Leading by example

Transformational leadership is about building trust among employees, and building credibility

Published: Sep 14, 2012

One of the emerging paradigms in leadership today is the culture of transformational leadership. Especially since research and study conducted over decades clearly points to the direct link between the critical growth of an organisation and transformational leadership itself.

In my experience, I have witnessed organisations transform their employees’ attitudes, performance, creativity and satisfaction, while having an impact on the organisation through steady financial performance. This is achieved by increasing the overall influence and networks of the leader through the practice of transformational leadership. Hence, it is hardly surprising that transformational leadership is growing into a dominant leadership theory today.

An interesting flipside to this theory is that just because someone has a transformational leader in their organisation it does not directly and immediately translate into higher performance. Rather, this form of leadership is aimed at influencing the culture and mindset of employees by strengthening their trust in the leader, and this translates into higher commitment by employees. The commitment results in motivating employees to deliver superior results.

So, we ask ourselves: Is transformational leadership a mammoth responsibility?

In my travels and meetings with renowned leaders, I had the opportunity to understand the smallest of things these leaders did that ended up making a big difference. One such example is ‘Walking the Talk’. This is a very powerful tool in building employee trust and respect by consistently choosing to do the right thing over being merely expedient. Looking back at Indian history, we notice that keeping one’s word, i.e. to uphold a promise or do as we say, is extremely important. Many kings have gone to war to keep their word!

Some leaders in the current business world do not always believe this is important. This is much more prevalent in some parts of the world than others, where executives in responsible positions say something and do something else. They break their promises as easily as they make them.

Most often their assertions about integrity and ethical behaviour are merely words, as their actions are in contradiction. Many of them even think that they are ‘very smart’ at getting away with such behaviour. However, this gradually erodes their credibility and any opportunity to bring in transformation.

Leaders have to live with the ethical standards that society and business expect of them, even if the penalty for breach is not that high. Their ethical behavior strongly influences others who follow them. Therefore, they have a greater chance of their business following an ethical standard, if they themselves are walking the talk and leading by example. This results in creating an organisation where people trust each other and develop higher commitment to the goals, greatly improving the chances of leaders to become truly transformational.

Kumar R Parakala is Partner and Chief Operating Officer, Advisory, KPMG, India. This is the First of his blogposts on Transformational Leadership, as part of Forbes India Leadership Awards.


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  • Gagan Sethi

    A great read.. And absolutely true in current day Corporate structure.. It also reminds me of the punchline by StanChart.. \'Lead By Example\' and \'Walk an Extra Mile\'!!!

    on Sep 20, 2012
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