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Transformational leadership

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Transformational leadership

Transformational leadership is a style of role model for followers in order to inspire them and raise their interest in the project; challenging followers to take greater ownership for their work, and understanding the strengths and weaknesses of followers, allowing the leader to align followers with tasks that enhance their performance.

Former President Franklin Roosevelt was regarded as a Transformational Leader[2]


  • Origins 1
  • Definitions 2
  • Characteristics 3
    • Extraversion 3.1
    • Neuroticism 3.2
    • Openness to experience 3.3
    • Agreeableness 3.4
    • Conscientiousness 3.5
  • Measurement 4
  • Effectiveness as compared to other leadership styles 5
    • Transactional leadership 5.1
    • Laissez-faire leadership 5.2
  • Factors affecting use 6
  • Examples 7
    • Nelson Mandela 7.1
    • Abraham 7.2
  • Future 8
  • References 9


The concept of transformational leadership was initially introduced by leadership expert and presidential biographer psychological mechanisms that underlie transforming and transactional leadership. Bass introduced the term "transformational" in place of "transforming." Bass added to the initial concepts of Burns (1978) to help explain how transformational leadership could be measured, as well as how it impacts follower motivation and performance. The extent to which a leader is transformational, is measured first, in terms of his influence on the followers. The followers of such a leader feel trust, admiration, loyalty and respect for the leader and because of the qualities of the transformational leader are willing to work harder than originally expected. These outcomes occur because the transformational leader offers followers something more than just working for self-gain; they provide followers with an inspiring mission and vision and give them an identity.[4] The leader transforms and motivates followers through his or her idealized influence (earlier referred to as charisma), intellectual stimulation and individual consideration. In addition, this leader encourages followers to come up with new and unique ways to challenge the status quo and to alter the environment to support being successful. Finally, in contrast to Burns, Bass suggested that leadership can simultaneously display both transformational and transactional leadership.


Martin Luther King was known for using persuasive appeals based on reason.[5]

According to Bass,[6] transformational leadership encompasses several different aspects, including:

  • Emphasizing intrinsic motivation and positive development of followers
  • Raising awareness of moral standards
  • Highlighting important priorities
  • Fostering higher moral maturity in followers
  • Creating an ethical climate (share values, high ethical standards)
  • Encouraging followers to look beyond self-interests to the common good
  • Promoting cooperation and harmony
  • Using authentic, consistent means
  • Using persuasive appeals based on reason
  • Providing individual coaching and mentoring for followers
  • Appealing to the ideals of followers
  • Allowing freedom of choice for followers

Transformational leaders are described to hold positive expectations for followers, believing that they can do their best. As a result, they inspire, empower, and stimulate followers to exceed normal levels of performance. Transformational leaders also focus on and care about followers and their personal needs and development.[7] Transformational leaders fit well in leading and working with complex work groups and organizations, where beyond seeking an inspirational leader to help guide them through an uncertain environment, followers are also challenged and feel empowered; this nurtures them into becoming loyal, high performers.

There are 4 components to transformational leadership, sometimes referred to as the 4 I's:

  • Idealized Influence (II) - the leader serves as an ideal role model for followers; the leader "walks the talk," and is admired for this.
  • Inspirational Motivation (IM) - Transformational leaders have the ability to inspire and motivate followers. Combined these first two I's are what constitute the transformational leader's charisma.
  • Individualized Consideration (IC) - Transformational leaders demonstrate genuine concern for the needs and feelings of followers. This personal attention to each follower is a key element in bringing out their very best efforts.
  • Intellectual Stimulation (IS) - the leader challenges followers to be innovative and creative. A common misunderstanding is that transformational leaders are "soft," but the truth is that they constantly challenge followers to higher levels of performance.[7]

Transformational leadership is said to have occurred when engagement in a group results in leaders and followers raising one another to increased levels of motivation and morality.[6]


Five major personality traits have been identified as factors contributing to the likelihood of an individual displaying the characteristics of a transformational leader. Different emphasis on different elements of these traits point to inclination in personality to inspirational leadership, transactional leadership, and transformational leadership. These five traits are as follows.[8]

Results of Meta Analysis finding correlation between personality traits and transformational leadership from data gathered by Joyce Bono and Timothy Judge.[8]


The two main characteristics of extraverts are affiliation and agency,[8] which relate to the social and leadership aspects of their personality, respectively. Extraversion is generally seen as an inspirational trait usually exhibited in transformational leadership.


