There's a lot of research around leadership styles out there. But one area of consensus is that many leaders now aspire to become known as a "transformational leader." In short, a transformational leader is someone who inspires those around them to achieve new and greater results--which then inspires others to join those efforts. These are leaders who inspire the kind of innovative and game-changing thinking in their people that drives exceptional organizational value over the long term.
We can contrast a transformational leader with someone we might call a "transactional" leader, who is typically someone who leads with a more accounting-oriented style where if people do X, then you'll do Y. The catch, of course, is that leading this way may get short-term results, but it doesn't result in breakthrough thinking.
If you want your organization to build value over the long run, you need to cultivate transformational leaders within it. The question then becomes, how do you recognize a transformational leader? According to one group of researchers, there are four elements that help define who a transformational leader is, which are known as the "Four I's."
1. Idealized influence
The first "I" helps identify those who are exemplary role models--someone whom others look up to and aspire to be like. These are leaders who are generally trusted to make great decisions for the organization and who are also exceptional at attracting top talent to the organization.
2. Inspirational motivation
Inspirational motivation is about a leader who can paint a picture of a compelling future to their team. It's finding a way to inspire them to achieve something amazing. Case in point: Just look at Steve Jobs's stated goal to "make a dent in the universe." That's something that could inspire a team to go beyond the norm and innovate something capable of changing the world.
3. Intellectual stimulation
A transformational leader also encourages creativity and innovation--an environment where the better idea(s) wins. A transformational leader will also encourage people to push hard even when they make mistakes. The only ask is to learn something when it goes wrong. These are the kinds of environments where great things happen and the organization generates better results.
4. Individualized consideration
A transformational leader doesn't take a "one-size-fits-all" approach to connecting with their people. Rather, they work in a very individualized way where they develop a deep understanding of what drives or motivates each person on their team. That way they can offer a more customized approach to leading that enables each person on the team to feel like they fit in and also have the chance to exceed inside the organization. It comes back to the great Zig Ziglar's axiom that you can have everything in life you want if you will just help other people get what they want.
How do you stack up?
So, when you look in the mirror or evaluate the leaders inside your organization, how do you all stack up against the Four I's of transformational leadership? Do part of your leaders show some, or even all, of these characteristics? Or do you see many more who fall short of transformational and are much more transactional?
Again, if you want to create an organization that attracts and retains the best talent around--while also inspiring them to achieve great things--break free from the transactional mindset and find ways to think like a transformational leader does.