Transformational leadership

Columns , Current Issue
Editor’s intro: Committed to the concepts of collaboration, inclusiveness, and staff empowerment, transformational leadership results in a win-win situation for the staff and the practice business. 

Dr. Joel C. Small discusses purposeful leadership for establishing a beneficial working relationship staff

I’ve heard it said many times that the best team members are those who place the needs of their organization above their own personal needs. I understand this concept, but I fail to see this happening in the real world. Can we really expect our valued team members to subordinate their own needs to our organization’s needs? I find this to be wishful thinking. In fact, my experience leads me to believe that unfulfilled needs are a major cause of staff turnover.

Perhaps a more realistic expectation would be for everyone to get what they need out of a long-term working relationship, thus creating the ultimate win-win scenario. This means the organization benefits from the hard work of loyal team members, and the team members have their needs met as well. Such a scenario does not occur without thoughtful and purposeful leadership.

There are two forms of leadership to consider when creating a win-win scenario between organizational and staff needs

  1. Transactional leadership is ineffective. It is based on a quid pro quo between the leader and staff. In a transactional relationship, the leader and team limit their involvement to financial concerns. In other words, the staff works and, therefore, receives a salary. This arrangement works on a superficial level if the staff members’ only need is financial, and the leader expects nothing more than a warm body fulfilling daily obligations. Transactional leadership requires a “command and control” mentality, which demands mandatory compliance with numerous rules and regulations relating to staff behavior.
  2. Transformational leadership is very effective. Transformational leaders develop teams that align their own individual needs with the needs of the organization so that fulfilling the needs of one fulfills the needs of the other. There are few rules and regulations because they are not necessary. The relationship between the leader and his/her team is synergistic in that both parties experience higher levels of performance, commitment, and fulfillment based on mutually shared values and purpose. Transformational leadership looks for the win-win scenario and is committed to the concepts of collaboration, inclusiveness, and staff empowerment.

The difference between transactional and transformational leadership has been the subject of numerous intellectual discussions over the past 30 years. The consensus opinion is that people will commit to shared purpose and values. They will only comply with rules and regulations.

As the concepts of effective leadership have developed over recent years, it has become apparent that the “command-and-control” style of leadership, which was once the norm during the industrial revolution, is no longer effective or advisable in today’s egalitarian society. Thus, leaders have had to learn new skills to accommodate the needs and expectations of a new kind of worker. Today’s workforce is looking for more than a paycheck. They reject a transactional workplace and seek opportunities where their need to feel valued, respected, and relevant is met.

Numerous studies have shown that leadership matters. Well-led organizations consistently outperform their competition in almost every significant metric. Corporate America has compiled an abundance of leadership data and currently spends billions of dollars each year training their best and brightest people to become transformational leaders. These are realities that are just now becoming obvious to the healthcare industry, and even though we lack the abundance of data, there is no reason to assume the benefits of transformational leadership will be any different in our industry.

I equate transactional leadership with default leadership, which I believe to be healthcare’s biggest barrier for taking our practices from mediocre to exceptional. The very act of taking a clinical practice from mediocre to exceptional is a process of transformation. Transforming a practice requires transforming people, and like every good leader, we must lead the way. Becoming a transformational leader requires our personal transformation. This is a purposeful endeavor that takes time and unwavering commitment.

There is a prevailing thought among leadership opinion leaders that our organizations will never exceed our ability to lead them. There is a direct cause-and-effect relationship between transformational leadership and organizational performance. Better leaders create win-win scenarios that meet the needs of both the staff and the practice. In doing so, they create a team that is committed to the practice’s growth and ultimate success. These practices consistently perform at the highest levels found in the healthcare industry.

For more tips on how to nurture transformational leadership skills, see another article by Dr. Small, “Leading through change,” here.