There Is An “I” in Team: The Four I's of Leadership Explained

There is a growing interest from business to encourage leadership skills, develop leadership abilities, and build leadership knowledge.
There Is An “I” in Team: The Four I's of Leadership Explained - Articles


There is a growing interest from business to encourage leadership skills, develop and empower leadership abilities and build pathways toward leadership as a created experience by providing meaning in the workplace; and instilling knowledge to others. Let’s learn how to empower and transform people, one employee at a time, into productive, sustainable, happy and profitable teams by creating avenues to provide people with unique individualized considerations.

The mission to understand leadership, and define its competencies, has been gaining ground since the 1950’s. "Transformational leaders...are those who stimulate and inspire followers to both achieve extraordinary outcomes and, in the process, develop their own leadership capacity” (Transformational leadership: A closer look at the effects, 2018). The mechanics, traits, and behaviors of leadership have been researched, listed and re-listed, and leadership virtues have been compared, contrasted and analyzed. There are many academic studies of what is leadership, offering different approaches. Among the more practical theories within the overarching concept of Transformational Leadership is the Four I’s of Leadership. This four-pillar approach to leadership has stood the leadership test of time to transform others because it serves as a go-to quick reference, rich with meaning and applicable in many situations.

The Four I’s of Leadership

The Four I’s of Leadership is a set of talents that leaders can employ to transform and inspire others.

  • Inspirational Motivation
  • Individualized Consideration
  • Intellectual Stimulation
  • Idealized Influence

In my last article, Inspirational Leadership Matters: The Four I’s of Leadership , I discussed the art and science of inspiring and motivating employees. To motivate, leaders look for shared values and ways to inspire that enable them to match the right kind of future reward to the right person at the time. With practice, leaders can motivate and inspire people to work harder and reach new heights, while building a greater common vision in the workplace (Bono. Judge, 2004).

In any business role, leadership or otherwise, vision and time are important and having enough time to carry out vision is fundamental. Taking time to make connections with employees is equally so. It’s vital for the leader or company owner to take the time — or make the time — to build relationships by talking with employees individually about their higher level goals. Learning more about what make people stronger and their expectations (professional and personal) helps leaders become great leaders. Studies show that learning about the unique characteristics of the people you work with, and learning about their lives beyond the office, gives them a sense of workplace purpose and belonging — in turn this raises your own self-awareness improving your skills while boosting employee engagement. Simply by asking the right questions and listening, you can begin to develop an individual plan to meet the leadership development needs of each employee.

As leaders, especially in a diverse multi-cultural environment, we need to intuitively know when to serve as a director, delegator, team coach, or when to jump in and engage as an individual mentor. Here are three things you can do right now to empower individualized considerations at work or with those around you.

Make time in your daily schedule. Visit one-on-one and in-person to check in and ask them about any needs or aspirations they might have. Remember, showing compassion or acknowledging a common bond like a game or hobby, or merely giving people the ability to articulate their business ideas directly to you, is beneficial for the organization’s positive culture, and for enhanced team performance (Bono. Judge. 2004).

Grow people in the organization into their excellence, not just into competence. This does not come overnight it can be made but growth takes time. The best leaders and companies benefit from initiating professional development plans early on, whereby they ask, then actively listen for ways to turn an obstacle into an opportunity for the individual and the growth of the team. From a leadership perspective this two-fold growth seems counterintuitive. Why single out people, why not just invest in a plan for the entire team? By making personal individualized connections with employees, you are creating pathways for trust and self-sufficiency. These lead to engagement and performance. The results are stronger teams that stem from the one-by-one individualized contributions of each member.

Hold regular personal listening sessions with leadership. Be accessible, and if you are the owner, host the meetings in a comfortable place where people can offer ideas in a open environment. Regularly, let people know they genuinely care with gratitude such award ceremonies, nice breakrooms, time off or flexible work schedules and more. Considering the many ways to unify the environment for individual development has seemingly no right or wrong answer or correct starting point, however, by understanding the power of shaping a workplace culture rich with symbols of the people, both individual and team. These are what I call the “collective-individuality” approach to team formation and performance. When the “I” in team improves, the entire team improves. The outcomes of where individualized consideration in leadership can take us are boundless.

Showing sensitivity and compassion for employees ensures and preserves that they feel like they are valued and they make a difference. Get started today and create the most amazing place you and all those around you would want to work. The most influential and accepted leaders show a continued commitment to higher level motivation with others through the mastery of the Four I’s of Transformational Leadership. Penn State University offers a robust Master’s of Leadership Development (MLD) program designed to strengthen leadership competencies.

References and Resources

Cherry, Kendra. "The Major Leadership Theories: The Eight Major Theories of Leadership," October 10, 2018,, retrieved 11-05-18

Cherry, Kendra. "Transformational Leadership: A Closer Look at the Effects of Transformational Leadership," November 19, 2018,, retrieved 11-29-18

Transformational Leadership (Second Edition). 2006. Bernard M. Bass, Ronald E. Riggio, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

Personality and Transformational and Transactional Leadership: A Meta-Analysis. 2004. Joyce E Bono, Timothy A. Judge. Journal of Applied Psychology Vol. 89, No 5, 901-910