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Transformational Theory Defined:

" Transformational leadership is defined on the basis of its effects, on transforming the values and priorities of followers and motivating them to perform beyond their expectations . T ransformational leadership differentially relates to followers’ dependence and empowerment." (Kark, 2003).

Transformational leadership effects all levels of an organization: teams, departments, divisions, and organization as a whole.  Leaders are inspirational visionaries , risk-takers, and thoughtful thinkers. Leaders have a charismatic appeal and style that enhances positive change and values, achieving a higher purpose (Burns, 1978).

Components of Transformational Leadership

Charisma alone however is insufficient for changing the way an organization operates. In order to accomplish major changes, Bass (1985) indicated that transformational leaders must exhibit the following four factors:  

  • Inspirational Motivation:  Leaders communicate high expectations to followers to motivate them to become committed to a shared vision of an organization (Northouse, 2016)
  •   Intellectual Stimulation: Leaders stimulate followers to be creative and innovative to challenge beliefs ( Northouse, 2016 )
  • Idealized Influence:  Emotional component of leadership, where leaders act as role models for followers. Leaders have very strong moral and ethical conduct (Antonakis, 2013)
  • Individualized Consideration: Leaders prov ide supportive climate and act as coaches and advisers so followers can become fully actualized
    (PSU, 2015)

  Transactional LeadershipF ocuses on the interplay between leaders and followers at many levels of an organization to get needs met. This type of leadership does not result in organizational change. An example would be when a teacher gives a grade for student's work. Transactional leadership exhibits the  following two characteristics

  • Contingency rewards: An exchange between leaders and followers  in which the effort of the follower is exchanged for a valuable reward (Kuh nert, 1994)
  • Management by exception: Two forms negative and passive. Negative form leaders monitor followers and take corrective action before major problems arise. Passive form leaders intervene after problems arise
    (Northouse, 2016)

Laissez-Faire: Outside the transactional-transformational continuum. It is the absence of leadership resulting in no exchange between leaders and follower (Northouse, 2016)

How does transformational leadership Work

A transformational leader decides to empower followers to affect a change by creating a culture in which followers can discuss and try creative new solutions Using their confidence, competence, and moral values they can articulate their ideas. They encourage the exchange of ideas. Followers feel they can trust the transformational leader. Transformational leaders develop a road map towards a vision they create, Followers develop an identity and self efficacy related to the vision, Transformational leaders define roles for followers so they understand how they contribute to a shared vision. By instilling trust and fostering collaboration transformational leaders celebrate followers accomplishments and their contribution to a "greater good". (Northouse, 2016)



Employees are the face of the business and sources of innovation and organizational knowledge. They interact at every touch point and create lasting brand impressions, personify the company’s service philosophy and are expected to live by its culture and values. Competing through service is only possible when the organization treats its employees as a valuable resource (MIT, 2015).

Charismatic Leadership: Strong role models for their beliefs, competent, communicate high expectations, inspire trust in their ideology and stress the similarity between follower's beliefs and their own.Leadership works as it links the follower and their self concept to an organization's or leader's identity (Shamir, House & Arthur, 1993). Influence of followers is based upon the motivational theory of charismatic leadership, suggesting that charismatic and transformational leaders are successful in connecting followers’ self-concept to the mission and to the group, such that followers’ behavior for the sake of the group becoming self-expressive (Kark, 2003).

Pseudo transformational Leadership: Personalized leadership that focuses on leader's own interest rather than the interests of others, Leaders are consumed with self, exploitative and power hungry with distorted moral values (Bass & Riggio, 2006).  Bass (1998) coined the subset of pseudo transformational Leadership.  When negative figures with twisted moralities cultivated transformational leadership for personal gains, it required this identifying term.  To be put simply, it is the power of transformational leadership in the wrong hands. Powerful, but poisonous leaders such as Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein are examples.  Social or collective well being is swapped for motivation by selfish, exploitative motivations (Northouse, 2016).


James MacGregor Burns (1918-2014)–James McGregor Burns first introduced the concept of transforming leadership in his 1970 descriptive study on Franklin D. Roosevelt, which consequently won him the Pulitzer Prize (Kendrick, 2011).  Burns continued to elaborate on the leadership approach in his classic work titled Leadership (1978) (Northouse, 2016).  Burns established two concepts: "transforming leadership" and "transactional leadership."  Burns stressed the distinct difference between these two types of leadership.  He felt that the transforming approach creates significant change in the life of people and organizations through redesigning perceptions and values (Kendrick, 2011).  However, the transactional approach is based on a "give and take" relationship.  The transactional approach does not strive for organizational change.  Burns theorized that transforming and transactional leadership is mutually exclusive styles.     

Bernard Bass (1925-2007)–Bernard Bass (1985) is credited with providing a more expanded and refined version of transformational leadership that was based on the work of Burns (1978) (Northouse, 2016).  These additions explained how transformational leadership could be measured, as well as how it impacts follower motivation and performance.  Bass (1985) argues that leaders motivate followers to do more than expected through the following: a) raising followers' levels of awareness about the importance of goals; b) getting followers to transcend their own self-interest for the sake of the team; and, c) moving followers to address high-level needs (Northouse, 2016).  In other words, the leader transforms and motivates followers through charisma or influence, intellectual stimulation, and individual stimulation.  




