Table of Contents
- What Is Transformational Leadership?
- Who Developed the Transformational Leadership Model?
- What Are the 4 Identifying Factors of Transformational Leadership?
- Top Attributes of Transformational Leaders
- Benefits of Practicing Transformational Leadership
- 5 Ways to Be a Transformational Leader
- Best Examples of Transformational Leaders
- Frequently Asked Questions About Transformational Leadership
- Transformational Leaders Are Clear About the Vision for Their Lives
Leadership is not something that takes a “one-size-fits-all” approach. In fact, there are many different leadership styles people may choose to use, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. However, one particular leadership style—transformational leadership—is one of the most effective at bringing about lasting change.
You likely already know about several people who have practiced transformational leadership. For example, Henry Ford was a transformational leader who not only made the automobile more affordable through innovation but raised wages, cut down working hours, and provided health benefits.
Ford was not alone in his transformational leadership style. Others such as civil rights movement leader Martin Luther King Jr., advertising legend David Ogilvy, and technology magnate Steve Jobs, demonstrated the powerful effect transformational leadership has. Over time, leaders who guide their followers this way have become synonymous with innovation, progress, and modernity.
As you learn about transformational leadership, you’ll understand what skills and strengths you need to inspire others to change the world. You’ll also learn from some of the best examples of transformational leaders throughout history.
- People who follow transformational leaders report higher levels of well-being.
- Transformational leadership is a driving force behind many of the positive changes in the world.
- Transformational leaders need to have a positive vision of the future.
- Anyone can become a transformational leader.
- Servant leadership goes hand-in-hand with transformational leadership.
What Is Transformational Leadership?
Transformational leadership is a leadership style that empowers people to accomplish positive change through big vision, inspiration, and a call to action. Leaders enable change by emotionally connecting with their audience and inspiring them to achieve something greater than themselves. By communicating a positive vision of the future, they motivate and encourage their followers to keep pushing forward. The end result is collective action that leads to innovation, massive transformation, and the betterment of society.
Who Developed the Transformational Leadership Model?
During the 1970s and 1980s, scholars began solidifying the transformational leadership theory. Sociologist James V. Downton coined the term “transformational leadership” in Rebel Leadership: Commitment and Charisma in the Revolutionary Process. Afterward, the idea attracted attention from James MacGregor Burns and Bernard M. Bass, two additional key players in the development of this leadership style.
Burns analyzed political figures such as Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy to identify the characteristics, traits, personalities, and goals of transformational leaders. One of his biggest contributions to the study was qualifying transformational leaders as people who also transform their followers into leaders. However, Bass focused more heavily on the impact transformational leaders have on their followers through The Four I’s listed below.
What Are the 4 Identifying Factors of Transformational Leadership?
- Idealized Influence: The leader serves as a role model for others to follow. They also demonstrate established organizational values, setting an example so followers understand expectations. Leaders who have connected with followers through respect and trust can create this influence easily.
- Inspiring Leadership: A transformational leader can passionately communicate an exciting vision of the future, inspiring people to action. The leader can also encourage followers to keep pursuing the overall objective no matter what challenges or obstacles they may face.
- Intellectual Stimulation: Transformational leaders always support followers’ learning, growth, and development. They firmly believe that it is their duty to help others become the best version of themselves.
- Individualized Consideration: When a transformational leader acts, they don’t just do it to large groups. Instead, they work with individuals, showing concern for their progress as a person. These leaders act as a mentor or coach who is genuinely interested in working with each person in the group.
Top Attributes of Transformational Leaders
Over the last 50 years, leadership experts have identified several traits that transformational leaders share. The following list is just some of those leadership qualities, though leaders may exhibit other valuable traits and leadership skills.
A person practices transformational leadership when they:
- Clearly define a collective vision and shared mission.
- Unite people through a common cause.
- Emotionally connect with their followers.
- Lead with influence rather than authority.
- Ensure that team culture is ethical.
- Serve as an example for those they guide.
- Change their approach when circumstances necessitate it.
- Establish organizational values.
- Practice innovative leadership.
- Motivate and inspire others to take action.
- Eliminate self-interest and practice servant leadership.
- Create positive outcomes.
