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Why Authority Is Least Important In Transformational Leadership

July 30, 2021
Joel Eschenbach
“In a multitude of people is the glory of a king,
    but without people a prince is ruined.”
– King Solomon

Previously, I wrote a post on transformational leadership titled “Lead From The Front” in which I outlined several aspects of good leadership. I hope that you’ve been putting these into practice and that you are beginning to see results. In this post, I want to touch on a couple of aspects that are more advanced, but that I regard as essential.

Motivation matters

There are two main types of transformational leadership. What separates them is the intention of the leader. The first and most common type is transactional leadership. This is primarily a sort of contract where the leader promises certain rewards or outcomes in return for specified results. Transactional leaders can be quite competent and even pleasant, but ultimately, you could replace them with a machine.

The second type of leadership is much more rare, and all the more attractive as a result. It is transformational leadership.

This type of leader goes beyond the quid pro quo of transactional leadership, seeking to accomplish his objectives while enhancing or improving the ones he leads. This can take the form of specific lessons or the cultivation of particular skills, but it can also be more spiritual or emotional. When you’re sure you’ve blown it, hearing that your leader trusts you and believes in you can help you find the resources to succeed.

I’ll say it again: a leader’s motivation has everything to do with the sort of leader he is.

Dealer’s choice

In my career, I have always had sales and selling as part of my work. Since I believe that we’re to learn as long as we live, I seek out wisdom. And some of the best sales training materials are those written by Jeffrey Gitomer. In his Little Book of Leadership he asks the reader: Are you the kind of leader people listen to because they want to or because they have to? I have always attempted to be the former.

Because this is what I want to be, I choose my attitude every day. People are not an intrusion into my work, they are the reason for my work. Also, I think of anyone under my leadership as someone who works with me, rather than someone who works for me.

The lazy man’s way to unemployment

Comedian Adam Carolla complains that a lot of modern life is spoiled by guys in windbreakers. You know the ones: These are the guys earning minimum wage who scold you at football games, look perpetually peeved, tell you you can’t go through that perfectly good door, and who always call you, “Surrr” but clearly don’t mean to show you any respect.

Why am I picking on these guys who are, at least, working? It’s because the shred of authority they’ve received has gone to their heads. They are completely transactional in their approach, they have no discretion in the application of “the rules” and they expect you to comply with depend on the authoritah of their position. Just so you know what I mean: This is not leadership. Do NOT be that guy. Even if you wear the yellow windbreaker.

Applied leadership

The secret of excellent leadership is influence, not authority. Influence enables you to lead those around you, regardless of your position on the organization chart. So how do you get this influence?

There are several facets to obtaining influence, but let’s start by agreeing that it begins with respect. You cannot influence people you do not respect. This is simply because nobody wants to follow someone who displays disrespect. Even if you don’t detect it, if you’re showing disrespect to those under your leadership, my bet is it’s mutual.

You earn influence by being your team’s greatest advocate. Coach Lou Holtz likes to say, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Show respect and back your people. Promote them. Praise them publicly. And when they need correction, administer discipline privately.

The voice of wisdom

Let’s wrap this up with some wise words from management guru Peter Drucker:

“The leaders who work most effectively, it seems to me, never say “I.” And that’s not because they have trained themselves not to say “I.” They don’t think “I.” They think “we”; they think “team.” They understand their job to be to make the team function. They accept responsibility and don’t sidestep it, but “we” gets the credit. This is what creates trust, what enables you to get the task done.”

I’m glad we had this talk.

So how about you? Where do you need to improve your leadership skills? Who is the best leader you’ve ever had? I’d love to hear your story. Schedule a call and let’s talk.


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