What is Transformational Leadership?

When I was in college, I remember hearing a motivational speaker by the name of Charlie “Tremendous” Jones give a message in one of the chapel services. The only thing I can still recall from what he said was the statement that “in 20 years, you will be the same person you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read.” I am not sure how much we actually change over time, but I am certain that we do change, and I do believe that one of the factors that changes us is the influence of other people. Even in the world of education, where I have spent so much of my time, I have often seen an individual’s behavior drastically change when that individual is placed in some kind of group dynamic (in other words, it seems like children will change their behavior and become like someone else when they get around their friends, either for better or for worse).

Transformational leadership capitalizes on that concept. It can be defined as “the process whereby a person engages with others and creates a connection that raises the level of motivation and morality in both the leader and the follower” (Northouse, 2013, p. 186). Transformational leaders are people who are recognized as “change agents who are good role models, who can create and articulate a clear vision for an organization, who empower followers to meet higher standards, who act in ways that make others want to trust them, and who give meaning to organizational life” (p. 214) That description represents the four factors that characterize transformational leadership (the “4 I’s”):

  • Idealized influence: the leaders is a strong role model of behaviors and attributes, an example that followers want to emulate
  • Inspirational motivation: the ability to inspire others to be part of a shared vision
  • Intellectual stimulation: the encouragement of creativity, innovation, and problem-solving
  • Individualized consideration: a supportive approach that takes the time and effort to listen to individual needs, building connection and trust

This approach to leadership focuses on the idea that leaders need to build relationship and connection with followers in order to understand their needs and motives, and then respond or adapt in a way that best meets those needs and appeals to those motives. In the process, both the leader and the followers are changed, or transformed, in positive ways as a result of the genuine relationship that is occurring, and the end result is usually performance by the followers that exceeds expectations. The leader has established trust and provided influence and motivation that results in the desire to please and support, and motivates people to excel for their own benefit and for yours. As Northouse says, “Transformational leadership moves followers to accomplish more than what is usually expected of them” (p. 194). Unlike transactional leadership, in which people follow in exchange for personal benefit (I give you rewards, recognition, or power, and in exchange you follow me), transformational leadership moves people to follow because you, as the leader, make them better, and make them want to be better.

It seems to me that transformational leadership is strongly connected to authentic leadership and to servant leadership. In essence, when a leader is genuine and puts the needs of others first, that leader will reflect the character, influence, and consideration that changes people. I can think of leaders in my own life like that, people who have made me a better person and who have had a transformative influence on me, as I am sure you can as well. That is the type of leader I want to be. I want to be an example that others emulate, I want people to want to follow me, and I want them to feel valued and to be the best they can be. To do that requires the application of transformational leadership principles, so I believe that it is wise for the effective leader to understand, develop, and implement these ideas. Be an example of integrity, understand and encourage your people, and build them up by empowering and challenging them, and giving them the environment and opportunity to respond. Be transformational in your leadership.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *