3 Highly Underrated Leadership Practices That Are Transformational


“Leadership is a privilege, not a right.” It’s probably one of the more cliched statements about the nature of leadership out there, yet also one of the most accurate. 

Too many times, leadership is coveted for the sake of power, status, and title. It’s a human propensity, after all, to want to feel respected by those around you. What’s less emphasised, though, is the burden of duty that falls upon a leader’s shoulders.


Good leaders supervise, great leaders transform—but it’s easier said than done. Transformational leadership, while rarer and much harder to practice, is what drives people to overdeliver and to go the extra mile at work.

At the same time, though, the behaviours associated with such leadership tend to be massively underrated. Here are five such underrated transformational leadership practices.

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1. Gratitude


The predominant attitude, when it comes to expressing gratitude to employees, tends to be, “I shouldn’t need to thank people for doing their job; I’m already paying them, aren’t I? That’s rewarding enough.” The logic is that if your employees are already being given bonuses and other performance-based rewards for their work, they know that they’re appreciated.

The thing is, though, there’s a difference between recognition and appreciation. A recent Harvard Business Review article, for example, highlighted this distinction: recognition is tied to performance, whereas appreciation is tied to “a person’s inherent value.”


People want to feel seen, heard, and cared for as human beings at work, not just as employees. Practicing gratitude in leadership is the best way to achieve this.

It doesn’t have to be complicated; small but consistent gestures count far more than grand but occassional ones. Former Campbell CEO Doug Conant, for one, famously wrote 30,000 handwritten thank-you notes to his employees over his 10-year stint in the role. He also took the time to talk to his employees every day, regardless of hierarchy or position on the organisational food chain.



2. Listening


Steve Jobs hit the nail on the head when he said, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” The problem is, though, most of the time, so many leaders prefer to be listened to instead of listening to their people.

Frontline employees, for example, are often full of insights and ideas on how to improve work processes for greater innovation, productivity, and performance. They also, however, tend to be under-utilised in this regard.


One of the marks of an empathic leader is his ability and willingness to listen attentively to his people. A leader who makes time to hear his employees out shows not just that he values and respects their opinion; he’s showing that he’s genuinely concerned with their growth and learning at work and in life. 

After all, one of the greatest (but hardest) ways to motivate your people is to spend one-on-one time with them, mentoring and coaching them to help them unlock their full potential. This, of course, is impossible without active listening.

(MORE: 7 Ways Great Leaders Use Active Listening To Lead Better)



3. Servant leadership


It’s probably one of the less popular models of leadership out there owing to the presence of the word “servant”; people generally associate it with the drudgeries of slaving away. Yet servant leadership is, undoubtedly hugely inspirational and transformational.

Servant leaders are, essentially, those who see themselves as servants first before leaders; they work tirelessly to fuel and serve their people’s growth in the short term and long term. Their first and top priority is to see their people become the best versions of themselves, and more. 


Indeed, Robert Greenleaf, who coined the term in 1970, wrote that “servant leadership always empathises, always accepts the person, but sometimes refuses to accept some of the person’s effort and performance as good enough.”

It’s this relentless focus on personal development that often inspires stellar results.


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