Transformational Leadership

May 7, 2018 — 1 Comment

The definition of the word transformational in Merriam-Webster dictionary is “: of, relating to, characterized by, or concerned with transformation and especially linguistic transformation.”  The definition of transformation, as it relates to this topic and not a hair piece for women, is “an act, process, or instance of transforming or being transformed.”

The term transformational leadership was first coined by J.V. Downton in the book Rebel Leadership: Commitment and Charisma in a Revolutionary Process in 1973. James McGregor Burns introduced transformational leadership philosophy in his 1978 book, Leadership and defined it as a process where leaders and their followers raise one another to higher levels of morality and motivation.”

Burns used Abraham Maslow’s Theory of Human Needs when expanding on transformational leadership theory and recognized that people have a range of needs, and how the workplace will be affected to the level which these needs are satisfied. Transformational leadership requires a leader with high levels of self-esteem and self-actualization, which are at the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Burns’ model of transformational leadership included an ethical and moral element that was not used in previous leadership theories. He asserted that true leadership creates change and achieves goals within the environment, but also changes the people involved.

Bernard M. Bass was a disciple of Burns and expanded on the Transformational Leadership theory in 1985 when he published, Leadership and Performance Beyond Expectations. He identified three ways in which followers are transformed:

  • Increasing their awareness of task importance and value.
  • Getting them to focus first on team or organizational goals, rather than their own interests.
  • Activating their higher-order needs.

Transformational leadership creates valuable and positive change, it enhances the motivation, morale and performance of followers with the end goal of developing them into leaders. Base outlined four elements for leaders to become a transformational leader.

Individualized Consideration

  • Leaders mentor or coach their followers.
  • Followers are recognized for their talents and knowledge.
  • The leader motivates followers based on the follower’s individual need for achievement and growth.
  • The leader fosters two-way communication through effective listening.
  • The leader delegates tasks to develop followers and follow up to see if additional support or direction is needed.
  • Transformational leadership behaviors empower followers.
  • The followers have a will and aspirations for self-development and have intrinsic motivation for their tasks.

Intellectual Stimulation

  • Leaders encourage followers to be innovative and creative.
  • Leaders encourage new ideas and never criticize followers publicly for their mistakes.
  • Leaders stimulate followers’ question assumptions, reframe problems, and approaching old situations in new ways”.
  • Leaders solicit followers’ ideas and creative solutions in problem-solving.
  • Learning is a valued and unexpected situations are seen as opportunities to learn.
  • Leaders encourage followers to think independently and try new approaches.

Inspiration Motivation

  • The foundation of transformational leadership is the consistent communication of the vision, mission, and values.
  • Their vision is so compelling that they know what they want from every interaction.
  • Leaders challenge followers with high standards and communicate optimism and meaning about future goals.
  • Leaders inspire and motivate others by providing meaning and challenges to their followers.
  • The spirit of the team is “aroused” while “enthusiasm and optimism are displayed”.
  • The leader inspires followers to see the vision and communicates expectations.

Idealized Influence

  • Leaders win the trust and respect of their followers.
  • Leaders become role models who are admired, respected, and emulated by followers.
  • Leadership involves integrity in the form of ethical and moral conduct.
  • Leaders inspire followers to accept the vision through aligning personal values and interests to the group’s purposes.
  • Leaders take and share risks with followers.

The followers of transformational leaders feel trust, admiration, loyalty and respect for the leader and are more motivated to do a better job. Leaders also encourage followers to come up with new and unique ways to challenge the status quo and to alter the environment to support being successful.

So how do you become a Transformational Leader? Here are some characteristics to incorporate into your leadership style:

  • Model integrity.
  • Build trust with followers.
  • Create an inspiring vision.
  • Set clear goals.
  • Set high expectations.
  • Encourage others.
  • Provide support and recognition.
  • Stir emotions in followers.
  • Gets followers to look beyond their own self-interest.

Finally, in contrast to Burns, Bass suggested that leaders can use both transformational and transactional leadership. Transactional leaders use rewards and punishment to get followers to do their jobs.

We’ll look at transactional leadership and how it differs from transformational leadership in the next article.


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  1. Transactional Leadership | Exploring Leadership Soulutions - June 4, 2018

    […] Transformational leadership is another style of leadership that it is compared to transactional leadership the most. The difference between transactional and transformational leaders is that transactional leaders exchange tangible rewards for the work and loyalty of their employees, whereas transformational leaders are forward looking and engage their followers by sharing their ideas and vision for a better future. […]

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