What is transformational leadership?

Transformational leadership is among the most popular approaches to understanding leader effectiveness. Research supports the premise that a transformational leaders influence follower behaviors through a process by which the leader appeals to followers’ ideals and values.  In doing so, the leader enhances follower commitment to their vision and inspires them to develop new ways of thinking about their work.

In addition to articulating a clear and compelling vision for the organization, transformational leaders influence followers by providing them with constructive feedback, encouraging them to be creative in solving problems, convincing them to exhibit extra effort to achieve organizational outcomes and persuading them to forgo personal interests for the sake of the organization. Transformational leaders accomplish this through a process of social influence over time. To be effective, the leader must be explicitly trusted and genuinely committed to the organization and its mission. Leaders cannot “claim” transformational status. Rather, transformationalism is ascribed by followers.

There are four dimensions of leadership behavior that are critical to the transformational relationship:

  • Idealized Influence – According to Tracey & Hinkin (1998) Idealized Influence is described as “behavior that results in follower admiration, respect and trust. Idealized Influence involves risk sharing on the part of leaders, a consideration of follower needs over personal needs and ethical and moral   conduct.” Kelloway et al. (2003) adds that Idealized Influence is  manifested when leaders act in a consistent way and are seen as dependable   by those who follow. Additional aspects of Idealized Influence are noted by Bass (1997) when he states, “Leaders display conviction; emphasize trust; take stands on different issues; present their most important values; emphasize the importance of purpose, commitment and ethical   consequences of decision making. Such leaders are admired as role models in generating pride, loyalty, confidence, and alignment around a shared purpose.”
  • Inspirational Motivation – The Inspirational Motivation dimension is produced   through behaviors that facilitate a feeling of optimism and a commitment   to organizational goals and vision. Further, inspirational motivation   provides meaning to the work of followers. A leader’s charisma, “a process where leaders arouse followers by being visionary, motivational and   powerful, confident and captivating to followers” is the sum of   inspirational motivation and idealized influence. Leaders who display   charismatic leadership are able to use expressive language that is emotionally appealing and communicate a clear vision that is related to the need and values of the followers” (Kelloway et al., 2003).
  • Intellectual Stimulation – Intellectual Stimulation involves followers in developing new and different solutions to common problems and conducting   work in new ways. Leaders challenge the process and confront old and   outdated assumptions, traditions and processes. Further, they involve   others in the discussion and stimulate new ways of thinking. According to   Northouse (2001), “This is leadership that stimulates followers to be   creative and innovative, and to challenge their own beliefs and values as   well as those of the leader and the organization. This type of leadership supports followers as they try new approaches and develop innovative ways of dealing with organizational issues. It promotes followers’ thinking things out on their own and engaging in careful problem solving.”
  • Individualized Consideration – leaders pay close attention to the needs of followers – coaching them through situations and issues and developing followers along the way. Transformational leaders listen, learn and develop not only their own ways of thinking but those around them. According to Northouse (2001), “This factor is representative of leader who provides a supportive climate in which they listen carefully to the individual needs of followers. Leaders act as coaches and advisors while trying to assist individuals in becoming fully actualized. These leaders may use delegation as a means to help followers grow though personal challenges.” A leader modeling individualized consideration will spend time learning about the specific motivations, hopes and dreams of each individual.

One thought on “What is transformational leadership?

  1. Pingback: On the value of followership | Performance Management Counseling

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