Transformational Leadership: 5 Steps to a Brighter Future with Your Team

He found a creative way to complain about a relationship gone bad, but the words of his song reveal the difference between merely managing people and truly leading them.

What did he say?   Today I’ll share his thought-provoking quote and how it can inspire us to become transformative leaders in this edition of “Lines for Leaders.”

Transformational Leadership

On a Rant

One of the earliest successful releases by the band Linkin Park is called A Place for my Head.  It is a song of bitterness.  The singer thought he had found a ‘strong’ and ‘generous’ person to be with.  But he discovers that any kindness shown him came with the expectation of repayment.

A growing sense of being manipulated finally forces him to break away in anger. As he opens his rant, writer Mark Wakefield asserts:

And the sun doesn’t give light to the moon assuming The moon’s going to owe it one. - Mark Wakefield Click To Tweet

Expecting a relationship based on mutual respect and generosity, instead he finds his is rooted in selfishness.

And in a way, his discovery is reflective of two modes of leadership which are defined by the kind of relationship we have with our teammates.

Means of Exchange

The reality of Wakefield’s relationship is that it is about owing.  It’s based on exchange.  Anything given is only done in expectation of receiving something in return.

The leadership version of this is called transactional leadership.  In exchange for a reward (or threat of punishment), we expect a teammate to accomplish a specific task.

From a managerial perspective this arrangement can be effective for getting the job done.  And if that’s all we want, fine.  But careful here.

The focus in a transactional relationship is on ourselves and what we can extract from it.  Each side is hoping to find the best deal they can for themselves.  That can mean doing as little as possible to earn the reward, or even going elsewhere the minute we find someone offering a better option. 

Commitment to task and team is low.  It’s just business.  In the song, Wakefield is done with it.  He wanted something more, so he’s moving on.


What he was looking for was a sense of shared ownership.  He had an idealized view of the relationship in which both sides wanted what was best for the other and for what the two can become together.

The leadership equivalent to his ideal is transformational leadership, a concept developed by James BurnsHe saw transformational leadership as a relationship where leaders and followers raise one another to higher levels of achievement.

In this relationship, there is a shared vision of something to be achieved together, and the focus is on doing what is best for the team to help it realize that vision.

Under transformative leadership, personal bonds among teammates are deeper, productivity is higher, loyalty is stronger, and everyone works together for a greater purpose.

Sounds great, right?  But how do we get to that point?

Making the Transformation

It can help to think of transformational leadership as growing a garden.

1.  Plant the seeds.  Start by thinking about what that higher ideal, that garden, is and how it benefits the team.  Talk about it with them, and find ways to relate the tasks at hand to bringing that vision closer to a reality.

Vision: It’s not about digging holes in the dirt, it’s about growing a garden. Click To Tweet

When we believe that our actions lead to something of value and significance beyond ourselves, we are more willing to commit to doing our best work to make it happen.

2.  Add growth formula.  Like turning the soil and adding fertilizer, we need to create an environment where roots can go deep and branches can reach high.  One way is to assign tasks that stimulate our teammate’s minds and encourage their creativity.  Training and coaching can magnify the effect these opportunities for growth can have.

Seeing our teammates as growing beings is the first step in unlocking their future potential. Click To Tweet

3.  Tend the garden.  This can mean weeding regularly to minimize peripheral tasks that don’t contribute to the vision or threaten to divert valuable resources.  Another is to ensure a structure which encourages positive growth, such as an organizational culture based on mutual respect and teamwork.

If something doesn’t contribute to the vision or align with team values, it’s on us to get it out of the garden.

4.  Be the gardener.  Personal example is one of the most powerful tools we have.  If we want our teammates to believe in what the team can achieve, first they need to believe in us.  When our every action and word embody the ideal we seek for the team, our teammates have a model to emulate.

Any gaps between our words and our actions can allow weeds of distrust to infiltrate the garden.

The gap between words and deeds is where the weeds of distrust grow. Click To Tweet

5.  Share the fruit.  As the garden begins to produce, if everyone has a chance to benefit from the fruits of their labor, the more committed they will be when planting season comes around again.

Transformational Leadership – The Takeaway

In his song, Wakefield saw himself as the moon, caught in a shallow, transactional relationship.  As he breaks out of it, he can only respond in kind, wishing unhappiness on the person who made him unhappy:  “Now you see how quiet it is, all alone.”

If we seek deeper commitment, we have to make it more about what people think they own, not what we think they owe.

Leadership is about making people feel like owners, not owers. Click To Tweet

Like the sun, our goal as leaders should be to bring life and growth to the places where we shine.

To do that, for transformational leadership to take root, we want to be focused on encouraging growth every opportunity we get.

Even on the moon.

Lead on!

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About the Author: Ken Downer
Ken Downer - Founder RapidStart Leadership

Ken served for 26 years in the Infantry, retiring as a Colonel.  From leading patrols in the Korean DMZ, to parachuting into the jungles of Panama, to commanding a remote outpost on the Iran-Iraq border, he has learned a lot about leadership, and has a passion for sharing that knowledge with others.  Look for his weekly posts, check out his online courses, subscribe below, or simply connect, he loves to talk about this stuff.

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