Saturday, September 29, 2012

7 Traits of a Transformational Leader

Leadership is not a job. It is not a position. Leadership is a passion. It is a calling.

Leaders are not appointed.  They are not selected. Leaders emerge. They rise up in times of adversity while others stay seated.

In rereading Marzano's 'School Leadership that Works' for the umpteenth time, I zoned in on his description of the transformational leader. This is where the leader's behavior is characterized into "four factors: individual consideration, intellectual stimulation, inspirational motivation and idealized influence". I attempted to synthesize this idea into 7 specific and tangible traits that every leader must possess if they want to move from being a transactional leader to a transformational leader.  Here is a description of the four factors as they are found in Marzano's work (Marzano, 2005, p14).

  1. "Individual consideration is characterized by giving 'personal attention to members who seem neglected' (Bass, 1990 p.218)"
  2. "Intellectual stimulation is characterized by enabling 'followers to think of old problems in new ways' (Bass, 1990 p.218)" 
  3. "Inspirational motivation is characterized by communicating 'high performance expectations' (Bass, 1990 p.218)"
  4. "Idealized influence is characterized by modeling behavior through exemplary personal achievements, character and behavior.(Bass, 1990 p.218)"

Loyalty - Leaders are loyal to the cause and to the people who are involved in the cause.  Their loyalty is manifested in helping everyone become better. Loyalty means putting others' interests before yours.  Loyalty is a character trait that is the foundation of Idealized Influence.

Learner - Leaders don't know everything, so they are constantly finding new ways to do things in a more effective and efficient manner from all kinds of people.  Leaders model Intellectual Stimulation to their staff by deepening their own intellectual capacity through constant inquiry and dialogue with all staff members, especially those staff members that are not seen as the teacher leaders of the campus.  By engaging them in conversation about practices, leaders challenge their own intellect as well as the intellect of the staff.

Enthusiasm - Leaders are enthusiastic about what they do, and they use their enthusiasm to motivate and inspire those that they come in contact with. They are enthusiastic about helping people. They are enthusiastic about making progress, and their enthusiasm spreads throughout the organization and its stakeholders. Enthusiasm can't be spread without a commitment to being visible. Enthusiasm, to me, is a required ingredient of Inspirational Motivation.

Accountability - Leaders believe in holding themselves accountable for the cause. Leaders encourage team members to hold the leader accountable, and when leaders are held accountable by the organization, they are able to hold others accountable for supporting the team in meeting campus expectations and goals.  Being accountable and holding others accountable is two-fold in transformational leadership.  Holding yourself accountable is Idealized Influence, and holding others accountable a key component of the 'high' expectations in Inspirational Motivation.

Discipline - Leaders are disciplined in their behaviors and in their organization. They structure their time and their days in such a way that they are able to support and serve others. In being disciplined, leaders do not let outside influences or distractions deter them from reaching their goals or staying focused.  This example of Idealized Influence is exactly what schools and organizations must see from the leader on a daily and consistent basis.

Empathy - Leaders are not always judgemental, contrary to popular belief. They are very interested in thinking about the individual person and the situation that they are going through before making a decision. Leaders think about why people make decisions that lead to mistakes. Leaders display Individual Consideration by helping others learn from their mistakes. The leader does this because he knows that empathy is the best way to overcome obstacles.  Additionally, Individual Consideration must be used with every staff member, especially those that are often overlooked.

Results-Oriented - All people want to see results; however, leaders know that all of their efforts put together maximize the results that they should expect to see. Leaders develop tight systems to monitor and evaluate all parts of the system to ensure that they are efficient and effective. Leaders use the data not to demonize those who fail to get results but to help them figure out how to improve and get closer to reaching the goal.  Most importantly, leaders can't get results without using a mixture of all 4 of the factors (Idealized Influence, Intellectual Stimulation, Inspirational Motivation and Individual Consideration).  These factors combined allow the leader to make decisions and changes that ultimately sustain and solidify the organization.

Bosses are a dime a dozen. They think about the results and have little consideration for building people or organizational capacity. As a result, they have to start all over again when a new and different result is needed.  Leaders, conversely, think about all of the other things that go into making the results happen. And in doing so, leaders get the best results, because they put all of their efforts into building people not programs.


  1. Much wisdom in the last paragraph - important concept for those leading professional learning communities

  2. "Intellectual stimulation is characterized by enabling 'followers to think of old problems in new ways' (Bass, 1990 p.218)" ... sometimes the best thing we can do as leaders of professional learning communities is to offer a unique perspective on persisting data gaps

  3. As a student of management and leadership, I strongly appreciate this piece of write up. it has really broaden my knowledge on the subject matter.

    I love the aspect that elaborates the meaning of a Leader or the traits of a leader.
    I believe it is about time African leaders beef up their leadership skills in leading their people as well as managing the numerous resources that exist on the continent. Talk about the intellectual capacity of people and the numerous resources that exist on the continent, yet it is seen as the poorest continent in the world.
    I believe, Africa can develop transformational leaders by developing the leadership traits in children between the ages of 10-20 years though teaching and learning in various basic schools.