Skip to end of metadata
Go to start of metadata

GROUP 1 - William Bissonette, Kristy Bunce, Daniel Canaley

 What is Transformational Leadership?

Transformational leadership is a leadership theory which was first introduced by Dowton in 1973 (Northouse, 2016). According to Northouse (2016), transformational leadership "is the process whereby a person engages with others and creates a connection that raises the level of motivation and morality in both the leader and the follower" (p. 162). Expanding upon Dowton’s theory, James Burns added to the transformational leadership theory by proposing that leaders are successful because they are good at recruiting good employees and recognizing skills and talents in each employee and using that to help the organization reach its goals (Northouse, 2016). Burns argued that transformational leaders are attentive to their teams’ needs and their motivations and that helping employees reach their full potential is beneficial to not only the employee and the leader, but the organization (Northouse, 2016).

While the theory was revised by Burns, it was refined further by Bass who coined the phrase "pseudotransformational" to deal with the apparent conflict of applying the theory to leaders who were transformational in definition, in the sense that they raised others’ motivation level, without necessarily raising their own or followers' level of morality (1998). By applying the revised definition to the theory, it eliminated identifying narcissistic leaders like Hitler, who raised follower motivation without raising their morality. 


Figure 1: Burns quote

It’s important for a leader to recognize that each employee is different and that they bring a different skill set. When leaders recognize that they can transform their team using emotions, ethics, goals, and values, they can, in fact, begin to create a strong team (Denhardt, Denhardt & Aristigueta, 2016). The transformational leadership theory focuses on treating employees as human beings rather than just numbers. The theory requires that the leader be charismatic and able to see success in the future and how to obtain it.

According to Burns, to be a transformational leader, the individual must be charismatic (Northouse, 2016). Here, trait theory and transformational leadership theory intersect. Charismatic leaders exhibit many of the traits that are positively related to leadership which are mentioned in the trait theory. Weber (1947) defines charisma as, “…a special personality characteristic that gives a person superhuman or exceptional powers and is reserved for a few, is of divine origin and results in the person being treated as a leader,” (Northouse, 2016, p. 164). Weber argued that being charismatic as a leader is just as important as being validated as charismatic by employees.

According to House, charismatic leaders behave in unique ways and exhibit unique characteristics, which in turn engender specific charismatic effects on leaders (1976). As the table from Northouse (2016) below shows, charismatic leadership – in House's model – can be identified by these behaviors and effects (p. 165):

Personality CharacteristicsBehaviorsEffects on Followers
DominantSets strong role modelTrust in leader's ideology
Desire to influenceShows competenceBelief similarity between leader and follower
Self-confidentArticulates goalsUnquestioning acceptance
Strong moral valuesCommunicates high expectationsAffection toward leader
 Expresses confidenceObedience
 Arouses motivesIdentification with leader
  Emotional involvement
  Heightened goals
  Increased confidence

Figure 2: Personality characteristics, behaviors, and effects on followers of charismatic leadership


While charisma plays an important role in the transformational leadership theory, so too does behavior. According to Bass (1999), transformational leaders appear competent to their followers, they are role models for values and morals, they ensure that goals are clear, they set high expectations, and they motivate their followers (Northouse, 2016). According to the Transformational Leadership Theory, this is called idealized influence in which a leader is seen as role model and followers want to imitate that behavior (Northouse, 2016). According to Northouse (2016), transformational leaders have the respect of their followers and their followers place a high degree of trust in the leader.



Figure 3: Charismatic leaders help those around them

Northouse (2016) describes four factors of transformational leadership. The first is idealized influence, which was just discussed. The second is inspirational motivation, in which leaders set and communicate high expectations for their followers. This leader inspires his/her followers using motivation to get them on board with the organization’s mission and vision. The third is called intellectual stimulation, which describes a leader who encourages followers to seek out creativity and innovation. Finally, the last factor is called individualized consideration, which refers to leaders who take the time to talk to and listen to each of their followers and treats them with respect and dignity (Northouse, 2016).


Figure 4: Transformational Factors

Bernard Bass stated, “Transformational leadership refers to the leader moving the follower beyond the immediate self-interest through idealized influence (charisma), inspiration, intellectual stimulation, or individualized consideration. It elevates the follower’s level of maturity and ideals as well as concern for achievement, self-actualization, and the well-being of other, the organization, and society,” (Bass, 1999, p. 11). One can see that transformational leaders are influential, charismatic, confident, intelligent, driven and insightful.

Figure 5: Leadership continuum

Current leadership theory describes three style of leadership; transformational, transactional, and laissez-faire. The differences between each leadership style falls along a continuum according to Bass (as cited by Northouse, 2016) with transformational leaders at one end of the continuum and laissez-faire (non leadership) at the other (p. 166). While transactional leadership appears in the middle of the continuum as a legitimate leadership style, it focuses on an exchange between leader and follower while transformational leadership does not. A comparison between the primary elements associated with both styles is listed in the table below.

Figure 6: Transactional vs transformational.


How does transformational leadership work?

 Applying a theory is not as simple as reading about it and then executing the characteristics. Transformational leadership requires vision, values, initiative and a drive to instill that vision and those values into an organization’s culture. In short, transformational leadership is a composite of many leadership elements which require action from the leader (Northouse, 2016); it is not simply a specific set of behaviors or a linear path from X to Y. The leader’s success applying this theory occurs when he/she assesses the employee’s needs, what motivates them and what satisfies them as an employee (Northouse, 2016).

