May 2007 Issue --> Business Article
Transformational Leadership
By: Jim L White, Ph.D


What is it?

How does a leader get everyone performing to their potential? What is the relationship between leadership and management? What are the attributes of the transformational leader? Finally, what conclusions can be drawn about the usefulness of transformational leadership?

Since James MacGregor Burns coined the terms transformational and transactional leadership, (1978) it might be useful to look at his definitions. Burns wrote, “I define leadership as leaders inducing followers to act for certain goals that represent the values and the motivations-the wants and needs, the aspirations and expectations-of both leaders and followers.” Burns insists that for leaders to have the greatest impact on those “led,” they must motivate followers to action by appealing to shared values and by satisfying their aspirations and expectations.

Burns and much of the current literature make the point that the way leaders influence followers is based on their shared sense of what is important, worth doing well, and expending energy on it. “Such leadership occurs when one or more persons engage with others in such a way that leaders and followers raise one another to higher levels of motivation and morality. Their purposes, which might have started out as separate but related, become fused.” The goals, then, take on a life of their own. In business, this leads to market domination and profit.

To be effective now and in the future, almost all of the leadership literature and my personal experiences agree that people can not be treated like sheep; blindly herded from place to place. Their expertise, experience and intuition need to be encouraged if challenging situations are to be negotiated successfully. Most organizational leaders agree that their organizations need to put systems in place where employee’s intellectual capital is nurtured, developed, and more directly rewarded.

Enterprise of tomorrow and beyond must encourage individuals to be comfortable with uncertainty and willing to make decisions with less than perfect information. Of course, high performing organizations want all their people, leaders and followers, contributing to their maximum potential-to give their all for the good of the organization. How do you get there from here?

. . . [V]alues are internalized so deeply that they define personality and behavior as well as consciously and unconsciously held attitudes. They have become an expression of both conscience and consciousness. Hence, holders of values will often follow the dictates of these values in the absence of incentives, sanctions, or even witnesses . . . .

In the final analysis, transformational leadership should fuse the leader’s vision so strongly in the follower, that both are motivated by high moral and ethical principles, rising above self interest to perform their duties for the GOOD of the enterprise and themselves.

How do leaders develop the bonds necessary to make transformational leadership possible?

  • First is idealized influence. Genuine trust must be built between leaders and followers in true transformational leadership.
  • Secondly is inspirational motivation. The leader’s appeal to what is right and needs to be done provides the impetus for all to move forward.
  • Next, is intellectual stimulation, which helps followers to question assumptions and to generate more creative solutions to problems.
  • Lastly, is individual consideration. Treating each follower as an individual and providing coaching, mentoring and growth opportunities naturally propels followers to further achievement and growth.
  • Transformational leaders concentrate on terminal values such as integrity and fairness.
  • The transformational leader increase the awareness of what is right, good, important, and beautiful, when they help to elevate follower’s needs for achievement and self-actualization, and also to set the proper example to followers. Communicated correctly, both leader and follower are more emotionally satisfied. 
  • Leadership and follower-ship in transformistic organizations are predicated less on positional authority and more on interdependent work relationships centered on common purposes.
  • When organizational participants are empowered to act as effective leaders and followers based on core values and a unifying purpose, the potential for unprecedented advances and exceptional outcomes are greatly enhanced.

The ingredients necessary for transformational leadership to occur may be summarized in a variety of ways. In my mind, it seems obvious that one of the most important characteristics of a great leader is his/her ability to make sound judgments and good decisions based on their internalized vision. Simply put, the below ten tenets may be a useful summation of this paper:

  1. Leaders have high moral and ethical values.
  2. Leaders express genuine interest in followers.
  3. Leaders have an inspirational vision.
  4. Genuine trust exists between leaders and followers
  5. Followers share leader’s values and vision.
  6. Leaders and followers perform beyond self-interest.
  7. Participatory decision-making is the rule.
  8. Innovative thinking and action is expected.
  9. Motivation is to do the right thing.
  10. Leaders mentor.

Thus, the goal of transformational leaders is to inspire followers to share the leader’s values and connect with the leader’s vision through genuine concern the leaders have for the followers and the total trust given in return to the leaders by the followers. Leaders exhort followers to support the leader’s vision by sharing ideas, imagination, talents, and labor to reach agreement and attain virtuous goals for the greater common good of the leaders, followers, and the organization, thereby achieving genuine satisfaction. Authentic transformational leadership, because of all the reasons mentioned above, raises leaders above their self-interest and short-circuits pseudo-transformational leadership tendencies. Management in the end codifies the changes and puts in the administrative structures necessary to solidify their maintenance.

In conclusion, the merits of transformational leadership should speak for themselves. In light of the ambiguous strategic environment, it would appear to be obvious that organizations require leaders and followers steeped in the same core values and energized to tackle the tough issues together. When leaders and followers are on the same strategic page all their energy is focused to achieve maximum results with less oversight, because the leader has articulated the target goal so everyone understands the direction to move toward.

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