When Does a Transformational Leadership Style Work?
Have you ever been in a team in which someone took charge by communicating a compelling understanding of the purpose of the project, a marked enthusiasm for the job, and a willingness to refresh and energize others in the group? These are some of the qualities that you will find in a transformational leader.
A transformational leadership style is a key driver for growth and success, particularly if an organization hires well and develops a positive corporate culture. The purpose of every type of leadership is to push workers to perform beyond expectations. Transactional leaders accomplish this through incentives and consequences for inaction while transformational leaders do the same by changing others’ beliefs and attitudes, which is why transformation leadership works so well in most situations.
Here, I look to establish where a transformational leadership style can work best through an understanding of the concept using the available literature on the leadership style, the characteristics that make it, its pros and cons, and real-world examples.
What is the Transformational Leadership Style?
Transformational management is a style of leadership that can encourage meaningful changes in followers. Transformational leaders are positive, optimistic, and compassionate people. These leaders are not only interested in and engaged in the process, but they are also committed to helping each group member thrive in life and career.
The idea of transformative leadership was introduced by leadership expert James McGregor Burns in his book “Leadership” published in 1978. Transformative leadership demands that you follow a motivational approach to leadership, with followers drawing from your persona and experience.
Transformative leadership motivates individuals to accomplish unprecedented or exceptional outcomes. It gives employees independence over particular work, as well as the ability to make decisions after they are trained to do so. Over the past decade or so, several studies have been conducted that show that transformational leadership is an effective leadership style that can be applied within public and private sector organizations.
Some of the fundamental attributes of transformational leadership are motivational, in that the leader can encourage employees to find new ways to accomplish the goal of mobilization. The primary reason for this is that this leadership style can unite individuals into teams that can get work done, and through exemplary partnerships, increase the level of well-being and encouragement of a group. There are some attributes or characteristics of a transformational leader. They are discussed next.
The Characteristics of a Transformational Leader
Without micromanaging, transformational leaders empower and encourage their employees, trusting skilled workers to take control over decisions in their specified duties. They can do this because they possess the following qualities or characteristics.
1. Self-Management and Internal-Motivation
Transformational leaders draw inspiration from within and utilize it to successfully manage organizational matters. The strongest natural source of motivation is to enjoy what you do and ensure that your beliefs match with the group or company you work with. Transformational leaders can do this successfully.
2. Controlled Ego
When you are in power, it is easy to let your ego take over. Transformational leaders, however, keep their ego in check and do not allow it to intervene with their group or the organization’s best interest.
3. Good Decision-Making Ability
All leaders—without exception—will need to make tough decisions at some point. This is where transformational leaders have the edge over others since they do not shy away from or put off hard calls. When decisions match with clearly defined visions, principles, priorities, and goals—which transformational leaders ensure—it becomes much easier to make the difficult decisions.
4. Ability to Take Calculated Risks
A key trait of a transformational leader is the ability to take calculated risks. Using the information gathered by their followers or subordinates, they trust their intuition and make educated decisions. The team of a transformative leader is right behind them and is always ready to do the work needed to properly assess the situation. The leader seeks the team’s feedback to make risky decisions that stimulate growth.
Transformational leaders can change and are always searching for new ways to address a constantly changing competitive environment. They know that the moment they still stand their rivals will overtake them; this means they are always willing to learn and open to improvement.
Transformational leaders not only can convey their vision effectively, but they can also get every employee to buy in and work towards the vision by engaging with enthusiasm and strongly emphasizing the organization’s vision.
Steve Jobs is one of the most well-known transformational leaders that the world is profoundly impressed by. The business was powered by his passion for excellence, ease, and elegance and he made sure this was ingrained in every person who worked at Apple. He continuously challenged his workers to think about what had already been accomplished and made them develop products that were not yet known to the world.
Pros and Cons of a Transformational Leader
While there are many advantages of being a transformational leader, adopting a transformative leadership style can sometimes lead to negative outcomes. The following are the pros and cons of being a transformational leader.
- For transformational leaders, fairness and integrity are essential values; they are ethically motivated with a strong emphasis on principles, sincerity, and accountability
- A Transformational leader can reduce turnover and related costs by engaging with employees and making them feel like an important part of the organization
- An organization must be able to adapt, strengthen and grow over time to evolve; embracing a transformational leadership style is perfect for doing this as it gets everyone on board for implementing a vision
- Transformational leaders empower their workers through good communication and teamwork, setting ambitious goals in place that encourage creativity and improve morale
- Transformational leaders often seem to ignore details, choosing to concentrate on the larger picture instead
- Transformational leaders can sometimes take “too many” risks which can be detrimental to their team or organization
- Transformation leaders can cause employee burnout by delegating more responsibilities to them than they can handle
If properly used, the transformational leadership style can be incredibly effective. However, it may not work in some groups or organizations because the circumstances do not favor it. Therefore, it is critical to assess your unique situation before deciding on adopting the transformational leadership style or not.
Founder and CEO of Best Practice Institute, partner to Newsweek on America’s Most Loved Workplaces, and the author of more than 10 books on best practices in leadership and management, including Change Champion’s Field Guide, In Great Company, and Best Practices in Talent Management. Thought leaders and executives voted him as one of Global Gurus Top 10 Organizational Culture thinkers worldwide, and his feedback and benchmarking software has won HR Tech’s top product of the year award. Louis has been featured in Forbes, Investors Business Daily, Newsweek, MSNBC, Fast Company, and interviewed widely. For more information on Carter’s story see, “Meet the Fixer” and GoSolo.