  • Identify the needed change (vision)

Transformational leadership begins with a vision and a willingness to empower followers and provide the moral and material support needed to ensure that followers are able to execute tasks to bring about that vision. Such leadership nurtures a group identity that subordinates individual self-interest to the greater whole. It builds trust, creates a model for others to emulate, vigorously pursues the development of an organization’s human capital and instills a value system. Leaders that believe in and stand behind their moral values tend to influence others. By creating this vision, shaping a common identity, instilling a culture and a value system and responding to the needs of the workforce, a transformational leader can thus generate dramatic change and accomplish goals in which the organization was previously incapable of doing.

  •  Guides the change through inspiration

Transformational leadership plays a significant role in creating a climate where employees want to learn and want to help the organization achieve its mission (Sayyadi, n.d.). A transformational leader empowers employees and inspires them to achieve higher levels of performance by encouraging change through goal setting, enthusiasm, optimism and a clear vision. These behaviors tend to multiply and spread, leading to significant change (Northouse, 2016).

  • Executes the change with follower commitment

Transformational leadership, as Northouse (2016) states, treats leadership as a process between leaders and followers.  As such, the needs of followers are as important as the needs of the leader; in fact, a transformational leader places the needs of other at the center of his or her mission. Followers thus assume a primary role in the leadership process and contribute significantly to mission attainment. As followers share in the organization’s vision, they take upon themselves a shared commitment to success, which can provide the drive to execute change.


One example of transformational leadership is Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group. Branson stated that “Nobody is successful alone – and you cannot be a great leader without great people to lead. The trick is in striking the right balance between empowering your staff and being an example to follow,” (Pirouz, 2017).

Figure 7: Train people well enough so they can leave.


Strengths and Weaknesses

As with all leadership theories, transformational leadership has both strengths and weaknesses. According to Northouse (2016) transformational leadership has several strengths including: it has been widely researched; it has intuitive appeal; it treats leadership as a process; provides a broader view of leadership; places a strong emphasis on follower' needs, values, and morals; substantial evidence that it is an effective from of leadership (p. 177). Northouse (2016) describes transformational leadership as "morally uplifting," (p. 177). Since there has been so much research done on transformational research, there is substantial evidence that it is truly an effective form of leadership (Northouse, 2016). Employees with transformational leaders tend to have higher job satisfaction, are more motivated and perform higher than employees without transformational leaders. Unlike other forms of leadership, transformational leadership is not limited to specific situations since change can happen in any situation. Criticisms of transformational leadership come in the form of lack of clarity, measurablility, connections to the trait theory of leadership, and less of a focus on the change followers can make because of the leader. Tracy and Hinking (1998) argue that the overlap between the four factors of transformational leadership and therefor it it difficult to separate the four (Northouse, 2016). Some researchers argue that transformational leaders measure the same as transactional and laissez-faire leaders so therefore they may not be unique to tranformational leaders (Northouse, 2016). There is some debate about whether or not transformational leadership is a personality trait, something that some are born with or if it is a behavior trait, which means that someone could be trained to become a transformational leader. Finally, this theory focuses on the change that a leader can make and how his/her personality and behaviors move employees to do their best, which in turns helps the organization. The followers do not much credit for change in the transformational leadership theory.   


Bass, B.M. (1999). Two decades of research and development in transformational leadership. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 8(1), 9-32.

Bass, B.M. (1995). The ethics of transformational leadership. In J. Ciulla (Ed.), Ethics: The heart of leadership (pp. 169-192). Westport, CT: Praeger.

Denhardt, R., Denhardt, J., & Aristigueta, M. (2016). Managing human behavior in public and nonprofit organizations (4th ed). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

House, R.J., (1976). A 1976 theory of charismatic leadership. In Northouse, P. G. (2016). Leadership theory and practice (7th ed.). SAGE Publications, Inc.

Northouse, P. G. (2016). Leadership theory and practice (7th ed.). SAGE Publications, Inc.

Pirouz, A. (2015). What it takes to be a great leader. Huffington Post. Retrieved from

Sayyadi, M. (n.d.) Analyzing leadership and knowledge management in large companies. Retrieved from

Figure 1: Burns quote. Retrieved from

Figure 2: Personality characteristics, behaviors, and effects on followers of charismatic leadership. Retrieved from Northouse, P. G. (2016). Leadership theory and practice (7th ed.). P. 165. SAGE Publications, Inc.

Figure 3: Charismatic leaders help those around them. Retrieved fromm

Figure 4: Transformational Factors. Retrieved from

Figure 5: Leadership continuum. Retrieved from transformational+leadership&rlz=1C1GGRV_enUS753US753&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiY06_OwdjbAhWH34MKHQTGAvkQ_AUICygC&biw=1368&bih=758&dpr=2#imgdii=fut9dkFg7HKvjM:&imgrc=_vQY7MZpG5o66M:

Figure 6: Transactional vs transformational. Retrieved from /78/bf/1d/78bf1dcffe3b783582cb2cb5a9b9817a.jpg

Figure 7: Train people well enough so they can leave. Retrieved from

  • No labels