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Transformational Leadership

An Introduction to Transformational Leadership

Transformational leadership is a theory of leadership introduced by political scientist James Burns in his 1978 book “Leadership”. It describes a theory in which a leader will work with their team to identify needed change and create a vision to guide this change to fruition. This style of leadership transforms both leader and followers to higher levels of motivation and enables them to perform beyond their perceived capabilities. Bernard Bass further expanded this in 1985 with the book “Leadership and Performance Beyond Expectations” where he describes these leaders as displaying the following traits:


Goal Setting






Shared Values

  • Act with integrity and fairness as they uphold high moral standards.
  • Highlight important priorities by setting clear goals for both individuals and the team.
  • Provide individual support and recognition with tailored coaching or mentoring.
  • Steers individuals beyond their own self-interest and towards the common good.
  • Upholds high expectations that help inspire others to strive for the improbable.
  • Uses authentic and consistent methods to promote cooperation and harmony.
  • Persuades followers with reasoning that appeals to their own ideas.
  • Raises the moral and intrinsic motivation of followers.
  • Creates a climate of shared values and high ethical standards.

What is Transformational Leadership?

Transformational leadership is one of the most effective leadership styles within business. Leaders are often charismatic and display high levels of emotional intelligence. They operate by creating a shared vision of the future and motivating their teams to achieve the necessary goals to realise it. The root of their strength lies in empathy; sharing their hopes, fears and genuine feelings helps build an emotional connection and creates deep personal bonds between team members and leaders alike. This deep level of trust allows them to work as facilitators of action as they guide their team to perform at high levels and reach the stages of self-actualisation.

Leaders act with integrity and are both authentic and humble. They act as role models and will hold themselves to account while expecting the best from everyone on their team. Effective transformational leaders create bespoke goals and deadlines for each of their team members based upon individual capabilities. They constantly push team members beyond their comfort zone and show them what they are capable of. See our article on coaching. Confidence in abilities is further improved through quick recognition of achievements. Leaders will offer help to team members as they solve complex challenges and show them how to tackle similar problems in different contexts. This involved approach promotes continuous transformation of both the individual and the organisation.

Communication is an essential skill for transformational leaders. They must clearly communicate their vision, set clear goals and learn to resolve conflict. Communication also enables them to create a diverse environment which is open to ideas and innovations provided they match with the goals and values of the organisation.

The result of transformational leadership is a highly motivated, empowered and engaged team where everyone works towards realising the same goal. Productivity and performance will reach new levels as the team is committed to realising the organisational aims.

Dangers of Transformational Leadership

Transformational leaders risk neglecting the smaller details. If they do not provide constant supervision and course correction, the likelihood of realising the vision will be diminished. Similarly, if leaders fail to provide the right individualised coaching, team members risk falling from their intended learning curve and may become stressed or demotivated. The transformational leader must support their team and provide them with the necessary intellectual stimulation and assistance in order to reach high levels of productivity.

The Four I’s of Transformational Leadership

The characteristics of transformational leaders can be streamlined into four distinct behaviours. These are known as the four I’s. These are crucial if a leader wishes to inspire, nurture and develop their followers. They are as follows:

The Four I's of Transformational Leadership

Idealised Influence

The leader serves as a role model and will lead by example by embodying the qualities they want to see in their team. They provide a clear vision and sense of belonging. Their decisions are ethical, and followers can easily identify with the leader making it easier to emulate them. This forms the first part of their charisma.

Individualised Consideration

Strong relationships based on trust are formed between the leader and their team. They demonstrate genuine concern for the needs and feelings of their team and will provide a caring and supportive environment. They get to know individual members and will allocate time to mentor them and develop each individual team members’ potential.

Inspirational Motivation

The leader clearly articulates their expectations and inspires followers to achieve high (yet reasonable) goals. They promote their shared vision and encourage commitment towards organisational goals. Followers are motivated both intrinsically and extrinsically to achieve these goals. This is the second part of charisma.

Intellectual Stimulation

Leaders create a diverse and open environment in which individuals are encouraged to innovate and think for themselves. Leaders tend to be creative, innovative and open to new ideas. They are tolerant of mistakes and may encourage them as a means to promote growth and improvement within the organisation. Leaders create learning opportunities and abandon obsolete practices.

Steps for Transformational Leadership

Now you have understood the theory of transformational leadership, what exactly can you do to become a transformational leader? In this section we discuss five steps you can take to realise this leadership style.
  1. Identify the strengths and weaknesses of team members.
    • Proactively get to know your team and those you are responsible for.
    • Ensure individuals operate in roles that are suited to their experience and capabilities. This helps ensure continued motivation and develops trust.
  2. Create an inspiring vision for the future.
    • Involve your team and compel meaningful contribution as you develop the vision together.
    • Integrate your team and organisational values into the vision.
    • Understand your vision will be limited by resources and personal available.
  3. Motivate individuals to buy into the vision.
    • Consider the values and beliefs of your team and ensure your vision appeals to them.
    • Use a success story to illustrate how the vision will help both the organisation and the individual.
    • Talk about vision often and link it to daily goals and tasks.
    • Show the team they are part of something bigger.
    • Understand and employ motivational techniques.
  4. Manage and become involved in the delivery of the vision.
    • Combine project management techniques with change management skills.
    • Communicate individual roles and responsibilities clearly. Ensure these are appropriate to individual strengths and weaknesses.
    • Become a role model by putting in visible hard work and showing resilience.
    • Offer regular feedback and be accessible for questions or discussions.
  5. Build strong trust-based relationships.
    • Constant attention is needed to facilitate continual individual development and maintain the relationships and trust of your team.
    • Be open and honest in your interaction. You may use the Johari Window to disclose safe personal information and build trust.
    • Set aside time to coach team members and enable them to find their own solutions. This will improve their self-confidence and trust.
    • Meet regularly with individual members to understand their developmental needs, discuss how they are managing their current workload and to help them meet their career goals.