Leadership…a term that some believe is constantly evolving and is indefinable; also a word that thousands of books and podcasts are centered around. There are several opinions and definitions of leadership; some that contradict one another, others that are just fluffy reiterations of a previous definition or perspective. So how does one navigate the endless abyss of leadership resources? Which ones are worth reading or listening to? Who should I trust? Who should I believe? Which ones apply to me? These are all questions with answers that are rooted in your leadership philosophy.

What is a leadership philosophy? I’m glad you asked. I personally define it as a theory or attitude that you hold that acts as a guiding principle for your behavior. To provide more context, it’s the underlying current that influences how you behave, the skills you choose to learn, and the traits/attributes that you choose to adopt as a leader. Your leadership philosophy is the “mission statement” of what you believe about leadership.

Where does one begin? Determining your leadership philosophy is central around one question: what do I believe the job and function of a leader is? This is where everyone has a different opinion, which is why there are so many thoughts on leadership. I appreciate simplicity in function, and I’ve uncovered really two philosophies on leadership that other opinions derive from (yes, this is my opinion): transactional and transformational.

Simply put, transactional leadership believes that if an employee does “A” then they are to be rewarded with “B”. This relationship is very transactional and the influence that the leader has is really centered around what they can give the employee. While most may not admit it, this leadership philosophy drives majority of leaders’ behaviors. Think about it…what’s the primary way in which you try to attract talent? How do you retain your employees? Are rewards and incentives only given is specific goals are met?

This leadership philosophy is not “bad”, a leader can achieve expected results through it. It’s just a very superficial relationship between the leader and employee. Also, this philosophy is much easier to execute and is much more widely accepted.

Transformational leadership operates on the assumption that the leader will help the employee reach their goals (personal and professional), and in return, the employee will help the leader achieve theirs (personal and professional). It’s a mutually beneficial relationship that goes much deeper than what one can do for the other one. Transformational leaders not only meet expected results, they exceed them.

While I will not get into the weeds and details of this particular philosophy and how to execute it in this article, there are four things that make a leader transformational:

1. The leader leads each person differently. The leader will adapt his style to the needs of each individual employee. The leader provides empathy and honest communication to the employee, and the leader challenges the employee to be better and grow.

2. The leader stimulates the intellect of their employees. The transformational leader will challenge the assumptions, mindsets, perspectives, and ideas of the employee. They will also encourage the employee to take risks and think outside-the-box. This leader will stimulate creativity, innovation, and different perspectives.

3. The leader motivates through inspiration. There’s nothing worse than having a “boss” that hates their job or is super pessimistic about the future. The transformational leader actively inspires and motivates the employees, first, towards their own personal goals and vision; then towards the goals and vision of the team and organization. This leader provides hope and something for people to look forward to.

4. The leader sets the example. In short, the transformational leader is worth following. This person is present (emotionally and physically), transparent, shares their own failures and challenges, and is able to identify with and relate to their employees. They’re not sitting in their ivory tower.

Transformational leadership is altruistic and fluffy, but it is difficult to execute, and let me tell you right now, it will cost you something; it may be time, money, energy, a goal, an opportunity. The most influential leader in history paid for the transformation of his followers with His life. While I don’t expect that most of you will ever be faced with that particular situation, you may have to sacrifice something else. Another reason it is difficult is that it assumes that your employees want to grow and be developed personally and professionally. Getting people to this point would take more words, so, I will pass on that for now (but you can email or call us!).

So which philosophy aligns most with your personal beliefs, values, and convictions? Is there another philosophy that you hold (again, this article is just my opinion)? Do your behaviors, financial decisions, calendar, and meetings reflect the philosophy you want? What will you sacrifice so that other people can experience growth and transformation?

Josh Cole
Joshua Cole founded I.S.I. Leadership Consulting, LLC in 2014 after 10 years of experience at Chick-fil-A. In 2016, Joshua joined the Trevero team allowing him to better focus on helping people become better leaders. Driven by a desire to cultivate people to achieve their greatest potential, he has worked in a coaching and consulting role with over 100 Chick-fil-A Operators and leaders. He is a CORE Assessment consultant and uses that knowledge to focus organizational culture on people and service, conduct one-on-one coaching sessions, assist in the creation of talent management strategies and produce team development training classes.

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