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Transformational Leadership

What does it mean to be a transformational leader?

What is transformational leadership and how to become a role model while inspiring, encouraging and building strong relationships with your employees.

Approximate reading time: 5m 47s

Everyone respects Stella. She inspires and encourages her team members while setting an example of a high quality work method and demands the same from them. In return, her people are completely loyal and are highly successful - both as individuals and as a team. In short, Stella is a transformational leader.

In this same organization, other leaders report that their people are somewhat disengaged. Employees leave, and their results are often disappointing. What is Stella doing that other leaders are failing to do?

For starters, Stella regularly reminds her team members of the purpose of their work. Being in a leadership position, she knows the importance of being a role model, so she acts with integrity in all her working relationships.

In this article, she will explore what a transformational leader is and what it takes to become one.

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What is transformational leadership?

The expert James MacGregor Burns introduced the concept of transformational leadership in his 1978 book "Leadership." He defines the term as a process in which "leaders and their followers lift each other to higher levels of morale and motivation."

Later Bernard M. Bassfurther developed the same concept. According to his 1985 book Leadership and Performance Beyond Expectations, a transformational leader exhibits the following characteristics:

  • He is honorable and fair and sets an example with these qualities;
  • He sets clear goals;
  • Has high expectations;
  • Encourages others;
  • Provides support and recognition;
  • Stirs people's emotions;
  • Makes employees look beyond self-interest;
  • Arouses a drive to achieve better and better results.

More than 25 years after Bass's book came out, transformational leadership is considered one of the most important ideas in business leadership.

See our article on leadership styles to explore other ways to lead and choose the right one for your situation.

How to become a transformational leader

Assuming Bass's ideas are a process you can use as an aid on your path to becoming a transformational leader, it would mean going through the following steps:

  • Create an inspiring vision for the future;
  • Motivate people to accept and contribute to fulfilling that vision;
  • Actively manage the processes involved in building the idea;
  • Build trusting relationships with your employees.

Let's take a closer look at each of the stages listed above.

Step 1: Create an inspiring vision

People need a compelling reason to follow your lead. That's why it's important to create and present them with an inspiring vision for the future.

The idea should define the purpose of your team or organization. It should answer the question - why get up early in the morning and dedicate your time to what you do? It's a good idea to develop the vision in alignment with your employees' values, as well as assess your company's capabilities and resources through an intelligent analysis of the environment. That way, you can make the best choices to lead you forward toward your goal.

In other words, we're talking about developing your organization's strategy, and creating it consistently requires a lot of hard work and careful consideration. If you have decided to embark on building a vision, you can first look to Mullins' Seven Domains Model to analyze the environment, and then move on to developing the strategy by considering Lafley and Martin's Five-Step Strategy Model. Typically, the vision already created is expressed in a business plan.

Step 2: Motivate your people to get involved in your project

Lean on your employees' values and inspire them so that you can achieve the goal together.
Talk about your idea. Often. Connect it to your team's goals and objectives, giving it context. This will help identify what is needed to make it happen.

Transformational leaders also know that nothing substantial happens unless they encourage their people in some way. Make sure you are familiar with the different types of motivation and use them to predispose your subordinates to give their best.

Step 3: Manage the execution of the company mission

The mission is useless in itself if it doesn't become a reality. However, many leaders make the mistake of developing a vision but not tackling the hard, often mundane and monotonous work of making it happen.

To succeed in your goal, you need to combine effective project management with change management skills. Clearly define the roles and responsibilities of each person on your team and link them to your plans. Everyone needs to fully understand what they are responsible for and how their work will be evaluated. Set clear SMART goals for everyone, and include some short-term tasks whose successful completion will keep your employees motivated.

Use management by objectives to link short-term achievements to long-term goals. You may need to show self-discipline and resilience to avoid getting frustrated if trouble arises. Set a good example for your team with your hard work and perseverance, especially if you notice that your employees are having difficulty completing their tasks.

Be approachable and "leave the door open". This is an ideal technique for transformational leaders because it helps you stay informed about day-to-day activities and allows you to answer questions as they arise.

Tip: Clear communication is essential for transformational leadership.

Take the time to make sure you are heard and understood by whom you need to be. Give clear and regular feedback so your people know what you expect from them.

Step 4: Build increasingly strong, trusting relationships with your employees

As a transformational leader, you need to focus on your team and work hard to help them achieve their goals and dreams.

Use Dunham and Pierce's Leadership Process Model as a starting point. This tool outlines how important your employees are to your success as a leader. It also highlights the fact that leadership is a long-term process, and that as such you need to constantly work to build good relationships, earn trust, and help your people grow as individuals.

Meet with your staff individually to understand their development needs, and help them achieve their career goals. What do they want? Where do they see themselves in five years? How can you help them?

You can strengthen your team's trust in you by being open and honest in your interactions. Use the Johari Window to find out how to safely disclose personal information about yourself and in response, identify "what makes your staff feel good."

Take time for coaching. When you help your employees manage their own tasks, you not only create a skilled team, you also strengthen their self-confidence.

Examples of some of the most famous transformational leaders

Here are the most impressive examples of transformational leaders:

Nelson Mandela

Nelson H. Mandela was a South African politician of Xhosa origin, President of the Republic of South Africa, and winner of more than 250 awards, including the Nobel Peace Prize.

Henry Ford

Henry Ford was an American engineer and entrepreneur, founder of the Ford Motor Corporation. Ford's concept of modern car building was not only revolutionary for industrial products, but also heavily influenced modern culture.

Jeff Bezos

Jeffrey Preston Bezos, better known simply as Jeff Bezos, is a North American entrepreneur, founder and CEO of the e-commerce website Amazon.com, and also of the aerospace company Blue Origin. Jeff Bezos is the richest man on the planet.

Steve Jobs

Steve Paul Jobs (Paul Jobs) is an American entrepreneur and inventor. He is the co-founder, chairman of the board and CEO of Apple Inc. Jobs is a seminal figure in the world of high technology. MarketWatch named him CEO of the Decade and Fortune magazine ranked him as one of the smartest people in the high-tech world.

Reed Hastings

Wilmot Reed Hastings Jr. is an American entrepreneur who is the co-founder and CEO of Netflix, a service that provides on-demand Internet streaming media available to viewers around the world.

Elon Reeve Musk

Elon Reeve Musk is a North American engineer, inventor, business magnate, investor, billionaire, born in South Africa. He is currently the CEO and CTO of SpaceX ("SpaceX"), and the CEO and Chief Product Architect of Tesla Motors.

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln, sometimes called Abe Lincoln, was the sixteenth President of the United States and was the first Republican President.

Margaret Thacher

Margaret Hilda Thatcher or Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven was a British politician and the first woman to serve as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Even before she came to power, she was referred to as the Iron Lady in Soviet propaganda, a nickname that has remained to this day.

Professor Muhammad Yunus

Muhammad Yunus is a Bangladeshi banker and economist. Yunus is the founder of the Grameen Bank, which runs a micro-credit programme for small enterprises. Most of the borrowers are women from rural areas of the country. Professor Yunus and the bank were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. was an American clergyman and public figure and one of the leaders of the African American civil rights movement. His efforts organized the famous March on Washington, during which he delivered his iconic "I Have a Dream" speech, establishing his reputation as one of the most important orators in American history.


A transformational leader is a role model. Through your integrity and fairness, by setting high standards and encouraging each individual employee, you will earn the trust and loyalty of your team, elevate your relationships to a higher level, and all together conquer new and steeper heights.

Remember, to succeed as a transformational leader, you'll need to work hard on your own skills and make time for personal development.

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