leader and followers raise each other to higher levels of motivation and morality. In transformational leadership, it is important for the leaders to address true needs of the followers and lead the followers towards fulfillment of those needs.
Unfortunately though, as with most things that we value, transformational leadership is in short supply. We need much more of it, in every sphere, be it government, business, education, the law, or even non-profit organisations. Our slow and halting progress seems even more conspicuous when we look at the rapid growth many less-endowed countries have achieved over the past two-three decades. Let us learn transformational leadership lessons by analysing leadership styles of two leaders Gandhiji and Dalai Lama. 
Whenever we will refer to Gandhiji’s leadership style the word will be SIMPLICITY and that is the epitome of a genius. Before Gandhiji became the leader of 500 million people, who called him “The Mahatma” and before he became the Father of Nation by winning the fight for independence, he was a shy boy and an average personality. Even with this background, without holding any official position in the government, had no wealth, commanded no armies – he could mobilise millions and as a result of his example and personal character, the mass organized together to fight to become self reliant and Independent nation. He won the hearts of his greatest critics by practicing Interpersonal and excellent communication skills. Another example of leadership is Dalai Lama. What makes the Dalai Lama so interesting and influential around the world care about a simple Buddhist monk who 50 years ago was forced to leave his country, and who for years has headed an unrecognised government-in-exile, a 'virtual' nation of 6 million Tibetans is a important question and needs to be analysed in depth and clarity. 
The Dalai Lama's quiet persuasion and reaching out has drawn many to the message of Buddhism. He has contemporised Buddhism and brought it into the mainstream of spiritual thought. 
These leaders teach as management by self management, effective communication and information flow, Principles of natural justice, ethics, concept of OOMTAMP (Object Oriented Management Through Appropriate methods, Means and Practices).
This leadership style is most effective style for organisational as well as social transformations. However, transformational leadership is very difficult to implement no wonders we have rare examples to quote. Most of the corporate and social leaders as well as managers desire to implement this style wanting the results this trait can produce but most of us give up on the way, get frustrated or fail to communicate as we fail to understand that this style can be only be successfully implemented with high degree of self discipline, highest levels emotional intelligence, interpersonal and communication skills. We have few examples of flawed implementation also though if not too much flawed can still be successfully implemented successfully such as Bill Clinton who once became an ambassador of peace and integrity found himself to be in the web of an integrity issue, though he had guts to openly accept his mistake, apologised and took a corrective action. Another such example is Anna Hazare and his team which is an example of flawed implementation of transformational style. The lack of interpersonal skills has delayed their goal which is much desired by the country and every citizen feels honoured to be part of his movement. The whole moment is turning out to be an issue of prestige, rigidity and credit taking which has delayed the achievement of the goal.
The results of Transformational leadership style are phenomenal and no goal is big enough for this style but, however, there is an equivalent price to be paid by the practitioner…