How to Practice Transformational Leadership

Mark Schinkel

transformational leadership, workplace culture, management, leadership, leaders, organizations, employee, staff, performance, mentorship

Over the years, I’ve become increasingly aware and appreciative of those individuals who had the insight, time, and skill to work with me to help me improve. A core challenge faced by all leaders is how to support the continuous development and optimal effectiveness of their employees. Leadership, after all, is a verb.

What makes leaders effective in supporting others to grow and develop?

Supporting employees to grow and learn requires leaders to be more than a positive presence who brings in coffee once a week or tosses out a few “good job” compliments. It isn’t that being nice, kind, and complimentary aren’t helpful, but if the goal is to develop others and assist them in making demonstrable, impactful performance improvements, intentionality, insight, and skill are required to make that happen.

As a leader, having a framework for thinking about opportunities for influence and factors that contribute to sustainable productivity can be a helpful first step. Until leaders take the time to think deeply about those variables, they may have difficulty supporting others.

Early in my career as a school board administrator, I was exposed to the research of Kenneth Leithwood. He has been instrumental in moving collective thinking forward in the area of transformational leadership. He is best known for isolating three variables that, in his research, account for effectiveness and productivity.

Leaders need to help people build a bridge from where they are to where they want to be.

Leithwood’s framework resonated deeply for me when I first heard it and became the foundation upon which I developed, articulated, and practiced a more fulsome personal philosophy of leadership. I had to agree that the success of those around me (and, therefore, my opportunities to support individual and collective improvement) depended upon the interplay of these three factors:

1. Working Conditions/Culture:

The culture and environment in which employees work profoundly influences performance and well-being. How things get done, how people treat each other and clients, and the rituals of an organization are all key to establishing a culture in which workers can flourish. The leadership challenge is to identify, articulate, create, and support the working conditions that will enable and empower excellence.

2. Capacity/Skill:

This is often the most obvious contributor to success and usually gets the most attention. Effective leaders know which skills, technical competencies, and best practices are required and significantly contribute to organizational success. They have the ability to diagnose gaps and implement strategies for improvement. From a coaching and development perspective, leaders need to help people build a bridge from where they are to where they want to be. 

3. Motivation/Commitment:

Highly skilled workers operating within an ideal workplace environment but who lack motivation and commitment will still leave productivity on the table! It’s like having an elite car out on the open road with no gas in the tank. Great leaders know how to recognize and address employees who are not making their best efforts as a result of waning or nonexistent motivation.

Remember, it is the interplay of these three factors that account for success. Think of them as a tripod upon which the success of your organization’s human talent rests. A weak leg on a tripod usually doesn’t work out too well.

Does this model of transformational leadership work for you as you reflect on your working context? How do you account for or quantify the factors that contribute to productivity? Do they fit, for the most part, into one of the three buckets we identified (working conditions, capacity, motivation)? Where there is room for growth, are those not the three levers (re-culturing, capacity building, igniting motivation) that are available to leaders in their efforts to support and influence improvement?

I believe that thinking deeply about how these three factors can support individual and collective improvement can be helpful in practicing transformational leadership. Where can you turn for help in better understanding how to build your leadership insight and capacity in each of these three areas?


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Author: Mark Schinkel
Trainer, ACHIEVE Centre for Leadership

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