Components of Transformational Leadership


                                                                                                   Transactional VS Transformational


Leadership is on a continuum from Transformational to

Laissez-Faire Leadership


There is a bar with a gradient changing from green (transformational leadership) to yellow (transactional leadership) to red (laissez-faire leadership).

Strengths of Transformational Leadership:

  • Research indicates it is effecti ve in a variety of setting
  • Intuitively it makes sense to followers
  • Followers have an important role in the exchange between leaders and followers
  • Includes not only how leaders give rewards for achieving goals (transactional) but the leaders responsibility to attend to followers growth and needs
  • Has a moral component in which leaders move followers to higher moral standards for the good of the team
    (Lindsay, 2015, Northouse, 2016)

Weaknesses of Transformational leadership :  

  • Concepts and parameters are difficult to define
  • Tools to measure transformational leadership effectiveness may lack validity
  • Treats leadership as a personality trait rather than a behavior
  • Transformational leadership results in positive outcomes but here is no casual link between transformational leaders and changes in followers
  • Disregards that followers can and should influence the leader
  • Potential to abuse as who determines if the new vision is better than the old vision  (Lindsay, 2015, Northouse, 2015)

Transformational Leader Characteristics

  • Vision: Future-oriented leadership, offering a vision to followers to overcome their problems.
  • Rhetorical skills: Share their vision and heighten emotions so followers embrace their vision
  • Image and trust-building: Through their image of self-confidence, moral conviction, modeling and sacrifice they build trust in their followers.
  • Personalized leadership: Recognize social clues and the emotional states of followers to create personal bonds with followers (Lindsay, 2015).

Follower Characteristics

  • Identification with leader and vision: Followers bond with the leader because they see the implementation of the vision as a solution to all of their problems. Followers’ self-concepts also become defined in terms of the leader.
  • Heightened emotional levels: Transformational leaders stir followers’ feelings, and this heightened emotional level results in increased effort and performance.
  • Willing subordination to the leader: Followers defer to the authority of transformational leaders. Followers suspend their own thinking skills and follow the leader.
  • Feelings of empowerment: Followers of transformational leaders expect more of themselves and work harder to achieve these higher goals (Lindsay, 2015).

Transformational Leadership, "The Missing Link"


Antonaskis, J. (2012). Transformational and charismatic leadership. In D.V. Day & J. Antonakis (Eds.).

       The nature of leadership. (2nd ed. p.p. 256-288). Thousand Oaks, CA:SAGE

Bass, B. M. (1998). The ethics of transformational leadership. In J. Ciulla (ed.),

        Ethics: The heart of leadership (pp.169-192). Westport, CT: Praeger.

Bass, B.M .& Riggio, R.E. (2006) Transformational Leadership (2nd ed.). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence


Burns, J.M. (1978). Leadership. New York: Harper & Row.

Lindsay, Doug. (2015). Team Leadership. .

Kark, R., Shamir, B., & Chen, G. (2003). The two faces of transformational leadership:

      Empowerment and dependency.Journal of Applied Psychology,

     88(2), 246-255. Retrieved from

Kendrick, J.S. (2011). Transformational Leadership. Professional Safety, Retrieved from 


Kuhnert, K.W.(1994). Transforming Leadership; Developing people through delegation.

           In B.M.Bass &B.J.Avolio (Eds.),

          Improving organizational effectiveness through transformational leadership (pp.10-25).

           Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE

  MIT. (2015). Sloan School of Management. Measuring the Benefits of Employee Engagement.

      Retrieved from

Northouse, P.G. (2016). Leadership: Theory and Practice (7th ed.). Los Angeles CA: Sage.

Pennsylvania State University. (2015). Relationship-Based Theories of Leadership.

       [online lecture].Retrieved from \

Pennsylvania State University. (2015). Transformational Leadership. [online lecture].

       Retrieved from

 Shamir, B., House, R.J., & Arthuf, M.B. (1993). The motivational effects of charismatic leadership:

        A   self-concept theory. Organizational Science , 4(4), 557-594

  Media Credits

CBS News. (2012, Aug 18 ). Can you learn how to be charismatic? [Video file]. Retrieved from

Colgate University. (2009, Apr 14 ). Collin Powell Speaks About Leadership at Colgate University.

      [Video file]. Retrieved from

PSU(2015). Transformational Theory. [Lecture 10]. Retrieved from

Transformational Leadership: Retrieved from search/images;

      ytl=AOLEVy7ZvatV.n0AlttXNyoA; ylu=X3oDM



Unknown Photographer. (2015, July 14). Bernard Bass Digital Image. Retrieved from   


Unknown Photographer. (2015, July 14). James MacGregor Burns Digital Image. Retrieved from gregory macgregor





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