Transformational Leadership:
More Than Results, It’s Care and Communication

🕑 5 minutes read | Jul 10 2023 | By Richard Head, TTA Learning Consultant

In a previous post, we talked about “Everyday Leadership” and how to inspire everyday leadership in every employee. Another critical element in leadership is making the switch from transactional leadership to transformational leadership.

Transactional leadership is about management and negotiation. Transformational leadership is about creating change through example and providing an energizing vision and challenging goals. Transactional leadership is about using rewards and punishments—carrots and sticks. Transformational leadership is about providing trust, respect, loyalty, and admiration to followers. It’s not just about admiration for you—although that’s part of it—but pride in the efforts everyone’s involved in. To simplify:

Transactional leadership is telling; Transformational leadership is selling and is based on personal influence and trust.

Leaders, you’re always being watched

As a leader, you’re always being watched, critiqued, and evaluated. It comes with the territory. What you say and do—or what you don’t say or do—is going to be questioned, like it or not. Think of it this way: you are the visible standard of acceptable, trusted behavior. While we tend to judge other people by their behavior, we usually judge ourselves by our intentions. But, as a leader, our intentions are only as good as our actions. What we’re trying to do is create an environment where everyone is engaged in efforts to create increased levels of performance, motivation, and satisfaction. Those efforts are the results of people feeling supported, valued, and heard–the elements of care.

How do you demonstrate care?

Psychologist Will Schutz developed the FIRO (Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientation) in the 1950s for the U.S. Navy, for use in crew selection in battleship Combat Information Centers. It continues to be used for crew selection in other tight-quarters, high-stress situations such as nuclear submarine and space crews and small-team combat units. The FIRO is also used in businesses where teamwork and trust are paramount.

The FIRO consists of three measures of people’s behaviors:

  • Inclusion: Exhibiting or wanting contact with others
  • Control: Exhibiting or wanting influence over things and people
  • Openness: Exhibiting or wanting to be seen—curiosity about others and a willingness to be seen ourselves

The graphic below shows the relationship between the three elements.

FIRO Transformational Leadership

Schutz discovered that if it wasn’t possible to create teams based on compatibility factors (and, many times it isn’t), the next best thing was to create an environment where it was safe for people to be more open.

Problem-solving and relationship-building (collaboration) almost always benefit from increased openness. Openness is an essential way to create depth in relationships and is a key problem-solving tool.

Schutz demonstrated that it is difficult, if not impossible, to establish constructive relationships if you aren’t willing to share your thoughts and feelings.

Examples of Inclusion, Control, and Openness are shown in the table below.

Inclusion Control  Openness
Involvement Power Approachable
Contact Authority Shares Personal Information
Belonging Influence Listens and Expresses Well
Recognition Responsibility Sensitive and Empathetic
Attention Managing Curious About Others
Participation Directing Shares Feelings and Values
Acceptance Structuring Shares Vulnerabilities

To evaluate your current level of inclusion and openness, ask yourself several questions:

  1. What additional behaviors would you add to the Inclusion and Openness columns above? Those behaviors are crucial for you and your team.
  2. If openness is a critical behavior, what can you do to be more open yourself?
  3. What can you do to encourage those you work with to be more open?

Take a risk

It’s “risky” to demonstrate openness because it involves being vulnerable. You’re showing parts of yourself that most of us have learned to hide. Vulnerability is seen as a huge negative in most business people for one simple but wrong-headed reason: it’s seen as a sign of weakness. However, being vulnerable isn’t a weakness. It’s part of a communication skill that lets everyone open up and talk about things they’ve hidden, for fear that they’ll be judged negatively. As a leader, it’s your job to “go first.” You must demonstrate that it’s acceptable—and essential—to be open.

“Magic” Phrases That Demonstrate Your Care—and Your Communication

Here are a few phrases you can use to become more open and to start down a path toward much better communication.

  • “I need your help.” When a leader asks for help, it does two things: it opens a huge communication channel, and it expresses trust in the opinions of the person being asked for help.
  • “I was wrong.” Admitting you were wrong is admitting that we all make mistakes. There’s a huge difference between failing and “being a failure.” When we can admit we made a mistake, and ask for help from the people we work with to help fix a situation, we’ve taken “being a failure” out of the equation.
  • Can I ask a favor?” This is another variation of asking for help. Inclusion Control Openness
  • “Can I get your opinion on something?” Like “I need your help,” asking for someone’s opinion expresses trust in their judgment and their professionalism.
  • “Say more about that.” Again, we’re asking for advice and a professional perspective.
  • “I took your advice.” Implementing a suggestion from someone whose opinion you sought establishes confidence in their expertise, and they feel greater confidence in their own skill.

Key behaviors of transformational leaders

  • Emphasis on intrinsic motivation and development of team members. Intrinsic motivation is internal. It’s based on a person’s beliefs, values, and goals, and not on the extrinsic motivators of carrots and sticks.
  • Fostering high ethical standards and shared values among team members.
  • Encouraging team members to look beyond self-interests.
  • Promoting cooperation and collaboration rather than competition among individuals and teams.
  • Individual coaching and mentoring, and taking a genuine interest in people beyond just their job performance.
  • Appealing to ideals and allowing freedom of choice for team members.
  • Walking your talk—serving as a role model for acceptable leadership behavior.
  • Genuine concern for the needs and feelings of others, thus creating the openness that is so valuable.
  • Intellectual stimulation and fostering change, innovation, and creativity.

When leaders move from becoming transactional to transformational, they act as role models who place others’ needs over their own and demonstrate high standards of ethical, value-driven conduct. They mentor followers and reward them for creativity and innovation, and allow them to make their own decisions. Even if the decisions were wrong or didn’t work, they’re treated as learning experiences and not failures.

As people learn and grow, they transform into what the organization needs to learn and grow. That’s the essence of transformational leadership.

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