Benefits of Practicing Transformational Leadership
Transformational leadership isn’t just some buzzword employed by PR departments. It has real, lasting effects. Many people can benefit from this leadership style, including leaders themselves. The following are just some of the benefits.
- More Hope and Courage: At times, the world can be a depressing place. A transformational leader lifts up those around them, inspiring them to have hope and courage during the toughest moments. They motivate followers to act for the good of everyone.
- Real Change: Transformational leadership produces real change in the world. Just look at the incredible amount of good Martin Luther King Jr. did in such a short amount of time. A transformational leader like King is a changemaker. They usher in a new era of doing things differently.
- Strong Bonds Formed: Transformational leaders display high emotional intelligence and motivate people by emotionally resonating with them. This means that the bonds are typically very strong between them and their followers. Those who follow them respect and love them deeply.
- Improved Well-Being: Additionally, transformational leadership can have a positive impact on a person’s health and outlook. According to a survey of over 300 employees, workers who had a transformational leader reported that they experienced higher levels of well-being.
- More Feelings of Safety: When someone works with a transformational leader, they receive added support. This leads to what one recent study called an added feeling of “psychological safety” since followers could talk openly about mistakes without fear of receiving criticism or reprimands.
- Reduced Stress: Another benefit includes experiencing reduced stress. One study found that in an environment with transformational leadership, there was less conflict and lower stress, leading to more productivity and effectiveness.
5 Ways to Be a Transformational Leader
1. Create a Positive Vision and Mission
Whether it’s for a business or simply for your own life, creating a vision and mission are two important aspects of the transformational leadership style. Be precise in your vision statement and communicate it with others. You can start with why, defining the purpose behind your vision so others will know why their work matters. As you center all your actions around your vision and mission, people will see your sincerity.
2. Inspire and Motivate Change
Transformational leaders prompt collective action by motivating people to bring about personal or organizational change. These types of leaders articulate a problem by resonating with the emotions of others who identify with it. The leader then paints an inspiring picture of what the future could look like, then presents a clear action plan. This is followed by an invitation to join the leader in enacting that change.
3. Practice Servant Leadership
Being a servant leader often coincides with being a transformational leader. This is because servant leadership is often the mentality and heart that motivates transformative experiences. Having a growth mindset and guiding positive change are top qualities shared by these leadership styles. Additionally, both build trusting communities around causes that serve others, rather than the leader.
4. Set an Example
Many people will only listen to a transformational leader if that leader practices what they preach. Ensure that you are living the philosophy you are sharing. Show people how to create the change you want them to create. It’s far easier for people to act when they have a blueprint they can follow. Otherwise, your message can come across as empty words.
5. Think of Solutions
Anyone can talk for hours about problems, but transformational leaders seek to solve them. It takes someone with a transformational mindset to come up with creative and effective solutions that will get results and change the world. People are naturally drawn to those who present solutions because they offer a remedy to a perceived ill.
Best Examples of Transformational Leaders
Martin Luther King Jr.
“Not everybody can be famous but everybody can be great, because greatness is determined by service.”
Martin Luther King Jr. is one of the most influential leaders in American history. As a leader during the civil rights movement, MLK fought for the rights of people who had long been oppressed. His leadership provided a positive vision of the future, encouraging people to fight for a better tomorrow alongside him. King’s message was one of love and fair treatment for all, believing everyone could make a difference no matter their station in life.
“Small things done with great love will change the world.”
Mother Teresa devoted her life to caring for sick and impoverished people who were often overlooked. She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 thanks to her selfless work all over the world. Mother Teresa believed that one could help the world by easing others’ suffering. She was willing to give up personal comfort to show kindness and compassion for unhoused people, addicts, the poverty-stricken, and more. In this, she provided an example others could follow, establishing a blueprint of how to help heal the world one person at a time.
“There is no greater thing you can do with your life and your work than follow your passions—in a way that serves the world and you.”
Richard Branson is one of today’s most well-known transformational leaders. In 1972, he launched Virgin Records. Since then, the Virgin brand has been involved in exploring and evolving a wide variety of industries. One reason Branson is a well-loved leader is his charismatic, passionate personality that inspires customers and employees alike. Additionally, he is an environmentalist who is heavily involved in finding creative solutions for sustainable living.
“Be brutally honest about the short-term and optimistic and confident about the long-term.”
