What is Transformational Leadership? The Guide to Being a Better Leader

Transformational leadership is about more than just leading people and organisations. It’s about making a positive difference in the world by creating an environment of service and self-actualisation that drives individual growth, organisational success, and social progress. We’ll explain why it is important and how to get started in this article.

A transformational leadership style is a type of leadership that emphasises the moral and emotional growth of followers. Bernard M. Bass created this leadership theory. It focuses on leaders empower, energise, and motivate their followers to achieve transformational results in a business.

These outcomes often involve seismic changes in culture and more value to the customer. Followers are an asset in these organisations and leaders bring the best out of them to achieve organisational goals as well.

What is the Meaning of Transformational Leadership?

In Transformational leadership, management takes the time to understand what motivates each individual and then align what the followers want with what the organisation needs from them.

This organisational need approach is what is subtly different to the nearest leadership style, which is servant leadership. This style is about the selflessness of a leader and the ability to serve their followers so they can excel.

Transformational leadership adopts the servant leadership approach, whilst adding another component to this, linking transformational change into the mix. This inspires people to go to new levels of working and challenges existing ideas and paradigms to be better than before.

The Transformational Leadership Model

The transformational leadership model consists of four key elements:

  • Idealised Influence;
  • Intellectual Stimulation;
  • Individualised Consideration;
  • Inspirational Motivation.

Idealised Influence

“Idealised influence” is built around leaders who are role models for their followers. They inspire them by leading by example. They show through their actions, how to react and behave correctly.

These leaders are looked up to, revered, and trusted by their teams. Transformational leaders put the needs of their followers first. They serve, so the team benefits as a whole.

Idealised influence consists of:

  • Charisma;
  • Being ethical and honest;
  • Communication of the organisation’s vision and goals.

In idealised influence, the leader leads with passion and morals, taking calculated risks to achieve the organisation’s goals and objectives. This allows them to think outside the box and be creative.

They expect their followers to do the same, and this influence actively rubs off onto the team, who aspire to be like them.

Through the very actions of the leader, the team follow suit and embody the same values and behaviours, working to this new ideal way of working.

Intellectual Stimulation

Another of the characteristics of transformational leadership is the ability to provide autonomy. We’ve written a guide on the importance of autonomy in engagement and motivation, but suffice to say, by providing more freedom to your employees, they’ll be more willing to get involved and inspired to do their bit towards achieving the goals and objectives of the team and the business.

One of the ways to provide autonomy is by supporting the team in decision-making. This means not to make the decisions for them, but to assist and help them identify solutions by offering your own opinions, ideas or knowledge.

When people feel like their ideas are being heard and they are contributing without ridicule and fear, they will begin viewing problems from new perspectives which leads to more creative solutions. They build the courage to take calculated risks. This characteristic is an important part of inspirational leadership.

This is the beauty of intellectual stimulation. The leader looks to inspire them to take action and ownership, facilitating problem-solving and challenging assumptions of situations, so they can improve processes, systems and overcome problems themselves.

Individualised Consideration of Group Members

It’s not enough to consistently think at the team level. There are several components to this. Adair highlighted it in his Action Centred Leadership Model.

He defined leadership as:

  • Achieving the task;
  • Managing the group;
  • Managing the individuals;.

Bass’s transformational leadership model highlights similar perspectives.

Transformational leadership means that you must be mindful of each follower and what they need, to be productive.

It’s not just about what the task is, but what it takes for each individual in your group to complete their tasks as well.

This means that the leader will think outside of themselves. They are always going back and considering what others want/need or how they can help them succeed in their roles.

They work with each individual to ensure they are motivated, energised and happy in their role.

Transformational leaders have an in-depth understanding of what motivates each individual, which is why they provide customised training sessions to help their followers find fulfilment and grow in their roles, improving their performance in the workplace.

The bottom line is, some employees are more motivated by money while others by change and excitement. Some may be motivated by the status quo, whereas others still, will be energised by the need for power and leadership.

The individualised consideration element of transformational leadership recognises this.

