Dr. Steve Broe
My brother-in-law thought I was crazy when I announced that I was studying leadership. “Are you nuts?” he protested. “When I think of leaders, I see some angry guy barking out orders to meek workers,” he protested. If your idea of a leader is close to my brother-in-law’s, pay attention: that person who barks out commands is using the power of his position to force people to act. If he leaves the room, how long are the workers going to follow his command?
Good leaders have the ability to influence others, without making their followers feel like they’re using the power of their position to make them work. Good leaders enlist the hearts and minds of their followers. Good leaders challenge and engage people; they challenge and change the status quo. Good leaders make a difference. They even create new leaders.
As Victor Hugo once wrote, “There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” Leaders provide us with powerful ideas. Leaders take us to the future.
You don’t have to be the subject of an article in Time magazine to be a leader; you don’t even have to be the boss. If you’re a leader, people talk about your ideas and take action, and they look to you for insight, feedback, and advice (“What does Joe think about this?”). Are you a leader?
What Does Being a Leader Mean to You?
Are you interested in changing people’s lives, or having power over them?
For some people, being a leader means being in command of others. However, while it’s true that leaders often end up having the power of command, good leadership starts with internal qualities. A person who is inspirational, understands others, shares powerful ideas, and invests other people with the ability and motivation to move forward—this person may be promoted into a position of power based on his or her people skills.
Leadership is about more than the sum of these internal qualities, of course. I like Peter Drucker’s definition of leadership, which is broad enough to include a broad range of work and activities: a leader has followers. Leadership takes many forms, with many different kinds of follower: bankers, yoga practitioners, Girl Scouts, political savants, etc. Regardless of the followers in your industry, you can still be a leader. Let’s explore some additional qualities that leaders embody.
Influential: Others listen to your ideas. You have the ability to shift people’s opinions and encourage others to consider new possibilities. Your colleagues have a positive regard for your position and emulate your actions.
Emotionally connected: You understand other people’s feelings. You understand your own emotional climate, and you act authentically, in accordance with what you feel. You are able to transfer your emotional experience, establishing a connection that creates positive feelings in the people around you.
A positive view of the future: You envision a better world, and you understand what it will take to get there. You talk and write about this positive view, and others begin to share your ideas. Your business or professional life serves this positive view. Your positive view is deep, based on life-changing reflection and work. You help other people feel that their work is important, too.
Challenge other people to grow: When you work with other people, they add new skills and adopt new behaviors. You help people expand their potential to do greater work. Some of your followers start to act as leaders themselves. You create new leaders who share some of your views!
Ambition, competence, and integrity: People who display ambition, competence, and integrity are leaders. Ambition is a proxy for action. A person with ambition has the drive to finish big projects. Competence tells us the person is good at his or her craft. This may not sound like much of a recommendation, but leaders typically have many talents, and while they may not be superior in all areas, leaders execute their work responsibilities competently (at a moderate level or better. Leaders should also have integrity. Integrity is a mark of trustworthiness. Leaders with integrity hold certain values sacred; when leaders authentically reflect these values, in action and word, others respect them as people of principle.
Despite sharing these common qualities, leaders are as different from each other as the places they work. The general manager of a baseball team will be different from the artistic director of an opera house; the senior partner at a legal firm will be different from the leader at a labor union. When you change fields, your focus of work will change, and the way you work with people may change. You may need to build new leadership skills. Change is unavoidable. Expect to grow.
Intentional, Transformational Leadership
As we’ve discussed, leaders change lives. If your vision is transformational and you proceed with intent, you can change the world around you and encourage others to follow your example.
Think about your role as a leader. What does the career field need? What do your colleagues need? How will you influence people? You may want to clarify the core values that guide your decisions. Stephen Covey’s Principle-Centered Leadership (1992) is an excellent guidebook for the reflective journey of a leader. For new leaders, realize that if your leadership transition is successful, you will be a role model for others. The way you begin your journey will set the tone for your followers.
Professional writing on leadership suggests that leaders possess many different skills, and you can find exhaustive lists of those skills in many respected books and articles in professional journals. However, studying lists of leadership traits doesn’t actually build leadership skills. In large part, the work you do will define the skills you need. But what skills, in particular, do you need to be an intentional, transformational leader?
Transformational leaders are those who successfully change the nature of the work, the organization, the community, or the world, bringing the views of different people into alignment so that they may serve a greater purpose. In Transformational Leadership (1999), Bernard Bass identified three qualities found in transformational leaders: the ability to inspire others, the ability to stimulate others intellectually, and the ability to treat others as individuals.
An oft-repeated story describes the interaction between a medieval traveler and a group of laborers. The traveler asks, “What are you working on?” One laborer replies that he is building a wall. A second laborer, performing the same task, responds that he is building a church. A third answers that he is building a cathedral “to provide a lasting place of worship and to glorify God.” The third laborer found inspiration in his work and its legacy, and, consequently, he was probably more invested in the quality of his work.
Inspiration connects the heart and mind. Transformational leaders inspire others, often by simply validating and promoting their followers’ ideas. Followers and leaders who share an inspirational idea often feel connected by commitment to a larger purpose.
Transformational leaders know why their ideas, and their followers’ ideas, are important. An equally important quality is the ability to communicate inspirational ideas and act on those ideas. A leader who has identified core values and has worked to propagate those values in the world may make decisions more easily. Such leaders further can inspire others by showing them how their work contributes to the shared purpose.
Stimulating Others Intellectually
Intellectual stimulation delights the mind and spurs creative thought about all efforts in which an individual is engaged. Transformational leaders achieve this end by asking questions that challenge others to think and to discuss their work. Followers who’ve worked in an environment of intellectual stimulation have deeper understanding of the details, plans, and nuances of the strategy. Transformational leaders don’t just deliver orders; they provide details about the work, and they encourage others to dig into “the guts of the machine.”
Intellectual stimulation isn’t just a good idea; it’s essential. Knowledge workers and their managers need to receive intellectual stimulation to do their best work. Technology changes rapidly and constantly, and many workers are affected when the technology is replaced. Intellectually stimulating leaders encourage others to improve their skills, through discussion, training, and personal attention. Such leaders also ensure that their followers have access to a diverse range of software tools, help files, and written support materials to meet the requirements different kinds of learners.
Treating Others Like Individuals
Transformational leaders care about people, and they demonstrate their interest in myriad ways. Effective leaders endeavor to understand the unique interests, dreams, and motivations of their followers, colleagues, and peers. The most effective leaders provide individual attention—especially for members of their work teams—and treat others like individuals.
Do you believe that individual treatment is important? Old-school managers scoffed at this idea, dismissing as “soft” anyone who worked closely with their teams and invested themselves in their followers. Modern leaders recognize that individual attention is essential. Transformational leaders invest time and energy into understanding people and reacting to their unique thoughts and actions. When a great leader offers authentic individual consideration, their followers feel understood and appreciated.
John Maxwell once wrote, “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” Transformational leaders do care, and this commitment is readily observable by their followers, colleagues, and peers.
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If you’re a leader in transition, I encourage you to join the discussion on the “Leaders in Transition” Facebook page. There’s much we can learn from each other about leadership in general and the journey toward transformational leadership in particular.
Dr. Steve Broe has more than twenty-five years of management experience in education, real estate, and private asset management. He served as a senior-level manager for a multistate organization with more than 120 employees. He now works as an executive coach, speaker, and author. For more of Steve’s insights and observations on leadership, read his blog and connect with him on LinkedIn. He can be reached by email at DrSteve@MyCareerImpact.com.