Neuroticism generally gives an individual an anxiety related to productivity which, in a group setting can be debilitating to a degree where they are unlikely to position themselves in a role of transformational leadership due to lower self-esteem and a tendency to shirk from leadership responsibilities.[8]

Openness to experience

Creative expression and emotional responsiveness have been linked to a general tendency of openness to experience.[8] This trait is also seen as a component of transformational leadership as it relates to the ability to give big-picture visionary leadership for an organization.


Although not a trait which specifically points to transformational leadership, leaders in general possess an agreeable nature stemming from a natural concern for others and high levels of individual consideration.[8] Charisma and idealized influence is a classic ability of individuals who possess agreeability.[8]


Strong sense of direction and the ability to put large amounts of productive work into tasks is the by-product of conscientious leaders.[8] This trait is more linked to a transactional form of leadership given the management-based abilities of such individuals and the detail oriented nature of their personality.


One of the ways in which transactional leadership is measured is through use of the Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire (MLQ), a survey which identifies different leadership characteristics based on examples and provides a basis for leadership training. Early development was limited because the knowledge in this area was primitive, and as such, finding good examples for the items in the questionnaire was difficult. Subsequent development on the MLQ led to the current version of the survey, the MLQ5X.

The current version of the MLQ5X includes 36 items that are broken down into 9 scales with 4 items measuring each scale. Subsequent validation work by John Antonakis and his colleagues provided strong evidence supporting the validity and reliability of the MLQ5X.[9] Indeed, Antonakis went on to confirm the viability of the proposed nine-factor model MLQ model, using two very large samples. Although other researchers have still been critical of the MLQ model, since 2003 no one has been able to provide dis-confirming evidence of the theorized nine-factor model with such large sample sizes at those published by Antonakis.

In regards to transformational leadership, the first 5 components - Idealized Attributes, Idealized Behaviors, Inspirational Motivation, Intellectual Stimulation, and Individualized Consideration - are considered to be transformational leadership behaviors.

Effectiveness as compared to other leadership styles

Studies have shown that transformational leadership styles are associated with positive outcomes in relation to other leadership styles. According to studies performed by Lowe, Kroeck, and Sivasubramaniam, charisma (or Idealized Influence) was found to be a variable that was most strongly related to leader effectiveness among MLQ scales.[10] Other studies show that transformational leadership is positively associated with employee outcomes including commitment, role clarity, and well-being.[11]

Transactional leadership

In contrast to transformational leadership, transactional leadership styles focus on the use of rewards and punishments in order to achieve compliance from followers. Transformational leaders look towards changing the future to inspire followers and accomplish goals, whereas transactional leaders seek to maintain the status quo, not aiming for progress.

The MLQ does test for some transactional leadership elements - Contingent Reward and Management-by-Exception - and these results for these elements are often compared to those of the transformational elements that the MLQ tests for. Studies have shown transformational leadership practices lead to higher satisfaction with leader among followers and greater leader effectiveness, while transactional practices lead to higher follower job satisfaction and leader job performance[12]

Laissez-faire leadership

In a laissez-faire leadership style, a person may be given a leadership position without providing leadership, which leaves followers to fend for themselves. This leads to subordinates having a free hand in deciding policies and methods.

