MT Masterclass - transformational leadership

What is it? Some leaders see their relationships at work as a series of one-off deals. These transactional leaders are fixated on immediate results.

But for transformational leaders, every decision is interrelated, part of a continuously developing story. They see the bigger picture, are more ambitious about long-term goals, and do not hesitate to share that vision with their people. Their eyes are on the hills. This approach seeks to offer a narrative or vision, to instil a sense of purpose and direction. It coaches staff rather then telling them what to do, winning hearts and minds instead of controlling them.

- Where did it come from? Pulitzer prizewinner James MacGregor Burns introduced the concept in his book Leadership, published in 1978. For him, it characterised the great leaders of history. The idea gradually became more fashionable and it fits in with other trendy ideas such as chaos theory, the notion that an organisation is a 'complex adaptive system' that resists linear instruction or change. Incrementalism is out. Transformational leadership may also reinforce the myth-making that surrounds the stock market hero CEOs, who leave the little details to the little people while engineering dramatic commercial success.

- Where's it going? The jails could soon be full of transformational leaders whose integrity (and accounting practices) let them down. Down-to-earth, practical execution - transactional leadership - is making a comeback. So, if you want to be a transformational leader, don't broadcast the fact: expectations will be raised, and dramatic results will be required. Leaders who promise more than they deliver soon find themselves out of a job. That's one transformation you could do without.

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