Are You That Transformational Leader?

The context

I am currently working collaboratively with a colleague on the co-creation of a People Strategy for a local authority in England. That strategy will support the delivery of the corporate plan; but at its heart lies a desire to entrench critical behaviours, attitudes, and practices that will transform the organisation—a stern test in times of austerity.

The challenge

As a local council, it has been known for decades as a "top-down, command and control, head down, avoid the limelight, practice poor follow-through and accountability" kind of place to work. The end result being local people who have not received the full value of what is possible, exacerbation by limited budgets, gaps in resourcing—especially staffing, and a dispersed geographical area to manage.

Local politicians and the corporate management team know there is a need to move on, invest in their primary resource—staff, improve policies, procedures and processes, innovate, celebrate, and learn, and create a culture of empowered people, who are dynamic and customer-focused.

“We haven’t got the money, so we’ve got to think.”  Lord Rutherford

The story thus far

My colleague and I have spent the past four or so weeks interviewing staff drawn from a cross-section and all levels of the organisation. It has been a fascinating, enlightening, and at times, sad experience.

What is needed by the authority is a can-do, customer-focused attitude that delivers innovation and is outcomes and impact-focused.

The response thus far—and people have been remarkably frank and insightful—is, as you might suspect, a very mixed bag of views, opinions, and attitudes. However, one universal common denominator is a fear of change, enhanced by most people’s lived history of small, piecemeal change over the past twenty or thirty years, which was nothing like the proposals underway now.

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”  Franklin Roosevelt

Bridging that gap

The move towards an empowered environment brings with it the need to lead in different ways. The emergence of "transformational leadership" is such a response to our changing times and needs.

Transformational leaders can take their organisation into uncharted waters, to change what’s done and how it’s done, reach out and connect with people, inspire trust, and try to make their part of the world a better place. They are clearly values-driven and they’re not satisfied unless they’re making a difference.

When an organisation has become low-risk, bureaucratic, and procedure-bound, the move out of this stage to a "customer first" and de-bureaucratised approach requires that the leader encourages people to do things that they’re not used to—i.e., most of all to take risks!

That brings with it a new emphasis on charismatic leadership, people, and values. It means personal contact, having the ability to encourage, motivate, and—when necessary—command, on a grand scale.

What does the future hold for our client and their staff team?

I believe they are in good hands, especially given who is their apex leader. She has all the hallmarks of a transformational leader and a track record that demonstrates it. She:

  • has a ‘divine discontent’—she knows things must change;
  • hates waste, mediocrity, and lack of accountability and is always looking for opportunities to do things better;
  • trusts her intuition;
  • is excited by living with uncertainty;
  • has a long-term vision;
  • is hard-working and expects the same of others;
  • is a passionate and fluent communicator;
  • isn’t afraid to surround herself with able colleagues and subordinates;
  • can use her status when necessary, but does not feel the need to pull rank;
  • never stops learning;
  • is values-driven;


  • is loved by many.

It will take time, but they will move forward positively, and our People Strategy will provide them with part of how to do that!

Attempting to manage and lead from a values-driven base will, of course, not be straightforward; and colleagues, staff, and line managers will often view any transformational leader as a rebel, too entrepreneurial, too people-focused, and so on. The going can be tough, and when it is, perhaps the quotes given may provide inspiration.

“Don’t bite my finger—look where it’s pointing.”  Warren S McCulloch

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