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Transformational Leadership Theory

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Transformational Leadership Theory

Kevin D. Johnson

William Penn University

LDRS 3901

10 November 2011


Leadership is an important part of an organizations ability to operate in an effective and efficient manner. The days of strictly autocratic or laissez-faire styles of leadership are a thing of the past. One dimensional leaders do not fare well in a world where technology is in constant volatility and dictates how a company needs to be structured to gain the revenue required to remain strong and competitive. This paper focuses on transformational leadership theory from the aspect of understanding how it's defined, where it came from and how it is characterized. Moreover, it informs us about how important it is to be active in the role of growing future leaders. This paper only focuses on the pros of this theory.

Transformational Leadership Theory

John C. Maxwell summarizes leadership with this definition in his book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: "Leadership is influence - nothing more, nothing less." (Maxwell, 2007) Warren Bennis on the other hand focuses his explanation of leadership through the function of leadership. He says, "Leadership is a function of knowing yourself, having a vision that is well communicated, building trust among colleagues, and taking effective action to realize your own leadership potential." (The Teal Trust) The most simplistic way to understand what leadership is is to realize it is influence. But in order to develop influence, a personal inventory of self-awareness, vision, trusting relationships and responsiveness must be realized. So what is a useful example of what this looks like? A suitable model is a leadership theory known as transformational leadership.

Transformational leadership can be defined this way, "A style of leadership in which the leader identifies the needed change, creates a vision to guide the change through inspiration, and executes the change with the commitment of the members of the group." (Business Dictionary) There are various definition available to characterize this leadership theory, but one word was thematic in all of the definitions researched, "change". The word change was either in the definition or a word synonymous with change was imbedded in the characterization. As we study this definition, we can see a progression or transformation. There is a recognized need, a revelation of how to meet the need and a commitment to act on the findings. In essence, the leader has to inspire the follower to feel strongly enough about the vision or goal to carry it out with enthusiasm while incorporating a sense of ownership.

Total buy in from leaders and followers alike is infectious to the well-being of the employees and the organization as a whole. Unlike the transactional leadership theory, where it's more about give and take, transformational leadership motivates followers to develop pride in who they are and in the growth of the organization. This theory is foundational in mentorship to prepare tomorrow's leaders. This style of leadership is always asking questions, how can it be better, is there another way to do it, have we done our best, is this good good enough and what can I do? Individuals are willing to stretch themselves and reach higher than the status quo. So where did this theory come from?


The concept of transformational leadership was first introduced by James MacGregor Burns in 1978. Burns is quoted by Dr. Karminder Ghuman in his book, Management: Concepts, Practice & Cases, saying, "leaders and followers help each other to advance to a higher level of morale and motivation" (Ghuman, 2010). Burns interconnected the differentiation between management and leadership and asserted that the differences are in characteristics and behaviors. So, two concepts were derived from these differences: transforming leadership and transactional leadership. The transforming approach establishes significant change in the life of people and organizations. It redesigns perceptions and values, and changes expectations and aspirations of employees.

Unlike in the transactional approach, it is not based on a "give and take" relationship, but on the leader's personality, traits and ability to make a change through example, articulation of an energizing vision and challenging goals. Transforming leaders are idealized in the sense that they are a moral exemplar of working towards the benefit of the team, organization and/or community. Burns theorized that transforming and transactional leadership were mutually exclusive styles. Transactional leaders usually do not strive for cultural change in the organization but they work in the existing culture while transformational leaders can try to change organizational culture.

Full Range of Leadership Model

The full range leadership model associated with this leadership theory is tied to both transactional and transitional leadership as shown in Table 1. The model is made up of four quadrants. The top left quadrant is the passive-effective area where very little is gained. The top right quadrant is the area of active-effective. Here is where all transformational leadership takes place such as idealized influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation and individualized



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