Leadership 101: Are you a transformational leader?



The men pictured above are considered by some to be some of the most influential and transformational leaders of their lifetimes. These men employ(ed) soaring prose and are responsible for significant shifts in paradigms and practices throughout the modern world.

Pragmatically, no one assumes (at least, I hope no one assumes) that any president, elected official, or leader can change the world via motivational speaking and a good ol’ American “can do” attitude alone. Still, there’s something to be said about one’s ability to inspire a group of followers and project a sense that “anything is possible.”

The men pictured above are generally considered to be transformational leaders. The transformational leadership theory is a component of the full range leadership theory, notably espoused by James Burns and Bernard Bass in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Tranformational leadership considers five factors:

  1. Idealized influence or attributed charisma – refers to how the followers perceive the leader’s power, confidence, and transcendent ideals. This emotional component of leadership essentially shifts the follower’s interests away from self and towards the interest of the greater good.
  2. Idealized influence (behaviors), or behavioral charisma – refers to specific behaviors that reflect the leader’s values and beliefs, their sense of mission and purpose, and their ethical and moral orientation.
  3. Inspirational motivation – refers to leaders who inspire and motivate followers to reach ambitious goals previously deemed unreachable, thereby raising expectations, and communicating confidence that followers can achieve ambitious goals, thus creating a self-fulfilling prophecy (i.e. a Pygmalion effect).
  4. Intellectual stimulation – refers to how leaders question the status quo, appeal to the follower’s intellect to make them question their own assumptions, and invite innovative and creative solutions to problems.
  5. Individualized consideration – refers to leaders who emotionally support their individual followers while also developing and empowering them. Leaders achieve this result by coaching and counseling followers, maintaining frequent contact with them, and helping them to self actualize.

These tenets alone should inspire (no pun intended) any leader to engage and connect with their followers in such a way that produces superior performance. The challenge, however, is that not everyone can authentically employ charisma to inspire and transform their followers, and those who can are often mislabeled as being “phony” or “shallow”.

When you consider the individual components of transformational leadership (as listed above), it’s not far-fetched to believe in a successful use of this style of leadership. For example, based on personal accounts of colleagues and subordinates Steve Jobs wasn’t a warm and fuzzy kind of guy. In fact, his expletive-filled tirades are legendary. Jobs did, however, lead through motivation (his belief that his products were the best in the world) and intellectual stimulation (he challenged his employees and associates to think critically beyond traditional boundaries and limitations).

Winston Churchill was highly charismatic. Mohandas Ghandi considered the plight and contributions of individuals. Barack Obama inspired voters through instilling “hope” and advocating “change.” Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela, The Dalai Lama, and Martin Luther King, Jr. employed behavioral charisma.

Transformational leadership is not/should not be the latest business management paradigm-of-the-day that is used to manipulate followers into action. When employed correctly, transformational leaders can motivate and inspire their followers by calling them to a higher sense of purpose… imploring followers to push beyond their perceived limitations. When employed incorrectly, pseudo-transformational leaders will craft a dishonest mask that alienate followers and sow seeds of discontent and mistrust.



2 responses to “Leadership 101: Are you a transformational leader?

  1. People like classifications because they help lead organized lives and have a clear picture of where things are. Even if they are based on incomplete information and sideline greater variety for the sake of more regularity, we are drawn to their advantages, especially in comparison to chaos that rules without classifications. In leadership, one divide that arranges a common perception of what types of leaders there are is based around the concepts of a transactional leader and a transformational leader. Which group do you feel you belong to?

    • Thanks for your comment, Ron. I agree with the summation of your comment: classification can bread comfort. I wholeheartedly believe in situational leadership, especially since leaders can’t/shouldn’t rely on one key style to ensure success. We are dynamic creatures, and as such we should be prepared to adjust no matter what circumstance we find ourselves in.

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