Studies have shown that while transformational leadership styles are associated with positive outcomes, laissez-faire leadership is associated with negative outcomes, especially in terms of follower satisfaction with leader and leader effectiveness.[12] Also, other studies comparing the leadership styles of men and women have shown that female leaders tend to be more transformational with their leadership styles, whereas laissez-faire leadership is more prevalent in male leaders [13]

Factors affecting use

Phipps suggests that the individual personality of a leader heavily affects his/her leadership style, specifically with regard to the following components of the Five Factor Model of Personality: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion/introversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism/emotional stability (OCEAN)[14]

Phipps also proposed that all the Big Five dimensions would be positively related to transformational leadership. Openness to experience allows the leader to be more accepting of novel ideas and thus more likely to stimulate the follower intellectually. Conscientious leaders are achievement oriented and thus more likely to motivate their followers to achieve organizational goals. Extraverted and agreeable individuals are more outgoing and pleasant, respectively, and more likely to have successful interpersonal relationships. Thus, they are more likely to influence their followers and to be considerate towards them. Emotionally stable leaders would be better able to influence their followers because their stability would enable them to be better role models to followers and to thoroughly engage them in the goal fulfillment process.[14]

A specific example of cultural background affecting the effectiveness of transformational leadership would be Indian culture, where a nurturant-task style of leadership has been shown to be an effective leadership style. Singh and Bhandarker (1990) demonstrated that effective transformational leaders in India are likes heads of Indian families taking personal interest in the welfare of their followers. Leaders in Indian organizations are therefore more likely to exhibit transformational behaviors if their followers are more self-effacing in approaching the leaders. It is also hypothesized in general that subordinates’ being socialized to be less assertive, self-confident, and independent would enhance superiors’ exhibition of transformational leadership.[15]

In addition, there is also evidence to suggest that social demographics do not necessarily affect transformational leadership styles.[16]

However, follower characteristics, combined with their perceptions of the leader and their own situation, did appear to moderate the connection between transformational leadership and subordinates’ willingness to take charge and be good organizational citizens.For instance, if subordinates in a work group perceive their leader to be prototypical of them, then transformational leadership would have less of an impact on their willingness to engage in organizational citizenship behaviors. Likewise, if subordinates are goal oriented and possess a traditional view of the organizational hierarchy, they tend to be less affected by transformational leadership. Self-motivated employees are less likely to need transformational leaders to prod them into action, while “traditionalists” tend to see positive organizational citizenship as something expected given their roles as followers—not something they need to be “inspired” to do.

Evidence suggests that the above sets of factors act, in essence, as both inhibitors of and substitutes for transformational leadership. As inhibitors, the presence of any of these factors—either independently or especially collectively—could make the presence of a transformational leader “redundant” since followers’ positive behavior would instead be sparked by their own motivations or perceptions. On the other hand, when these factors are not present (e.g., employees in a work group do not see their leader as “one of us”), then transformational leadership is likely to have a much greater impact on subordinates. In essence, when such “favorable conditions” are not present, managers—and the organizations they work for—should see a better return on investment from transformational leadership.[17]

It was shown that leader continuity enhanced the effect of transformational leadership on role clarity and commitment, indicating that it takes time before transformational leaders actually have an effect on employees. Furthermore, co-worker support enhanced the effect on commitment, reflecting the role of followers in the transformational leadership process. However, there are also factors that would serve to hinder the exhibition of transformational leadership, including the organizational structure, ongoing change, the leaders’ working conditions,[11] and the leaders' elevated perceptions of personal power.[18]


Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela used transformational leadership principles while working to abolish apartheid and enforce change in South Africa. In 1995, he visited Betsie Verwoerd, the widow of the architect of apartheid Hendrik Verwoerd, at her home in Orania. Orania was an Afrikaner homeland and a striking anachronistic symbol of racial separation, and Mandela's recurring emphasis on forgiveness contributed toward the healing the prejudices of South Africa and as vast influence as a leader. In 2000, he was quoted as saying, "For all people who have found themselves in the position of being in jail and trying to transform society, forgiveness is natural because you have no time to be retaliative.".[19]

He also set an example for others to follow in terms of sacrifice and philanthropy. Schoemaker describes one such instance:

