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Transformative Leadership

We all have suffered through unforgettably bad bosses, but incredible leaders evoke some of our best memories. Perhaps they were mentors, friends, or confidantes. Something about them motivated us. We wanted to work harder and better for them. We felt guilty if we did not give them our best effort. But, how did they inspire us? Can we identify a trait that made them so different?

We may not know how to explain it, but something in their leadership drew us to them. In today’s terminology, our best leaders probably would be referred to as transformational. Transformational leaders do not rely on “carrots” or “sticks” to get their followers to accomplish the mission. They do not lead through fear and intimidation, but, rather, by respect and compassion. Instead of telling us what to do, they allow us to figure things out on our own. A transformational leader can empathize with us, knowing when to offer encouraging words, as well as when to give us a firm push. Often, these leaders engage in small, subtle, yet powerful gestures that show us how much they care.

Qualities of Transformational Leaders 

There are four key components of transformational leadership, also known as the four I's. These consist of:

  • Intellectual stimulation - a transformational leader challenges followers to be innovative and creative. (outside-the-box thinking)

  • Individualized consideration - a transformational leader demonstrates genuine concern for the needs and feelings of followers.(compassion)

  • Inspirational motivation - a transformational leader has the ability to inspire and motivate followers. (excited masses, shared vision)

  • Idealized influence - a transformational leader serves as a role model for followers and truly "walks the talk." (actions speak louder than words)

When a leader is able to perform each component, serving as a role model, encourager, innovator, and coach all at once, they will transform those around them into better, more productive, and more successful individuals.

Being able to achieve this can be easier said than done, and requires both the possession of innate characteristics associated with transformational leadership and commitment to the guiding principles of this leadership style. To meet these four components, a transformational leader must be someone who:

  • Empowers followers to do what is best for the organization

  • Is a strong role model with high values

  • Listens to all viewpoints to develop a spirit of cooperation

  • Creates a vision, using people in the organization

  • Acts as a change agent within the organization by setting an example of how to initiate and implement change

  • Helps the organization by helping others contribute to the organization

Why Transformational Leadership?

There are so many different leadership styles that you might be wondering why you should focus on transformational leadership instead of another style.

Research shows that groups led by transformational leaders have higher levels of performance and satisfaction than groups led by other types of leaders. This is because transformational leaders believe in their followers: they know they can do their best, which leads members of the group to feel inspired, motivated, and empowered.

Similarly, transformational leadership often leads to wider success on a business level - transformational leaders help promote the success of the organization by tapping into the strengths of others.


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The concept of transformational leadership was introduced by leadership expert James McGregor Burns in his 1978 book, Leadership, in which he described this style as a process by which "leaders and followers make each other advance to a higher level of morality and motivation." Several years later, researcher Bernard Bass expanded on this description in his classic text, Transformational Leadership, defining transformational leaders as: "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."

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These resources are intended as overviews of relevant discussion and do not represent endorsement by TRADOC.