There are many ways to measure leadership. One such, from Colquitt, LePine, and Wesson [1], breaks it down into three dimensions:

  1. Intellectual stimulation
  2. Individualized consideration
  3. Inspirational motivation

Personally, I challenge myself in both professional and personal circles when it comes to intellectual stimulation, which dilutes that dimension when it comes from an external source. Similarly, I pride myself on seeking out mentors in areas where I wish to excel, which dilutes the dimension of individualized consideration that a leader could provide for me. It has been few and far between that I have encountered a leader who gave me a sense of idealized influence to the point that it had any real effect on me.

But when it comes to inspirational motivation, having a leader whose vision emphasizes “the negative features of the status quo” and highlights “the positive features of the potential future” helps us to see where we are going [1].

This is where the pain and the magic are.

Taking the first step, blind if you must

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” A leader who exhibits inspirational motivation can give you the mental vision to take any step on any staircase by trusting they know the rest of the staircase will be there.

I’ll give you an example to illustrate. I once had a manager who tasked me with developing a training program to lower turnover. I had no idea where to even start, so I sat down with this manager and discussed what her goal was for lowering turnover and further, why this was so important (specific to her overall vision). She was able to paint a true-to-life picture that showed me how people would think and behave in that vision; without knowing the concepts or terminology at the time, I saw motivated employees completing citizenship behaviors, coping with stress by asking for support, and processing decisions with better learning tools.

I had a clear picture of the top of the puzzle box and it was up to me to figure out how to put the puzzle together.

In completing this project for her, along with numerous follow up projects, I better understood that “facing highly ambiguous challenges will help managers develop a set of tools that prepare them for the uncertainties they will increasingly encounter”.

The vice of leadership

With great power comes greater responsibility and the danger of a desire to keep that power, often waving it in the face of competition or resistance. Transformational leadership is about providing inspiration to people and meaning to their work through a shared vision [1]. This is expanded by helping people develop their potential and gain new perspective on existing problems.

If the original shared vision is corrupted, all that follows in the aforementioned definition may also be corrupted. Any leader with idealistic views may lose sight of what is good for the community and begin to focus on what is good for themselves.

“We’re exposed to so many images of the great successful individual surrounded by all of his or her possessions.” -Tom Morris, If Aristotle Ran General Motors: The New Soul of Business

In his book, Morris reminds us that it can be easy to forget about the people behind the scenes when observing the success of cultural or business icons. With a long enough tenure of success, transformational leaders view themselves as one of these icons, building a vision through force rather than respect and mentorship.

I once worked with a company that had an all-too-familiar example. There was a manager who was let go due to his “inability to improve behavior or attitude” after three months of coaching.

One executive coach said of her clients that she was not the key variable in their success, rather “the person being coached and what they practice” was the determinant.

This particular manager once stated in a meeting, wherein alternate views were being discussed to determine the best course of action for an upcoming event, that he had been in the industry for 30 years and that others in the meeting didn’t know what they were talking about. One of these other people was his direct subordinate, who then remained silent for the remainder of the meeting.

Though this self-focused manager was attempting to share his expertise and experience, he did so at the expense of opposing views and probably employee morale. That is where leadership becomes a defective.

Normally, I would yield to opinions cultivated across three decades, but the situation reminded me of the Darth Vader-esque use of power across a lifetime of incorrect decisions. Three decades may only signify the length of time any person has been inappropriately subjecting others to their personal agenda instead of the larger community’s shared vision.

What dimension of leadership do you connect with?



[1] Colquitt, J., LePine, J. A., & Wesson, M. J. (2016). Organizational behavior: Improving performance and commitment in the workplace. New York: McGraw-Hill Education.

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