Leaders who can determine what motivates each employee, will be better equipped to provide customised training and coaching to help them develop skills for the future, as well as improve current performance.

Inspirational Motivation

Transformational leaders can articulate a clear vision that inspires followers with passion and motivation.

They become role models for their team members as they guide them through the process of achieving shared goals, making transformational leadership an essential ingredient in any successful organisation.

They make decisions that engage their team and inspire them to take action, following their lead.

Ever seen a group of people decide on something and then watch them get to work with energised enthusiasm? They are happy because they have high expectations for the future, communicated their beliefs openly with each other and gladly commit themselves in return.

Followers are more likely to be committed when their leaders communicate high expectations openly and honestly.

Once they share this vision, they work with each individual to help motivate and engage them to success.

The Concept of Transformational Leadership

The goal of transformational leadership is to create a seismic change in working practices, to produce profound results for the customer. A major part of this process is to engage, develop and motivate teams to be the best they can be.

This means that leaders that follow the transformational leadership model demonstrate clear characteristics.

Studies support this approach too. On this research paper in Kenya, they found that transformational leadership had a quantifiably positive influence on performance in staff.

In another study based in Sri Lanka, they found that transformational leadership had a significant impact on improving performance in a sales team.

And in yet another study on Government Hospitals in the United States, they found empirical correlation between transformational leadership styles of management and improved work engagement levels of followers.

What are the Characteristics of a Transformational Leader?

Transformational leaders pose certain qualities. Here are 10 leadership characteristics that are evident in transformational leaders:

They Serve First and Put Their Egos Last

Transformational leadership starts with the ability for a leader to be a servant to their team. Egos and personal needs are always put to one side, for the benefit of their followers.

They Manage Themselves and Need Little Direction

They are self-starters and know what they want and how to get there. For this reason, they don’t need much if any motivation from their managers. They are positive and driven to achieve their objectives.

Make Tough Decisions

It’s often hard to make decisions, especially when there are so many to be made. A transformational leader is always prepared to step up and make tough decisions. They know that these things must be done when they are in sync with goals and values.

Inspire Others

Effective leadership creates inspirational motivation. In others words, a great leader is a role model to others. They inspire teams to try new ideas; challenge current limited thinking; and become leaders in their own right, to overcome problems and innovate new methods.

A Knack to Take the Right Risks

Transformational leaders trust their instincts and use the data gathered by their team members to make informed decisions. The team work together, under the leader’s guidance, conducting whatever research is necessary to evaluate a situation. With this teamwork, the leader makes decisions that are often the right ones.


Empathy is a critical requirement for leaders. Transformational leaders show this in abundance. Being empathic means understanding the feelings of another person. It also means to be compassionate and kind, have a deep understanding of what others are going through in life.

Empathy is an important leadership skill because it helps transformational leaders connect with people around them on a personal level – and that’s how they move beyond being simply good managers or administrators, to becoming great leaders.

Open to New Ideas

A closed-off leader is nothing more than a manager that clings to the status quo. A transformational leader on the other hand is open to new ideas and angles, even if they are a huge step-change to the current way things are done.

Their mantra is that nothing is a bad idea and no one should ever be criticised for their input and ideas.

Ideas are opportunities to improve and be better at what we do in the workplace and should be celebrated.


Much like the above, a transformational leader is always willing to work outside of their comfort zone to get the best out of their people.

Being adaptable also means that they’re not fixed on one way of working, but rather they take into account what is best for their people and the changing situation. They think on their feet and adjust to suit changing markets, competition and demands.


Transformational leaders create a vision for their organisation and they make it clear to every single employee. They communicate this with confidence and inspire others to help achieve this new future goal, giving them the tools to work out how they fit in this new way of working.


They think ahead and work on building the future by planning in time for strategy and growth. Being proactive means that they spend less time reacting to the external situation around them, which is what most non-effective managers do. Here’s a guide on the concept of being proactive, from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Examples of Transformational Leaders

We know that transformational leadership is all about striking a balance between short-term vision and long-term goals.

By fostering communication, integrity, emotional intelligence, and collaboration, you can make an impact on the future of your company which will be just as powerful today as it will be tomorrow.

