Today, effective managers have the traits of transformational leaders, able to engage and inspire their team to invest discretionary effort in the pursuit of challenging objectives and in the face of tremendous change. Transformational leaders distinguish themselves by making the following ten activities a priority in their leadership agenda:

1. Scan the environment for threats and opportunities. Transformational leaders are always one step ahead of the competition. This involves making a careful assessment of both competitors and the market.

On top of the ubiquitous SWOT analysis, today’s leaders might also use the Political, Economic, Social and Technological analysis or PEST test. They may likewise encourage the continuous sharing of the latest research, updates or learning within their organisations.

But environmental scanning doesn’t end with gathering intelligence. Once leaders have identified threats and opportunities, they must lead the development of strategies that mitigate the former and make the most of the latter—bearing factors in mind such as ongoing issues and regulatory changes that must be considered.

2. Initiate change. But environmental scanning doesn’t end with gathering intelligence. Once leaders have identified threats and opportunities, they must lead the development of strategies that mitigate the former and make the most of the latter—bearing factors in mind such as ongoing issues and regulatory changes that must be considered.

When this is done with vision and conviction, change is able to take root faster, and firmer among everyone involved. Anyone—especially among key management—who doesn’t get with the programme could very well end up hindering the transformation of the entire organisation.

Leaders need empathy in demonstrating their commitment to change if they want the support of their teams, especially among their fellow leaders.

3. Engage with their stakeholders to understand their needs and concerns. They believe in the axiom “people don’t know how much you know until they know how much you care”. Keeping a finger on the pulse assures them that their vision and strategy are grounded in reality.

With stakeholders in different fields of expertise and with different operational-level objectives, it can be challenging to engage with them whilst keeping everyone aligned. Transformational leaders know how to adjust their communication styles to suit each group of stakeholders in assuring them that their needs are being met.

And while leaders must also be able to prioritise certain stakeholders, they must likewise know how to listen and give importance to all of them.

4. Create clear, simple and memorable vision statements that inspire the spirit. Examples include “human-error free manufacturing” (semiconductor organisation), “a just world free of poverty” (Oxfam) and “crush Adidas” (Nike’s 1960 vision).

Guides abound for writing vision statements for an organisation; the challenge of transformational leadership lies in making sure that these statements aren’t relegated to a poster in the company cafeteria.

Because a vision statement defines your company’s core values and acts as a pole star for everyone in it, it’s important to write statements that have actionable, reachable goals within a specified period of time. Leaders have to be able to inspire their teams with their vision statements as they are the very people who will be making that vision a reality.

Transformational leader

5. Design creative ways and use transformative language to communicate a vision that tugs at the heartstring at every opportunity. Transformative language involves storytelling and artistic expression to drive cultural or social change.

Examples of this language in action include support groups, teams working toward the completion of a project, or people united in a common cause for or against an issue affecting their community. It’s the sort of communication that can spur people into action because of how the creative aspect of it amplifies the impact of what’s being said.

Recognising the power of effective communication in the workplace, transformational leaders know how this kind of language is key to implementing change initiatives. Examples of transformation language for use in business can be found here.

6. Relentlessly challenge their team to overcome challenges, demonstrating a “can do” mindset. Being able to motivate their team is a challenge in itself, but maintaining that positive attitude makes all the difference. It’s important to be open and clear about what’s going on, and to encourage team members to speak up when necessary.

Leaders must make sure that everyone gets a chance to contribute and to pay careful attention to everyone’s feedback. Simple thank you’s and pats on the back can go a long way towards giving team members an extra push towards overcoming challenges. Emphasise the need to keep learning and developing new skills needed for taking on even bigger challenges ahead.

7. Identify and break down obstacles that stand in the way. There are many ways to single out speed bumps in an organisation’s path towards achieving its objectives. Transformational leaders need to be able to see past overwhelming amounts of data and dive deep into root causes. In identifying obstacles, leaders must likewise recognise who and what are affected.

Executives say that some of the most common and difficult obstacles include the speed at which an organisation grows, the lack of transparency and the loss of meritocracy, and decision-making choked by kilometres of red tape. It’s up to transformational leaders to initiate the necessary changes for breaking these obstacles down.

Transformational leader

8. Observe, communicate and celebrate wins, using every opportunity to create a positive environment and to strengthen beliefs that the team are “winners”. Morale goes down and turnover goes up when team members feel like their hard work and achievements aren’t acknowledged or appreciated.

The most common methods for expressing appreciation include recognition, whether it’s done in full view of the entire organisation or privately between leaders and their teams or between peers; and through performance reviews or evaluations. These methods are often regarded as the most effective, arguably even more so than promotions or incentives.

When celebrating wins big or small, make sure to provide details of the person’s achievements and how these achievements made a difference to the team or the organisation as a whole.

9. Are always learning. Transformational leaders know that they do not have all the answers. They’re not shy about climbing on the shoulders of giants, learning from the best and tapping into the expertise and energy of others who are proven in their field of expertise.

It can be difficult to fit continuous learning into a busy executive’s schedule, but it is possible to prioritise personal learning and development initiatives. Leaders need to constantly update not just their technical know-how but even their leadership and managerial skills as well.

As they take their cues from other industry leaders, transformational leaders are aware of their own strengths and do what they can to build on them.

10. Demand that their people are always seeking to be better. They have healthy beliefs about failure and adopt the dogma that “there is no failure, only the failure to learn”. To them, winning is first and foremost about the pursuit of perfection. And paving the road toward that perfection is their people learning how to better themselves.

Transformational leaders make it easy for their people to learn—they can provide online courses, for instance, or fix hours for mentoring and consultation. These learning opportunities should be specific and have clear objectives, and may even be for acquiring or developing skills that aren’t job-related (e.g. poetry, music, painting).

Leaders need to make it clear that while what is being learned might be challenging (e.g. technical skills), failures need not be a cause for concern but rather regarded as learning experiences.

Going through a list of priorities is one thing; putting them into action in the workplace is quite another. Talk to us at EQ Strategist to find out how we can help you transform your organisation, today.