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How can you be a transformational leader

by LAURA AITKEN-BURT September 21, 2017

​There are many different kinds of leadership styles adopted for different audiences and environments. But when it comes to the highly competitive business world where retaining top talent can be a struggle, we wanted to know which type makes the most effective leader. After conducting research from a range of people from junior to senior level in our Question of the Month survey, we saw that the transformational style was considered to be the most valuable for motivating junior employees in particular.  

With a constant stream of highly capable but notoriously difficult to keep entry level individuals always entering the workplace, thinking about ways to retain and be a good leader is always going to be an important consideration.

What is a transformational leader?

This is typically defined that the leaders’ behaviours inspire and transform employee’s performance. They typically have a clear vison and clearly communicate this to others so that it can be achieved. 

Other types can be characterised by:

Autocratic: Leaders make the decisions with no employee input

Democratic: Encouraging open communication and employee participation

Transactional: Promoting employee compliance through rewards or remands

Laissez-Faire: Employees are allowed to set own milestones and deadlines


So how can a leader be transformational?

  • Be team orientated – expect that employees will work together to create the best possible results.

  • Give responsibility – although being responsible overall, a transformational leader will also instil responsibility onto team members.

  • Respect all – no matter what their position, everyone's opinions and ideas are valued. Employees are actively encouraged to speak their mind. This in turn generates further respect for the leader themselves as well as the team focus.

  • Creativity – able to articulate an intriguing vision for the future that draws in followers who want to be part of it and contribute creatively to it too.

  • Coach juniors – the leader is not hidden in an office but provides training themselves and personal motivation to reach the company's goals.

  • Rapport – personal influence gained from fostering respect and taking time to listen to all

We took a look at some leaders who are currently using these traits for great success in their companies.

Emmanuel Faber (Danone)

As the CEO of Danone since 2014, Faber was judged by the Harvard Business Review as part of the 2017 Transformation 10 for his incredible efforts to grow the company in just five years. Having worked for the same company for over 17 years, Faber is an insider who knew how things used to work and how they could be done better. He is an example of how managers who may have worked under an autocratic system can embrace new leadership styles for better results.

Satya Nadella (Microsoft)

In the four years since Satya Nadella became CEO, he has been credited with transforming Microsoft’s cautious, insular culture. Previously, large teams would work for years on a new major version of the Microsoft franchise. This led to a risk-averse environment which Nadella wanted to shake up. As a hands-on engineer himself he led companywide 'hackathons', empowering employees to come up with new solutions fast and motivate them by projects they were passionate about.

This new level of employee engagement has helped drive Microsoft’s expansion into cloud services and artificial intelligence, areas that now account for 32% of revenue.

Mark Bertolini (Aetna)

In order to transform the culture of health care company, Aetna, and move into new growth areas, Bertolini described his role as “the storyteller in chief”. By creating a new vision, Bertolini was persistent and tireless to batter home the core messages week after week, tailoring them to individuals at all levels within the company. This helped to create a team spirit towards the desired goals and also helped every person within the organisation, whether in a call centre or a senior manager, to understand where they fitted into the larger picture of the company's direction and future. 


So transformational leadership is not just about inspiring people with a vision, it's also about interpersonal skills. The Journal of Leadership Education's study in 2014 analysed whether Steve Jobs could be considered this type of leader. There is no doubt that Jobs' control of Apple was transformational in the creative sense, considering the unbelievable growth the company experienced during his time there. However, there are many stories of his less than democratic style of leadership, maintaining and steering the creative vision alone and not empowering employees to contribute in all the ways they potentially could have. The study concluded that perhaps a difference can be drawn between a transformer of industries versus a transformer of people. Transformational leadership should really combine the two.


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