"One such leader received a call from Mandela's office requesting that he accompany the President to the Eastern Cape. This leader was less than enthusiastic and pleaded that he had an appointment around mid-day clashing with Mandela's request. But there was no denying Mandela, so the leader agreed to go--but first consulted with his financial director to set a reasonable limit on the size of the anticipated donation request. They settled on 500,000 Rand, or about $50,000 in those days...upon landing, about 80,000 black school children--all adorned in crisp white shirts--simultaneously bowed to acknowledge the great man's arrival. As they were climbing down from the helicopter, Mandela planted his hand firmly in his guest's back and said, 'Now, I hope you are not going to disappoint me?' The business leader decided in that instance to double the could he tell a man who sacrificed as much as Mandela that he couldn't afford to be more generous?"


Abraham used transformational leadership to spread the roots of religion. József Molnár.

There are also numerous examples from the Bible of Abraham, the biblical patriarch, using transformational leadership principles to destroy paganism and spread the roots for Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. He mobilized his small clan and waged war with four powerful kings (Genesis 14) in order to rescue his nephew Lot, showing the courage to take risks and confidence to carry out visions. He cared a lot about people, often inviting strangers into his home and caring for them, providing food and drink (Genesis 18). Abraham also firmly believed in justice for all, and haggled with God to save Sodom and Gomorra from destruction:

Abraham: 'What if there are 50 innocent people in the city? Will you still destroy it?'
God: 'If I find 50 innocent people in Sodom, I will spare the entire area.'
Abraham: 'Suppose there are 45?'
God: 'I will not destroy it if I find 45.'
Abraham: 'What if there are 40?'
God: 'I will not act if there are 40.'"
— "Genesis18:20-33"

Abraham was also willing to make sacrifices for his beliefs, and the story about God asking him to sacrifice his son Isaac indicated his willingness to make a personal sacrifice for God in Genesis 22. This trial for Abraham may have been God's way of indicating to Abraham that spreading monotheism would require much sacrifice on the part of believers, and transformational leaders must be willing to make sacrifices on behalf of an organization.[20]


The evolution of transformational leadership in the

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  10. ^ Lowe, Kevin B., K. G. Kroeck, and Negaraj Sivasubramaniam. "Effectiveness Correlates of Transformational and Transactional Leadership: A Meta-analytic Review of the Mlq Literature." The Leadership Quarterly 7.3 (1996): 385-425.
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  12. ^ a b Judge, Timothy A., and Ronald F. Piccolo. "Transformational and Transactional Leadership: A Meta-Analytic Test of Their Relative Validity." Journal of Applied Psychology 89.5 (2004): 755-68.
  13. ^ Eagly, Alice H., Mary C. Johannesen-Schmidt, and Marloes L. Van Engen. "Transformational, Transactional, and Laissez-Faire Leadership Styles: A Meta-Analysis Comparing Women and Men." Psychological Bulletin 129.4 (2003): 569-91.
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  18. ^ Barth-Farkas, Faye and Antonio Vera. "Power and Transformational Leadership in Public Organizations." International Journal of Leadership in Public Services 10.4 (2014): 217-232
  19. ^ Schoemaker, Paul. "Nelson Mandela, Transformational Leader." N.p., 5 Dec. 2013. Web.
  20. ^ Friedman, Hershey H., Ph.D, and Mitchell Langbert, Ph.D. "Abraham as a Transformational Leader." Journal of Leadership Studies 7.2 (2000): 88-95.
  21. ^ Bernard M."The Future of Leadership in Learning Organizations" Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies 7.3 (2000): 19-31.


The future of transformational leadership is also related to political globalization and a more homogenous spectrum of economic systems under which organizations find themselves operating. Cultural and geographical dimensions of transformational leadership become blurred as globalization renders ethnically specific collectivist and individualistic effects of organizational behavior obsolete in a more diversified workplace.

As organizations move from position-based responsibilities to task-based responsibilities, transformational leadership is redefined to continue to develop individual commitment to organizational goals by aligning these goals with the interests of their leadership community. The academic community is a front-runner in this sense of redefining transformational leadership to suit these changes in job definition. [21]

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