What Is Transformational Leadership?

A Closer Look at the Effects of Transformational Leadership

A transformational leader inspiring group members.
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Have you ever been in a group where someone took control of the situation by conveying a clear vision of the group's goals, a marked passion for the work, and an ability to make the rest of the group feel recharged and energized? This person just might be what is called a transformational leader.

Transformational leadership is a leadership style that can inspire positive changes in those who follow.

Transformational leaders are generally energetic, enthusiastic, and passionate. Not only are these leaders concerned and involved in the process; they are also focused on helping every member of the group succeed as well.

Quick Background

The concept of transformational leadership was initially introduced by leadership expert and presidential biographer James MacGregor Burns. According to Burns, transformational leadership can be seen when "leaders and followers make each other to advance to a higher level of moral and motivation."

Through the strength of their vision and personality, transformational leaders are able to inspire followers to change expectations, perceptions, and motivations to work towards common goals.

Later, researcher Bernard M. Bass expanded upon Burns's original ideas to develop what is today referred to as Bass’s Transformational Leadership Theory. According to Bass, transformational leadership can be defined based on the impact that it has on followers.

Transformational leaders, Bass suggested, garner trust, respect, and admiration from their followers.

Components

Bass also suggested that there were four different components of transformational leadership.

  1. Intellectual Stimulation – Transformational leaders not only challenge the status quo; they also encourage creativity among followers. The leader encourages followers to explore new ways of doing things and new opportunities to learn.
  1. Individualized Consideration – Transformational leadership also involves offering support and encouragement to individual followers. In order to foster supportive relationships, transformational leaders keep lines of communication open so that followers feel free to share ideas and so that leaders can offer direct recognition of the unique contributions of each follower.
  2. Inspirational Motivation – Transformational leaders have a clear vision that they are able to articulate to followers. These leaders are also able to help followers experience the same passion and motivation to fulfill these goals.
  3. Idealized Influence – The transformational leader serve as a role model for followers. Because followers trust and respect the leader, they emulate this individual and internalize his or her ideals.

So what are some typical signs of a transformational leader? Groups led by this type of leader tend to be both successful and loyal. They give a lot to the team and care deeply about the groups ability to accomplish its goals. Turnover tends to be quite low as transformational leaders are able to inspire a great deal of committment in their followers.

Effects

In their classic text, Transformational Leadership, authors Bass and Riggio explained:

"Transformational leaders...are those who stimulate and inspire followers to both achieve extraordinary outcomes and, in the process, develop their own leadership capacity. Transformational leaders help followers grow and develop into leaders by responding to individual followers' needs by empowering them and by aligning the objectives and goals of the individual followers, the leader, the group, and the larger organization."

Researchers have found that this style of leadership can have a positive effect on the group.

"Research evidence clearly shows that groups led by transformational leaders have higher levels of performance and satisfaction than groups led by other types of leaders," explained psychologist and leadership expert Ronald E.

Riggio in an article for Psychology Today.

The reason, he suggests, is that transformational leaders believe that their followers can do their best, leading members of the group to feel inspired and empowered.

What can you do to become a more transformational leader? Leadership experts suggest that having a strong, positive vision of the future plays a critical role. Not only is it important to believe in this vision yourself; you've also got to inspire others to buy in to your vision as well. Being genuine, passionate, supportive, and trustworthy are all key characteristics that will help motivate followers to support your goals for the group.

Link to Well-Being

According to the results of one study, this style of leadership can also have a positive influence on employee well-being.

The study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine involved surveying workers at several different German information and communication technology companies. Researchers asked participants to answers questions about their employer's leadership style. A score for transformational leadership was then determined based on qualities such as providing intellectual stimulation, giving positive feedback for good performance, leading by example, and helping employees feel like they were making a contribution toward the goals of the group.

The researchers discovered that employees who identified a higher level of transformational leadership in their employers also had higher reported levels of well-being. The effect stayed significant even after researchers controlled for factors that are linked to well-being such as job strain, education, and age.

"The results of this study suggest that a transformational leadership style, which both conveys a sense of trust and meaningfulness and individually challenges and develops employees, also has a positive effect on employee well-being," the authors summarized.

Real-World Applications

So what impact could such results have for managers and workers?

The study's authors suggest that the results are important and can help companies develop leadership training programs that can be used to teach transformational leadership skills. Acquiring communication skills such as resolving conflicts in the workplace and recognizing the needs of employees are an important part of transformational leadership.

"Such training programs can be seen as another essential component of workplace health promotion and prevention efforts and therefore should receive wide support," explained the study's authors.

A Word From Verywell

The transformational style of leadership can be highly effective when used appropriately, but it might not necessarily be the best choice for every situation. In some cases, groups may require a more managerial or autocratic style that involves closer control and greater direction, particularly in situations where group member are unskilled and need a lot of oversight.

One way to improve your own leadership skills is to assess your own current leadership style and think about ways in which your strengths can benefit the group you are leading. By evaluating your own skills, you will be better able to play to your strengths and work on improving your areas of weakness.

Sources:

Bass, B. M. & Riggio, R. E. Transformational Leadership. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc; 2008.

Jacobs C; Pfaff H; Lehner B, et al. The Influence of Transformational Leadership on Employee Well-Being: Results From a Survey of Companies in the Information and Communication Technology Sector in Germany. J Occup Environ Med. 2013;55(7):772-8.

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