Transformational Leadership. What Is It?

Transformational Leadership. What Is It?

As dynamic entities, organizations are continually evolving and changing. To manage transitions, these organizations need leadership. People are inspired to take unexpected or spectacular actions by transformational leaders. You may believe that you know a "transformational leader." However, its very conceivable that you haven't even encountered one.


What is transformational leadership?

James V. Downton introduced the idea of transformational leadership in 1973, and James Burns developed it in 1978. He defined transformational leaders as those who seek to change existing thoughts, techniques, and goals for better results and the greater good.


Bernard M. Bass, a researcher, further developed the idea in 1985 by adding techniques to gauge the effectiveness of transformational leadership. This approach pushes leaders to show strong and true leadership with the hope that followers will be inspired.


The general definition of transformational leadership is as follows:

Transformational leadership is a theory of leadership where a leader works with teams or followers beyond their immediate self-interests to identify needed change and create a vision to guide the change through influence, inspiration, and execution in tandem with committed members of a group.


Transformational leadership focuses on team building, motivation, and teamwork with employees at various levels of an organization to accomplish change for the better. A transformational leader goes beyond managing day-to-day operations and designs strategies for taking the organization to the next level of performance and accomplishment. These leaders set goals and incentives to push their subordinates to higher performance levels while providing opportunities for personal and professional growth for each employee.


Related: 20 Examples Of Transformational Leaders


Transformational vs. transactional leadership


Transactional leadership focuses on how to get things done, whereas transformational leadership focuses on how to inspire others to take action.


Transformational leaders are experts in the following areas:

  • Working to alter the system
  • Solving problems via discovering experiences that demonstrate that previous patterns do not fit or operate
  • Interested in learning what needs to change
  • Increasing the aptitude and capacity of their teams


Transactional leaders do the following tasks:

  • Utilize the existing system
  • Begin by fitting experiences to a recognized pattern to solve problems.
  • Want to know the step-by-step procedure?
  • Reduce organizational variation.


Characteristics of transformational leaders

An individual is more likely to exhibit the qualities of a transformative leader if they possess five key personality traits, according to research by Bono, J. E., & Judge, T. A. A tendency toward inspirational, transactional, and transformational leadership can be seen in these attributes, depending on how they are stressed. The following are these five qualities.



An individual with neuroticism typically has productivity anxiety, which, in a group situation, may be crippling to the point where they are unlikely to assume a role of transformational leadership owing to low self-esteem and a propensity to avoid taking on leadership duties.


Openness to experience

A general propensity of openness to experience has been related to creative expression and emotional reactivity. As it pertains to the capacity to provide visionary organizational leadership on a broad scale, this characteristic is also seen as a component of transformational leadership.



Leaders generally have a pleasant disposition that results from a natural care for people and high levels of individual regard, yet this feature does not particularly speak to transformative leadership. One of the classic traits of people who are agreeable is productivity and idealistic influence.



Conscientious leaders have a strong sense of direction and the capacity to work hard and productively on projects. Given their management-based skills and attention to detail, these people tend to have a feature that is more associated with transactional leadership. The findings imply that transformative leaders could place more significance on ideals that apply to others than to their own.


Over and above these personality traits, a transformative leader possesses the following qualities:

  • Is a good example of honesty and justice.
  • Sets precise objectives.
  • Has high standards.
  • Supports others.
  • Gives encouragement and appreciation.
  • Arouses peoples emotions.
  • Encourages individuals to look beyond their interests.
  • Encourages individuals to strive for the unlikely.


Related: 10 characteristics of transformational leadership


The Transformational Leaders Four Is

The four (4) primary traits of transformative leadership may be summed up as follows:

The Transformational Leaders Four Is


Idealized Influence or "II"

The leaders job as a perfect example for followers is an idealized influence. They demonstrate the qualities a transformational leader looks for in their team members. In this situation, the followers look up to the leader as someone to emulate.


Inspirational Motivation (IM)

Transformational leaders may inspire and encourage others by offering a clear vision and sharing that vision. The productivity of a transformative leader is represented by the two traits combined with "Idealized Influence." A transformational leader may easily inspire their followers when they are clear-headed.


Individualized Consideration (IC)

Genuinely caring transformational leaders support the self-actualization of their followers by being sensitive to their needs and emotions. The authority figure in the organization, its members, and each follower benefit from the personalized attention given to them.


Intellectual Stimulation (IS)

Transformational leaders inspire their followers to be imaginative and forward-thinking and challenge the status quo.


Transformational leaderships pros and cons

Pros of transformational leadership

  1. Excellent at expressing new concepts
  2. Good at striking a balance between short- and long-term objectives
  3. They've got integrity and high emotional intelligence and have experience forming powerful coalitions and fostering mutual trust (empathy with others)


Cons of transformational leadership

  1. Ineffective in early stages or on-demand circumstances
  2. Fixing an existing building is necessary.
  3. Ineffective in organizational structures


Benefits of Transformational Leadership according to Research

Research on transformational leaderships contribution to attaining results is generally encouraging. As an illustration, transformational leadership promotes employee productivity and organizational commitment.


According to Zwingmann et al. (2014), workers led by transformational leaders are healthier than those led by laissez-faire (passive, hands-off) leaders. A "health-promoting phenomenon" in the workplace, they continued, is having a distinct, widely held vision that gives work significance.


Regarding particular workplaces, research that examined transformational leadership in schools discovered that it had moderately negative impacts on student involvement but had large and significant favorable benefits on organizational circumstances.


Choudhary et al. (2013) discovered that transformational leadership had a stronger impact on organizational learning than servant leadership, which may be explained by the increased emphasis on goal-oriented behaviour placed on transformational leadership. However, it is difficult to argue that one leadership style is more valuable than another because many critics agree that the diverse and dynamic character of todays workplaces necessitates using several styles at various times.


Effective managers play a crucial role in transformational leadership since manager performance ultimately decides the business's success. Managers may function as effective leaders in the corporate sector by being familiar with the transformational leadership strategy and fusing the four Is. Organizations that invest in teaching leadership have a significant competitive advantage, according to Hesselbein and Cohen (1999, p. 263).


Fadzai Danha is a consultant at Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd, a management and human resources consulting firm.

Phone: +263 242 481946-48/481950 


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Fadzai Danha
This article was written by Fadzai a Consultant at Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd

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