Transformational Leadership — A Rough Guide to Leadership Models and Theories

Picture of a caterpillar transforming into a chrysalis.

Transforming Leadership

Transformational Leadership was first coined by the historian and political scientist, James MacGregor Burns in the late 1970s, and was used to distinguish the inspirational leadership style from Transactional Leadership.

Transformational Leadership is about transforming the business and changing the organisation’s culture.

In sharp contrast, Transactional Leadership, which takes on a directive leadership style, is essentially concerned with processes and day-to-day operations management.

The Transformational Leader

But the transformational leader is interested both in the individual and the team. Their intention is to empower people so they may reach their full potential, to improve their skills and abilities, and gain confidence in their unique talents and values.

And, as a consequence, the leader’s influence is strengthened by their interest in the people they serve … more on this later.

So, Transformational Leadership is about the leader connecting with people to inspire positive change.

It is the transformational leader who makes great efforts to understand someones abilities, skills and needs, and then offers coaching and mentoring to help them to succeed in their particular situation.

For the team, the transformational leader agrees common values and beliefs, and encourages people to reach shared goals.

Transformational leadership is about creating leadership teams.

Transformational Leadership — A Definition

Perhaps one of the best definitions of Transformational Leadership is by Terry Anderson in the book Transforming Leadership: Equipping Yourself and Coaching Others to Build the Leadership Organisation*:

Transforming Leadership is vision, planning, communication and creative action which has a positive underlying effect on a group of people around a clear set of values and beliefs, to accomplish a clear set of measurable goals. This transforming approach simultaneously impacts the personal development and corporate productivity of all involved.

We learn that Transformational Leadership has a truly profound effect on the confidence, enthusiasm and performance of people, teams and the organisation.

So, if this is Transformational Leadership, what makes a transforming leader?

Stick with me and I’ll explain …

Seven Characteristics of the Transformational Leader

In a nutshell, the transforming leader is excited by the challenges of leading high performing teams. The transformational leader is a role model.

Transformational leaders are important because they make choices that most other leaders would not. – Joseph Nye

And, they publicly display the following leadership characteristics:

  1. They clearly see themselves as change agents.
  2. They are courageous.
  3. They believe in people.
  4. They are driven by a strong set of values.
  5. They are lifelong learners.
  6. The can cope with complexity, ambiguity and uncertainty.
  7. They are visionaries.

From the Transformational Leader* by Noel Tichy and Mary Anne Devanna.

Aadult Monarch butterfly emerges from its chrysalis.

Transformational Leadership

Transformational leaders grow high performing teams. Teams with higher levels of performance and satisfaction than groups led by other types of leaders.

Why is this?

Quite simply, because the transformational leader has positive expectations for the team and believes that people want to do their best.

As a consequence, the transformational leader inspires, empowers and encourages followers to perform to the best of their abilities. And, because they care about their followers, their influence increases.

Are you a transformational leader?

Back: Transactional Leadership Next: Dealing With Complexity

Creative Commons images courtesy Sid Mosdell.

*Affiliate links.

Last updated 13 September, 2014 3 CommentsShare the knowledge …


  1. KPS Patali says

    Leadership is either Autocratic or Inclusive.There is nothing inbetween.Gone are the days when Family Business were run in an Autocratic manner where others/employees had little say,now to succeed all business have to be Inclusive.You call it Transformational,Democratic or whatever ! The key to success for a leader is to be accommodative,flexible ,open to new ideas and innovative.A true team man !

    • says

      Thanks for commenting. I have to disagree with your assertion that “Leadership is either Autocratic or Inclusive.” Even the most overbearing managers I have worked with change their leadership style from time to time. And, the most effective leader will always adapt their leadership style to the situation.

      Moreover, the workplace is not a democracy. Yes, the leader should involve employees … but it is in the leaders gift to decide what to do. Ultimately, the leader is accountable for team performance. It is the leader who makes the decisions.

      Also, transformational leadership is not the same as participative (democratic) leadership. It is about leading the changes needed to turn businesses away from old habits and towards new challenges.

      As ever,


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