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Transformational leadership

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The term transformational leadership was first coined by J.V. Downton in 1973 in Rebel Leadership: Commitment and charisma in a revolutionary process.

James MacGregor Burns (1978) first introduced the concepts of transformational and transactional leadership in his treatment of political leadership, but it is now used as well in organizational psychology. According to Burns, the difference between transformational and transactional leadership is what leaders and followers offer one another.

Transformational leaders offer a purpose that transcends short-term goals and focuses on higher order intrinsic needs. This results in followers identifying with the needs of the leader. The four dimensions of transformational leadership are:

Charisma or Idealized influence: the degree to which the leader behaves in admirable ways that cause followers to identify with the leader. Charismatic leaders display convictions, take stands and appeal to followers on an emotional level. This is about the leader having a clear set of values and demonstrating them in every action, providing a role model for their followers.

Inspirational motivation: the degree to which the leader articulates a vision that is appealing and inspiring to followers. Leaders with inspirational motivation challenge followers with high standards, communicate optimism about future goal attainment and provide meaning for the task at hand. Followers need to have a strong sense of purpose if they are to be motivated to act. Purpose and meaning provide the energy that drives a group forward. It is also important that this visionary aspect of leadership is supported by the communication skills that allow the leader to articulate their vision with precision and power, in a compelling and persuasive way.

Intellectual stimulation: the degree to which the leader challenges assumptions, takes risks and solicits followers' ideas. Leaders with this trait stimulate and encourage creativity in their followers.

Individualized consideration or Individualized attention: the degree to which the leader attends to each follower's needs, acts as a mentor or coach to the follower and listens to the follower's concerns and needs. This also encompasses the need to respect and celebrate the individual contribution that each follower can make to the team (it is the diversity of the team that gives it its true strength).

Apart from its central role in transformational leadership theory, charismatic leadership has been the basis of its own distinct literature (Weber, 1921/1947, House (1997). Transformational leadership and charismatic leadership theories have much in common and in important ways, each literature has contributed to the other.

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  • Avolio, B. J., Bass, B. M., & Jung, D. I. (1999). Re-examining the components of transformational and transactional leadership using the Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire. Journal of Occupational & Organizational Psychology, 72(4), 441-462.
  • Engelbrecht, A. S., Aswegan, A. S. v., & Theron, C. C. (2005). The effect of ethical values on transformational leadership and ethical climate in organizations. South African Journal of Business Management, 36(2), 19-26.
  • Kane, T. D., & Tremble, T. R. (2000). Transformational leadership effects at different levels of the army. Military Psychology, 12(2), 137-160.
  • Kark, R., Shamir, B., & Chen, G. (2003). The two faces of transformational leadership: Empowerment and dependency. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 88(2), 246-255.
  • Koehler, C. D., Wallbrown, F. H., & Konnert, M. W. (1994). Personality traits associated with transformational leadership styles of secondary principals in christian schools. Christian Education Journal, XV(1), 101-103.
  • Smith, B. N., Montagno, R. V., & Kuzmenko, T. N. (2004). Transformational and Servant Leadership: Content and Contextual Comparisons. Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies, 10(4), 80-91.
  • Stone, A. G., Russell, R. F., & Patterson, K. F. (2003). Transformational versus Servant Leadership: A Difference in Leader Focus. Paper presented at the Servant Leadership Research Roundtable, Virginia Beach, VA.


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