Can understanding transformational leadership help you become a stronger leader?

What is Transformational Leadership and Why is it Effective? (+ Examples)

In the business world, there are many different styles of leadership. Some leaders take an almost laissez-faire approach to leadership, even as others adopt a more authoritarian style. Each of these styles has its own benefits and potential disadvantages for the leaders who strive to motivate their teams to achieve a shared goal. In this fast-paced and ever-changing business environment, however, one dynamic style of leadership is gaining in popularity: transformational leadership. But what is it and will it work for you?

In this post, we explore transformational leadership and consider the traits that these types of leaders typically share. We also look at some examples of this type of leadership and provide some tips that you can use if you want to become a more transformative leader.

What is transformational leadership?

To understand this type of leadership, it may be helpful to put things into historical context. The term transformational leadership was first coined by James MacGregor Burns in a 1978 book, Leadership. This book was credited with introducing the world to Burns' theory of transformational leadership - a theory that has influenced an untold number of leaders over the last four and a half decades.

In that book, Burns described transformational leadership as a style that enabled leaders and their followers to “raise one another to higher levels of morality and motivation.” Unlike other forms of leadership, the transformative style does more than just organize the way in which team members operate to pursue a shared goal. Transformational leadership focuses on leveraging the leader's vision and personality to inspire and motivate a team, shape their expectations, and empower them to use their talents to achieve great things.

What traits do transformational leaders display in their leadership style?

So, what is a transformational leader? What qualities and characteristics do these leaders demonstrate that enable them to be transformative figures who have a real and lasting impact on other people and organizations? Bernard M. Bass expanded on Burns' theory in his 1985 book, Leadership and Performance Beyond Expectations. According to Bass, transformational leaders have a mindset that enables them to act as transformative figures:

  • The ability to provide inspirational motivation and a vision that others want to adopt

  • A desire to focus on building relationships with individuals, encouraging and empowering them to reach their full potential

  • A focus on stimulating intellectual curiosity to drive innovative thinking and challenge preconceptions and outdated norms

  • A willingness to model the ethics, mindset, and behaviors that they want to see in every member of their team

In addition, transformational leaders share some common traits that flow from that mindset and their personal and professional behavioral patterns. These characteristics are not innate, but learned, adopted, and developed over time. It's important to keep that fact in mind as you examine these traits, so that you always remember that you can become a transformative leader if you're willing to put in the work to build the necessary habits and mindset. Here are seven key traits that transformational leaders possess:

Openness to new ideas

Transformational leadership always involves an open-minded approach to innovation. Leaders who refuse to consider new ideas and new ways of doing things can never hope to transform their workforce, company, or marketplace. Great transformative leaders are open to innovative solutions, regardless of where they originate.

Committed to teaching and expanding others' perspectives

To transform any team or business, a leader needs to be a teacher who works to expand others' consciousness and introduce them to new concepts and perspectives. These leaders understand that they can only fuel transformation when they've empowered their team members to think beyond their own comfort zones.

A willingness to take considered risks

True transformation is always risky, and the possibility of failure is something that can never be completely avoided. However, transformative leaders understand the need to consider those risks, evaluate their likelihood of coming to pass, and weigh them against any potential benefit.

A habit of active listening

The ability to actively listen to everyone around them is one of the most vital skills that any leader can possess. For a transformative leader, however, this is an essential habit to develop. Active listening enables these leaders to ensure that every member of their team feels valued and heard. It also helps the leader to ensure that they are in tune with their employees, so that any decline in motivation or inspiration can be addressed before problems develop.

A desire to be accountable for their actions and decisions

Accountability is central for transformative leadership. When things go wrong, your team needs to know that the buck stops with you. They need to believe that you will always be there to hold yourself to account for any failures, rather than passing the blame to them.

Appreciation for everyone's value and contributions

Like a chain, teams are only as strong as their weakest link. Transformational leaders recognize the importance of everyone's contribution and focus on the value that each person brings to the team. That focus on individual worth can serve as a constant source of inspiration for those who follow this type of leader.