The CEO and co-founder of Netflix communicates and fulfills his company’s long-term vision of being the leading source of global entertainment. As a transformational leader, Reed Hastings saw room for improving DVD rentals by making movies and TV shows more accessible. Furthermore, Netflix continues to refine its streaming service and creates its own in-house content. As a result, the company continues to pave the way for online entertainment.
“When something is important enough, you do it even if the odds are not in your favor.”
Though no stranger to recent controversy, Elon Musk remains a leader with a clear vision for the future. Elon Musk’s leadership style is one that prioritizes solving problems no matter how significant they may appear. Whether it be more affordable space travel or popularizing electric vehicles, Musk doesn’t let the enormity of a problem keep him from tackling it. He has shown a determination to find solutions and make them a reality, inspiring many people to follow his every move.
Frequently Asked Questions About Transformational Leadership
What is the difference between transformational leadership and transactional leadership?
Transactional leadership is the opposite of transformational leadership. It’s a leadership style that uses the promise of rewards and the threat of punishment to motivate people. On the other hand, transformational leadership motivates through inspiration, positivity, and inner growth.
What are the downsides of transformational leadership?
While a transformational leader inspires changes by communicating big-picture ideas, they are typically less skilled with details and processes. Because of this, they often need logistical minds on the team who can carry out the planning and implementation of objectives.
Additionally, since transformational leaders generally have high levels of extroversion, charisma, and influence, they can potentially lead through unintentional manipulation. These leaders can benefit from having someone hold them accountable through insightful, balanced perspectives.
Who are the most famous transformational leaders?
There have been numerous transformational leaders throughout history. In addition to the ones listed above, people like Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela, Abraham Lincoln, Jackie Robinson, Mahatma Gandhi, Thomas Jefferson, and Susan B. Anthony are great examples of transformational leaders.
What type of people are transformational leaders?
Transformational leaders are people with a big vision of changing the world for the better. They are innovators and artists—people who engage in first principles thinking. They also might be a little rebellious and willing to take risks. These leaders are not interested in the status quo and choose to strike out on their own to change things.
Anyone can incorporate this leadership style into the way they lead. All you need is a big vision, effective communication skills, and a desire to connect along with the strength to motivate and inspire others, even during tough times.
Transformational Leaders Are Clear About the Vision for Their Lives
To practice transformational leadership, you need to have a strong sense of self and know who you are. Otherwise, you’ll struggle to communicate your vision, inspire others, or stick to your outlook on the future.
To create an uplifting vision, follow these steps:
- Start by asking deep questions about life and the world.
- Focus on one issue that is still afflicting the world.
- Create a vision statement.
- Make a plan for casting that vision to others.
- Reverse engineer that vision to make it a reality.
- Stay clear of distractions.
- Gain an understanding that your vision will grow and mature over time.
You can begin this journey of changing the world by reading the following article:
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- “Mother Teresa.” Biography, 28 Apr. 2017, https://www.biography.com/religious-figure/mother-teresa.
- “Roosevelt: The Soldier of Freedom.” Google Books, https://books.google.com/books/about/Roosevelt_the_Soldier_of_Freedom.html?id=Q2UNeiY_ZvsC.
- Leadership Legacy Program. http://www.ila-net.org/LeadershipLegacy/bernie_bass.html.
- History.com Editors. (2020, April 29). Ford factory workers get 40-hour week. HISTORY. https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/ford-factory-workers-get-40-hour-week
- “Transformational leadership and employee knowledge sharing: explore the mediating roles of psychological safety and team efficacy.” https://www.researchgate.net/publication/337107765_Transformational_leadership_and_employee_knowledge_sharing_explore_the_mediating_roles_of_psychological_safety_and_team_efficacy
- “THE INFLUENCE OF TRANSFORMATIONAL LEADERSHIP, INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION, AND ORGANIZATIONAL CONFLICT ON ORGANIZATIONAL EFFECTIVENESS.” https://www.researchgate.net/publication/342091626_THE_INFLUENCE_OF_TRANSFORMATIONAL_LEADERSHIP_INTERPERSONAL_COMMUNICATION_AND_ORGANIZATIONAL_CONFLICT_ON_ORGANIZATIONAL_EFFECTIVENESS