Complete Guide to Transformational Leadership

Transformational leadership is one of the most academically explored styles leadership that we have ever known. It also greatly influences many of the modern leadership styles we see today although most of these leaders aren’t even aware it exists.

Transformational leadership is a management style that’s designed to give employees more room for innovation, creativity and personal initiative. Transformational leaders are able to inspire and motivate their employees without resorting to micromanaging – they believe in the skills and training their employees have and make sure to give them more room to make more decisions in the duties assigned to them.

Transformational leaders have a keen interest in the growth and development of both the individual and the team. They aim to empower their subordinates such that they achieve their full potential, improve their skills, talents and abilities, and grow more confident in themselves and their personal values.

They take the time and effort to learn their subordinate’s skills, talents and abilities as well as needs, and then provide coaching and mentoring to help them improve. When it comes to teams, transformational leaders help  people find common values and identify shared goals, and then push the team to achieve them.

As far its origin story goes, the term “transformational leadership” was first coined by the historian and political scientist, James MacGregor Burns back in in the late 1970s, and was used to distinguish the inspirational leadership style from the more conventional transactional leadership.

Transactional vs. transformational leadership

Transactional leadership is the exact opposite of transformational leadership because it depends on the carrot and the stick method (reward and punishment) to motivate employees. This means they have to be constantly supervised, overseen, and their performance monitored and measured. This leadership model doesn’t bother with innovation as there is no room for experimenting. Instead, it focuses on maintaining consistency and predictability.

Transformational leadership, on the other hand, champions flexibility and provides plenty of room for innovation so even as the company focuses on maintaining a current product standard it also actively looks for opportunities to update and improve it in the future, or even create a whole new product.

Basic elements of transformational leadership

Bernard M. Bass is another scholar who famously studied and researched the transformational style of leadership in the 1980s.

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Bass identified four components to transformational leadership and figured out a way that all four can start with the letter “I” so that it might be called the 4I Model. Here is a breakdown of the 4I Model’s description of the key elements of transformational leadership.

Idealised Influence

This component states that transformational leaders act as examples and that subordinates will look to shape their own behaviour based on that of their leaders.

The other three components of idealised influence are an appetite for risk taking, reliable (as compared to random) behaviour and an upright, honorable character.

Inspirational Motivation

This component states that transformational leaders use their own behaviour to motivate their subordinates  and infuse a sense of deep meaning and accomplishment in their work.

Transformational leaders do this by involving subordinates in the process of identifying goals and objectives, having well-defined expectations of everyone and communicating them clearly, and by showing an undeniable personal dedication to the shared goals and objectives.

Intellectual Stimulation

This component states that transformational leaders involve their subordinates in tackling the challenges facing the organisation and inspire them to be as creative and innovative as possible in finding solutions.

Transformational leaders do this by encouraging their subordinates to challenge assumptions and tackle existing problems from new angles. This calls for an environment in which every idea is genuinely welcome and given ample consideration no matter how far out of the box it is.

Individualised Consideration

This component states that transformational leaders give personalised attention to each of their subordinates’ professional development by playing the role of a coach or mentor to them.

Transformational leaders achieve this by designing professional development opportunities for each subordinate based on their individual needs and desires – these are usually learn-on-the-job tasks that the leader delegates and directly monitors.

transformational leadership

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The qualities of transformational leadership

Below are five qualities you must possess to be a transformational leader:

Clear vision

Transformational leaders have a clear vision of exactly what they want to accomplish and know how to refine and unambiguously share this vision with their subordinates.

This leads to every member of the organisation from the top to the bottom understanding exactly what they are expected to deliver both on an individual and a team level.


Transformational leaders need to have a lot of courage; a readiness to face new challenges, take bold but calculated risks, make hard choices, and put everything on the line for something they believe in.


Transformation leaders need to keep their passion hot and alive from within by finding a purpose or mission that can motivate them to keep going through everything.

They can’t depend on anyone else to give them the drive they need and yet must have enough to inspire those around them to have enough drive to achieve the vision.


With their deep, self-fueling personal passion, transformational leaders are able to inspire others around them, motivating them to buy into their vision and work towards achieving it like it was their own.

Personal connection

Personal interaction is very important when it comes to transformational leadership. A simple “hi” accompanied with a smile while walking past someone or even stopping for a quick chat in the hallway goes a long way.

It is acts like this that make people feel visible within the impersonal structure of the organisation and important to the leader, making them want to be a bigger part of their vision.

In Summary

Transformational leadership is a leadership style in which leaders encourage, inspire and motivate their subordinates to consistently think outside the box as a way of growing and improving the organisation.

This requires transformational leaders to lead by example in innovation, infuse a strong company culture in the organisation and deliberately foster more creative room for employees in their day-to-day tasks at work.

Gerald Ainomugisha

Gerald Ainomugisha

Gerald is a freelance writer with a pen that is keen for entrepreneurship, business and technology. When he isn't writing insightful articles on employee engagement and corporate culture, Gerald can be found writing for a number of media outlets.