A commitment to being trustworthy and trusting others

First, it's important to understand that nobody willingly follows a leader they don't trust. At the same time, however, nobody wants to follow a leader who doesn't trust them. That's why good leaders need to trust their team members to use their talents to the best of their ability. Any lack of trust can lead to micromanaging, which can stifle creativity, cause a decline in motivation, and impede any transformational effort.

What are some examples of a transformational leadership style?

To fully understand how one person can have such a transformative impact on the world around them, consider the following examples of transformational leadership:

Henry Ford, whose leadership transformed the auto industry and worker expectations. Ford's transformational leadership helped to change the way automobiles were manufactured, which resulted in lower costs that made cars more accessible for American workers. He also doubled his employees' wages, which helped them to eventually afford the very products they were building.

John F. Kennedy, whose Presidency saw America set its sights on reaching the moon within a decade. Though his life was tragically cut short before the US achieved his vision, his transformational approach to expanding the country's horizons motivated his countrymen to eventually reach the moon in 1969. That space race not only inspired the nation, but led to the development of a whole host of consumer innovations that helped to change the economy and people's lifestyles.

America's Founding Fathers, who transformed the relationship between governments and their people by introducing the then-radical concept that government only derives legitimacy from the consent of the governed. The Constitution and government that they created in the wake of their rebellion against Great Britain was the first to recognize that all human beings have innate rights that cannot be infringed by government.

Why is transformational leadership so effective?

If you're still wondering why transformational leadership is so effective at inspiring real change and innovation, then let's consider some of its most important benefits to individuals, teams, and entire organizations – as well as the broader economy.

Increased performance. Because transformational leadership focuses on creating teams of followers who are motivated to exceed expectations, an entire organization can benefit from increases in performance and outcome. When leaders inspire followers to maximize their potential, that added value benefits workers, the company, and its customers.

Growth and change in organizations. Truly transformative leadership can have an impact that is like a series of dominoes tipping into one another. As individual employees are transformed and inspired, their team benefits. Stronger teams result in superior group performance and better results for the company. As each employee is shaped by the transformative culture the leader creates, the entire organization changes for the better.

Individual growth. The power of transformational leadership affects every aspect of a business. At the same time, it also offers individual workers the best opportunity to self-actualize and maximize their potential value as employees. Leaders who adopt this style of leadership can help their employees to better align with the company culture, internalize beneficial values and ideals, become more productive, and enjoy greater development and growth in every area of their lives.

How can you become a more transformational leader?

By this time, you might be wondering what this all means for your leadership goals. Can you become a transformative leader and make a truly innovative impact on your company? And, if so, what do you need to do to achieve that goal?

The good news is that there are things you can do to develop your own transformational leadership traits. Here are some of the key steps that you can take to learn how to be this type of leader:

Develop your communication skills

All great leaders need strong communication skills. Look for opportunities to communicate your ideas to others in ways that motivate them to adopt your vision.

Learn to set goals with high expectations

Visionary, transformational leaders always have goals that require their team to go beyond their comfort zone. Learn to identify goals that are difficult but achievable and that set high expectations for yourself and everyone around you.

Be accountable

Work on developing strong accountability habits to ensure that everyone around you can see that you remain accountable for your decisions and actions. This can build the trust and confidence you need to inspire others to follow your lead.

Practice active listening

Active listening is a vital skill for transformational leaders, since it enables you to better understand your team and their thoughts. It also encourages everyone to present their ideas to you, which can help you to maintain a more dynamic and innovative team that can execute your transformational vision.

Study other inspirational leaders

History is filled with vivid accounts of inspirational leaders. Watch videos, read speeches, or consult with inspirational people around you to learn more about how they inspire others to transform the world around them.

Build relationships

Relationship building is a key skill that you need if you want others to follow you and share your vision. Focus on listening, recognizing others' value, and sharing knowledge and insight with members of your team. That will build trust, help them to better self-actualize, and inspire them to adopt your vision and goals.

Make transformational leadership a key part of your leadership style

In today's constantly evolving economy, transformative leaders are the key to ensuring that companies keep pace with innovation and remain competitive. By learning how to employ transformational leadership, you can become the transformative leader you need to be to achieve your career advancement goals.

If you're struggling to convey your transformational leadership style to prospective employers, get a free resume review from our team of experts today.

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