Many famous leaders embody a transformational management style. These people have shaped our lives through the innovative products, ideas and services they’ve delivered.

Here are a few:

Billy Jean

He inspired the film Money Ball and his vision for innovating a new process and system to support data-driven decisions in baseball was revolutionary.

In an industry that was traditionally relying on gut feeling and experience to make in-game decisions and transfer policy, Billy Jean’s innovative approach changed the game for good.

“We will use data instead of hunches,” he once said.

As Oakland General Manager, he led his organisation to new thinking and vision, overcoming staunch resistance.

Although he didn’t manage to win the World Series, he took Oakland to the Final on around 10% of the budget of the large teams. His practices became so revolutionary, that the other teams now adopt this approach in their recruitment policies.

Reed Hastings

Reed founded Netflix in 1997. At the time, the market was fixed on providing DVD rentals. Having come from a software business, he sought a new vision that would revolutionise the market.

He got to work communicating, inspiring and energising his teams to fulfil this vision of providing online streaming of films, TV shows and documentaries.

Today, Netflix has around 190 million subscribers and the online film rental business is now seen as the standard model.

Jeff Bezos

A small-time bookselling business back in 1994, Bezos had the vision to sell his books online and grow his business. He set about creating the Amazon we know today and by doing so, transformed the online market place.

It’s now estimated that Amazon takes a third of all online purchases, thanks to his vision and energy to make it happen.

Satya Nadella

For reference, we’ve written an article on the achievements of Satya and other forward thinking leaders. To summarise, though, Satya took Microsoft over in 2014 and oversaw some of the biggest transformational initiatives in that business.

He challenged the current thinking of software solutions and moved towards cloud services and by doing so, changed the market’s perception of Microsoft from being a stagnant company to one of enterprise and innovation.

He grew Microsoft’s shares from $38 in 2014, to a transformational $214 by 2020.

How Can You Be a Transformational Leader? Tips To Get Started Today

Transformational leadership is about setting a clear and inspiring future, which is often related to growth and new ideas.

Once the direction is set, other components of transformational leadership consist of:

  • Setting up clear communication between teams and across the business. Ensure people can be heard, share their frustrations and have a platform to raise and develop ideas;
  • Focus on leading your teams, not being the saviour. Transformational leadership is about empowering others to think on their feet; to work within the company’s culture, and to improve themselves, not having things done for them!

Transformational leaders oversee the development of their teams.

Step back and ensure you:

  • Coach and mentor your team to provide growth and a safe way to learn;
  • Allow them to make mistakes as they learn, reflecting with them, so learning is embedded;
  • Reward them when they demonstrate the right values and behaviours. Use a simple framework like the One Minute Manager to help;
  • Track performance daily and weekly. Ensure your team know how they are performing, using visual management to make performance is to see;
  • Find out what motivates each follower and then help shape their roles around these strengths;
  • Promote continuous improvementEncourage change and daily improvement as the norm amongst your employees;
  • Use active listening. This helps transform your leadership style and how people see you as being genuine and caring. Active listening allows you to truly listen to what others say. It’s a very underrated skill, but essential for transformational leadership to work.

Related Questions

What is the Difference Between Transactional and Transformational Leadership?

Transformational leadership strives for transformational change in a company’s culture. It also focuses on the importance of setting a clear vision and providing emotional engagement throughout the process. This allows followers to grow and develop in their roles, whilst actively achieving their goals.

Transactional leaders often work within an organisation’s existing status quo to avoid creating any waves that might disrupt their team. They do this by focusing on control, often around processes and systems, ensuring people are working to the required standards and within a strict management structure.

Whilst this approach helps maintain stability, it doesn’t lend itself to transforming new ways of working and ideals.

What’s the Difference Between Transformational Leadership and Servant Based Leadership?

The two are very similar styles in that they focus on empowering and developing teams and individuals. Both require the leader to put down their agenda and ego and serve their team so they can thrive and be the best they can be.

The concept of transformational leadership takes this a step further and encourages teams to make big transformational changes, to support organisational goals and ideals.