The Power of Transformational Leadership

The Power of Transformational Leadership

By Amber Hanna, August 2010

Have you ever been in a group situation where someone has taken control of the group by describing their clear vision for the group’s goals, a real passion for the work to be done and an ability to make the rest of the group feel energized? This style of leadership is known as ‘Transformational Leadership’ a relatively rare but highly sought after leadership style.

Research has shown leaders to be the most prominent aspect of a workplace environment that can shape team members’ perceptions of workplace information. Leaders can use this extraordinary impact to improve team members’ work related attitudes and feelings.

In large companies in particular, a leader’s influence on workflow and task assignment can be rather limited, never the less, leaders in such companies can engage in ‘management of meaning’ or organisational sense making to provide team members with a deeper understanding of how important and meaningful their tasks are. This in turn contributes to greater organisational commitment. A second useful approach can be to give lower and middle hierarchy leaders, in particular, greater autonomy and degrees of freedom. These enriched leadership positions should enable leaders to show many behaviours of the transformational leadership pattern.

Leaders in any organisation or hierarchy should facilitate a positive organisational climate by providing opportunities for contact, support and other social activities, on and off the job. The role of individual team members in promoting consensus and positive organisational climate should also be emphasized by their own fair and respectful behavior towards their co workers they can promote consensus and a positive climate.

The concept of transformational leadership was initially introduced by leadership expert and presidential biographer James MacGregor Burns. According to Burns, transformational leadership can be seen when “leaders and followers make each other advance to a higher level of moral and motivation.” Through the strength of their vision and personality, transformational leaders are able to inspire followers to change expectations, perceptions and motivations to work towards common goals. Bass (1985, 1999) later expanded this theory into the model of transformational leadership we use today. This research outlined how a transformational leader achieves results by seeking to move his/her team beyond immediate self interest through four main processes. These are the processes of idealized influence (or charisma), inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation and individualized consideration.

Research indicates that all four components of transformational leadership are positively related to leadership effectiveness, and have positive associations with team member motivations and self rated performance.

Factor 1- Idealized Influence/ Charisma (II)

This factor of transformational leadership describes leaders who act as strong role models for their team members; by seeing their leader as a role model team members begin to identify with the leader and wish to emulate them. This aspect of transformational leadership is enacted when leaders envision a desirable future, articulate how this can be reached and set an example to be followed. The transformational leader uses idealized influence to provide team members with a vision and sense of mission.

Factor 2- Inspirational Motivation (IM)

This factor describes leaders who communicate high expectations to team members, inspiring them through motivation to become committed to and part of a shared vision in the organisation. By helping their team to experience the same passion they feel the transformational leader motivates the team to fulfill their group’s goals. In practice this involves leaders using symbols and emotional appeals to focus the group members’ efforts to achieve more than they would in their own self-interest. This enhances team spirit.

Factor 3- Intellectual stimulation (IS)

This factor refers to leadership that stimulates team members to be creative and innovative and challenge their own beliefs and values as well as those of the organisation or leader.

This factor of transformational leadership supports team members as they engage in new approaches and develop innovative ways of dealing with organisational demands or problems. This factor is thought to encourage team members to think on their own and engage in careful problem solving methods by themselves. Typically transformational leaders enact intellectual stimulation by challenging the status quo, encouraging creativity among their team and always seeking out new ways of doing things and new learning opportunities.

Factor 4- Individualized Consideration (IC)

This factor refers to the transformational leader who provides a supportive climate in which they listen to the individual needs of each team member. By acting as coaches and trusted advisers transformational leaders try to assist their team members to fully realize their own potential as a valuable and contributive team member.

Another important behaviour indicating a transformational style is how the leader uses delegation to assist team members through personal challenges. This part of individualized consideration also highlights the importance of allowing team members the space to develop their own problem solving skills but also providing a directive approach for those who may need it. In order to fully enact this aspect of transformational leadership it is essential the leader keep all lines of communication open. This fosters a culture of everyone in the team contributing ideas and enables the leader to give direct recognition to each team members’ contribution.

It is important to distinguish that directive and supportive leadership behaviours are both needed. Research has distinguished supportive leadership as including behaviours relating to emotional support such as provision of sympathy, evidence of liking, caring and listening. Developmental leadership on the other hand is seen here as being more transformative as it includes behaviours such as career counseling, observation of staff, recording progress and encouraging technical development of skills. Developmental leadership has been found to have a stronger relationship with the outcome variables of job satisfaction; role based self efficacy, career certainty and affective commitment to the organisation.

If you want to gauge your own approach in relation to transformational leadership take a look at the statements below. These statements are taken from a recent measure of transformational leadership devised by Ronald Riggio.

1. I would never require a follower to do something that I wouldn’t do myself. (II)

2. My followers would say that they know what I stand for. (II)

3. Inspiring others has always come easy to me. (IM)

4. My followers have told me that my enthusiasm and positive energy are infectious. (IM)

5. My followers would say that I am very attentive to their needs and concerns. (IC)

6. Even though I could easily do a task myself, I delegate it to expand my followers’ skills. (IC)

7. Team reativity and innovation are the keys to success. (IS)

8. I encourage my followers to question their most basic way of thinking. (IS)


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Amber Hanna is a Trainee Work and Organisational Psychologist at DavittCorporatePartners – Corporate Psychologists