Style isn't just for fashion design. We all know an awful leadership style when we see one: demanding, close to the chest, autocratic. And let's not get started on the transactional, or compliance-oriented, style—the polar opposite of transformational leadership. With their charisma, transformational leaders inspire and create healthy work environments seemingly with a wave of their magic wand. Is it that easy? Of course it isn't.
Are we naturally inclined to be transformational or transactional? Or even maybe laissez-faire? Our tendencies toward transformational or transactional approaches are likely to define us in a world focused on both full staff engagement and seamless regulatory compliance—two expectations often requiring differing leadership methods.
The rah-rah is great, even essential, but we also need rules and accountability. Transformational leaders challenge the status quo and lead us to the future; they inspire us, which is foundational to engagement. However, sometimes we need the push of transactional management when we have to be focused on routine, required tasks (value-added or not). Mostly, we aspire to be transformational with encouraging and enabling methodologies. Other times, we know that we have to be transactional to deal with safety violations, performance issues, and procedural precision. If you lean transformational, you may have trouble with deliverables; if you lean transactional, you may jeopardize engagement.
We can learn the best of both styles and should practice both. What's the trick? Perhaps when we have to be transactional, we should do it in a transformational way, communicating well and with transparency, providing the case for shared purpose, and underlying the ever important “why.” We live in a regulatory world. Ideally, our direct reports are motivated to follow the rules because, as transformational leaders, we've convinced them that it's the right thing to do.
We don't hear much about situational leadership anymore. It was the predominant model back when the baby boomers were learning about leadership, published by the famed Hersey and Blanchard. Basically, they described four styles (telling, selling, participating, and delegating) and said we should use the style that's appropriate for the situation. This makes sense.
Then we have the leader versus manager comparisons: Leaders care about results, whereas managers care about processes. Leaders are proactive and exciting, whereas managers are reactive and controlling. You get the idea. Can't we care about outcomes AND process? Be proactive AND reactive?
Our annual evaluations have a tendency to incentivize management; for example, quality, finance, and patient experience goals are often purely quantifiable. The “how” is usually silent. Maybe there's a bit of a misalignment here if we're truly committed to an inspired leadership style.
Transformational leadership is a basic component for Magnet® recognition, with good reason. Whether you're on the journey or not, use the principles in strategic planning or not, or are designated or not, we know that an empowering, engaging style is what supports us in achieving greatness. So, yes, let's lead with enthusiasm and vision while keeping a strong eye on reliability, course correction, and compliance. What's your style?