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What Makes Transformational Leadership So Unique

Dr. Amin Sanaia, DSL, MHA

In the current fast-paced world, not every leadership style will work for every situation. Some situations require the old-fashioned structured approach to leadership while others demand an innovative approach. Among the leadership styles that have proven to be effective in modern organizations is transformational leadership. This is an approach that involves inspiring followers to embrace change by fostering a company culture of ownership, accountability, and workplace autonomy. 

What is Transformational Leadership?

Transformational leadership is an approach that inspires, encourages, and motivates followers to create the change needed to shape the future success of a company. A transformational leader sets an example at the executive level by creating a strong sense of corporate culture, authenticity, independence, and employee ownership. It implies then that transformational leaders are change agents in organizations. They identify innovative and shifting technological or organizational trends and help people in the organization embrace that change. 

Being a transformational leader means the ability to inspire and motivate your workforce without micromanaging. You trust your trained employees to be responsible for their decisions and completion of assigned tasks. In doing so, you give your employee more room to be creative, find new solutions to old problems, and think about the future. This is also a great approach to prepare your employees on the leadership track to become transformative through training and mentorship.

The Theory of Transformational Leadership

Transformational leadership is a concept that started with James V. Downton in 1973 and was later expanded by James Burns in 1978. However, the development of this concept into a theory was made possible by researcher Bernard M. Bass in 1985. He expanded the concept to include the ways that can be used to measure the success of a transformational leader. Consequently, the transformational leadership model was born, which encouraged leaders to demonstrate strong and authentic leadership that inspired employees to follow suit.  

The theory of transformational leadership has remained relevant to date. In fact, this is one of the most effective leadership theories being practiced today. It is concerned with an authentic style of leadership that never changes even with the changing environment. Leaders across industries find this approach to lead effective and efficient, especially in the fast-paced tech world where agility and innovation can make or break a company.

The Model of Transformational Leadership

The transformational leadership style comprises four main elements. They are the factors that Bass developed in 1985 to define what a transformational leader looks like and how one can be successful with this type of leadership. The four factors include:

  1. Idealized Influence – A transformational leader leads by example. The employees will look to you as their mentor and role model for behavior in all areas of the workplace. When you lead with authenticity, your employees will also pick up that behavior. They will feel inspired to maintain the same level of standards of performance because they can relate to your approach. This approach to leadership is not about manipulating employees into working hard, but rather leading them by example. It is about influencing others to act in specific ways through a commitment to transparency, trust, and respect.
  2. Individual Consideration – In every organization, employees desire to feel a sense of ownership and independence in the overall business goal. Transformational leaders understand this and view every employee as a unique person within the organization. They go the extra step to understand the specific needs of the employees and the contributions they make to the company. This allows the leaders to tailor mentorship and coaching styles to suit the needs of every employee and help them realize their goals.
  3. Inspirational Motivation – Transformational leaders encourage their followers to feel attached and committed to the overall vision of the company. You will need to make everyone feel they are special members of your team. This means ensuring that every employee feels as committed to the goals as your do. You must give the employees a strong sense of purpose to pursue those goals. The aim is to influence employees to work freely towards those goals and avoid the use of fear to motivate them. 
  4. Intellectual Stimulation – Transformational leadership is about inspiring change in all members of the organization. To create change, you will need to challenge the long-standing beliefs in the organization. Being transformative means pushing the status quo by encouraging creativity, innovation, problem-solving, and critical thinking. Being transformative means helping an employee feel comfortable exploring new ideas and opportunities that can enhance the performance of the organization. You will need to establish a welcoming environment that promotes growth and gets everyone excited about the changes being introduced. 

What Makes a Good Transformational Leader?

The need for a transformational leader in organizations has been on the rise. Many organizations are looking for transformational leaders who can displace an executive presence and guide employees through change. However, not every person naturally becomes a transformational leader. You will need to articulate the vision of the organization, gain the support of the key stakeholders, and naturally inspire your followers. You can set yourself apart as a transformational leader by demonstrating the following traits:

  1. Exemplifying moral standards in the organizations and encouraging everyone to follow suit
  2. Encouraging positive development and motivation of followers
  3. Willing to take well-informed risks and responsibility
  4. Building a culture of encouragement that allow employees to move from an n attitude of self-interest to working toward a common good mindset
  5. Being open-minded and a source of inspiration to the followers
  6. Fostering an ethical environment defined by clear values, guides, standards, processes, and priorities
  7. Providing mentoring and coaching, but giving employees enough room to make a decision and take ownership of their actions
  8. Holding an emphasis on cooperation, authenticity, and open communication
  9. Having active listening skills and encouraging others to communicate and participate

Impacts of Transformational Leadership

Author Bass and Riggio summarized the concept of transformational leadership in their text, titled “Transformational Leadership.” They explained that transformational leaders inspire others to achieve extraordinary results. Rather than encouraging group members to participate, transformational leaders go a step further to inspire them to become leaders themselves. By being responsive and empowering, transformational leaders help followers to align their purpose with the goals of the organizations. Some of the impacts of this approach to leadership include:

  1. Sense of Empowerment – Transformational leaders believe that their followers can perform at their best. They aim at inspiring and empowering their followers to become the best version of themselves.
  2. Better Performance – Followers of transformational leaders tend to perform better in the workplace. They are more satisfied with their work and feel a sense of appreciation that motivate them to perform better than those under other types of leaders.
  3. Better Well-Being – Followers of transformational leaders tend to achieve a higher level of well-being. They are satisfied with their roles and the realization of the impact they have on the organizations.

How Do You Become A Transformational Leader?

The benefits and impact of the transformational leadership style are evidently clear. Whether you want to take your organization to the next level or introduce a new approach to operations, this style of leadership will have a significant impact. While leadership training programs can help in acquiring the traits of transformational leadership, knowing what to focus on is equally important.

Among the most important skills you will need to acquire are communication, workplace conflicts resolution, and employees recognition. You will need to get to a place where you can motivate and inspire your employees without using force. Adopting a robust and positive future vision for your company will help you provide direction and gain the support of your followers. Before selling the vision to others, make sure you believe in it yourself. Show rather than tell why the vision is important. Remember to be genuine, supportive, passionate, and trustworthy.

When Transformational Leadership May Not Work

Transformational leadership is globally accepted as one of the best styles. However, it may not always work all the time and fit every situation. For instance, when a team member needs more guidance and direction, they may need a more transactional than transformational approach. 

Transformational leadership works best when a change is needed. If you are looking to improve the cohesion and commitment of your group members, you may consider a transactional approach. Rather than using inspiration, transactional leaders use rewards and punishment to motivate their employees. The drawback of this approach is that it can contribute to burnout when members feel constantly pressured to give up all their effort and time to support the goal of the group. 

Transformational leadership is ideal for situations that require a lot of creativity and innovation. It helps in inspiring the team members to adopt the new approaches and transition to the new way of doing things. This also means that transformational leadership is effective in long-term changes. If your focus is on achieving a set of short-term goals, you may consider a more transactional approach.  In any case, it is important to assess the situation and what you want to achieve before adopting a leadership style.


Impact of transformational leadership on work performance, burnout and social loafing: a mediation model.

The qualities of transformational leaders and what distinguishes them from transactional leaders. 

Transformational Leadership and Evidence-Based Management.

What is transformational leadership? Understanding the impact of inspirational guidance.

Transformational Leadership Style: 7 Traits Of Transformative Leaders.

The 4 “I’s” of Transformational Leadership.

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