Transformational Leadership and the Stages of Leader Development

Posted: December 1, 2009 in Leadership
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In the last few months I’ve written a series of articles in this newsletter on the topic of leader development. You can catch up by reading the following articles in this series:

Can Leaders Evolve?

Can Leaders Evolve? – Part 2

How to Help Leaders Evolve and Grow

What Propels Leader Development?

During the presidential campaign last year, many influential people viewed Barack Obama in transformational terms. Colin Powell referred to him as a “transformational figure”, referring to the concept of transformational leadership, which Powell was instrumental in introducing to the US military during his tenure as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. To the best of my knowledge, this was the first time that the idea of transformational leadership went mainstream and entered the wider public consciousness.

Simply put, a transformational leader is someone who inspires and motivates people to perform beyond expectations. Bernard Bass, the foremost researcher on transformational leadership, identified four key factors that distinguish transformational leaders from transactional leaders, pointing out that they lead to greater effectiveness and outstanding performance: inspirational motivation, idealized influence, intellectual stimulation, and individualized consideration.

In other words, transformational leaders have an uncanny ability to get others to perform in a certain way, and to do certain things, that they never would have conceived themselves of doing without the leader’s influence. Moreover, transformational leadership is usually presented as an alternative to “transactional leadership,” which emphasizes punishments and – especially – rewards, as a means of influencing and motivating people.

We can see why many observers felt compelled to view Obama in that light, since the mere fact of his candidacy had the potential to redefine the presidency and race relations in the US. History will show whether the hopes and faith that have been put into him have been worthwhile.

We can also readily see how transformational leadership relates to the concept of adult development and a developmental approach to leadership, as described in this series. Simply put, a person who is psychologically very mature is more likely to be a highly developed leader. In the language of the Leadership Development Framework, such a person will be at least at the Achiever stage of leader development, and more likely at the higher stages, such as the Pluralist and the Strategist. Also, that leader will tend to be an avatar of transformational leadership, rather than purely transactional leadership.

The following diagram gives a visual representation of the relationship between the stages of the Leadership Development Framework as conceived by William Torbert and Susanne Cook-Greuter, and the Full Spectrum Leadership model developed by Bernard Bass and Bruce Avolio, and that incorporates the components of transactional and transformational leadership.

I’m suggesting that as we develop as leaders, we move from more self-centered modes of interaction – as characterized by the Opportunist – to less self-centered modes of interaction, characteristic of the later stages of developed. I’m also suggesting that the exercise of highly effective leadership and influence that transforms individuals, organizations, and even society at large, is largely dependent on the ability to acquire greater and greater degrees of self-knowledge, self-awareness, self-control, and self-efficacy.

I believe the Leadership Development Framework is the most complete model to date of leader development. It provides a model that explains how we grow as leaders, what propels the development, means of progressing from one level to the next, and avoids the stigma of proposing one best way to lead based on personality traits and temperament. It is also a lifelong roadmap, that anyone can apply, either to themselves, or to those they wish to encourage and support in their own development. Finally, it can be readily tied to the research that demonstrates the relative effectiveness of transformational leadership behaviours in comparison with more transactional ones.

This concludes my series on leadership development. I hope you’ve found it interesting and useful in your own efforts to evolve as a leader and to develop others’ leadership.

As this is the last issue of 2009, I would like to wish you a very happy holiday season. May 2010 bring you health, wealth, and prosperity.

© 2010 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes permitted with proper attribution.

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