An article in an earlier issue of VDC News provokes thought leadership in an RTO and the importance of being a transformational leader at a time like this. So, let’s focus on what are the key characteristics of transformational leaders.

Looking back

A while ago, Victor Callan from the University of Queensland thought about the capabilities RTO leaders needed and, later, thought about tying leadership and innovation together. In this work, he first started talking about transformational leaders who, he saw:

  • Lead from within rather than from out in front and promote responsibility among followers through providing higher levels of empowerment
  • Are not concerned with power: they communicated often and clearly and monitored the messages they send out
  • Work with people at all stages of implementing new programs and ideas
  • Are committed to instil a sense of “belongingness” in their staff, and
  • Achieve credibility through honesty, competence, forward-looking behaviour and behaving intelligently.

These thoughts are summarised in an article he and Hugh Guthrie co-authored in 2002 in which the key capabilities of RTO leaders were also outlined. A later article in the mid 2000s by Callan and his colleagues maintained that core leadership capabilities “include those related to the transformational qualities of being able to communicate a vision for the organisation, to build successful teams, and to inspire staff to make a commitment to change.” It acknowledged the significant role that leaders at all levels in the organisation play in promoting both personal and organisational change which establishes “more intellectually stimulating workplaces, which in turn foster more openness, creativity and a willingness by their employees to challenge the status quo.” In fact, this report mentions transformational leadership 18 times.

Some key features of transformational leaders

Looking round there are quite a range of lists that describe the key characteristics of transformational leaders. Here’s what you need to know about being, or becoming, a transformational VET leader. For example, these include:

  • Being open to new thinking: “They constantly look for opportunities to do things differently and are always open to new ideas, no matter where those ideas may present themselves.”
  • Having a talent to broaden minds: This “involves shifting people’s views on how things should work. To do so, it’s necessary to understand the rationale behind people’s current mindsets and how to shift their thinking.”
  • Being committed to active listening to enable their colleagues and team members to feel bold enough to share their ideas.
  • Having a tolerance for risk: “No transformation happens without some risk of failure. A transformational leader needs to be willing to consider those risks and what they might mean for the future of the organization.”
  • Being willing to accept responsibility, because when “any innovator … ventures into uncharted territory must be willing to own the results of doing so, good or bad.”
  • Trusting their team members, because “people need autonomy to develop and shape new ideas. The transformational leader understands this and trusts team members to define their own steps to success,” and finally
  • Having the ability to inspire participation and “expect creativity from everyone — not just one or two ‘ideas people.’ The leader’s job is to model universal creativity and innovation … and help people think outside the box.”

Another site describes their characteristics as:  identifying and promoting intrinsic motivation, creating a positive ethical climate, prioritizing coaching and mentoring, persuading and articulating clearly, maintaining effective communication and transparency, encouraging staff to share their voices, and finally creating a cooperative workplace.

And yet another site points out: transformational leaders take control of situations by conveying a clear vision of the organisation or group goals. They have a marked passion for the work and an ability to make the rest of the group feel recharged and energized. Indeed:

“Transformational leaders focus on helping members of the group support one another and provide them with the support, guidance, and inspiration they need to work hard, perform well, and stay loyal to the group. The primary goals of transformational leadership are to inspire growth, promote loyalty, and instil confidence.”

This site also lists a number of traits of transformational leaders.

The key question is: if you are or see yourself as a VET leader, do you have what it takes to be transformational?