What Is Transformational Leadership? (Plus How to Apply It)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published November 30, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Transformational leadership is a leadership style with many benefits. It values the body of the organization and leads through example. Learning more about transformational leadership can help you determine the most effective ways to demonstrate leadership in your role. In this article, we discuss what it takes to become a transformational leader and how to apply the transformational leadership style to the workplace.

What is transformational leadership?

To answer the question, "What is transformational leadership?" it's important to understand that there are many styles of leadership, each with its own benefits and disadvantages. Transformational leadership focuses on transforming the individuals of a workplace to support one another while striving for the unified goal of the organization. In this scenario, the employees remain motivated to improve themselves and to add value to the organization while the leader involves themself with every department of the organization and the efforts of their employees.

Transformational leadership is important because it creates a notable change in the organization through example-based leadership. Because of the leader's character, including their vision and aspirations, change has the potential to become a possibility. The leader's integrity and morals cause the values and goals of the employees to change, resulting in the overall improvement of the organization.

Transformational vs. transactional leadership

Transactional leadership occurs when leaders look for what their subordinates can offer them. The person using this style is often looking for personal advantages and what they can gain from the situation. Comparatively, transformational leadership is a mutually beneficial relationship that aims to convert subordinates into leaders and may convert leaders into moral role models. Rather than solely gaining followers, transformational leadership focuses on improving values and morals within the workplace.

Related: What Is Transactional Leadership?

Transformational leadership model

The transformational leadership model shows that the effectiveness of transformational leadership comes from two assumptions, people become motivated through task awareness and a common goal in an organization with focused high-performance results. Here are four concepts that explain the transformational leadership model:

Intellectual stimulation

Creativity comes about within the organization through knowledge and idea-sharing. Challenging the status quo happens when employees keep learning and pursue new solutions rather than keeping secure in their traditional ways. The leader encourages innovation among all their employees and celebrates new ideas.

Individual consideration

Often, people perform better when their efforts receive an acknowledgement. It's important that the individual feels that they are contributing to the overall culture of the organization. Transformational leaders work alongside their employees, concerning themselves with their goals, contributions, and well-being. They act as a mentor to their individual employees, providing affirmations and open communication. They often create trust within the company.

Related: Leadership Skills: Definitions and Examples

Inspirational motivation

Transformational leaders clearly communicate their vision to their team and organization members. This makes it possible for each employee to understand their place in the organization while contributing to the vision by applying themselves to it. Inspiration from their leader's example of staying motivated leads the employees to achieve more and reach high expectations. The organization's employees strive to match the same motivation and passion as the leader through the actions they make.

Idealized influence

Employees develop into followers once they desire to replicate their leader. This occurs when employees see their leader as the ideal version of who they want to become in the workplace. They may want to emulate the powerful character, values, work ethic, and social behaviours of their leader. Employees want to contribute to an organization where they respect their leader and are accepting of their influence.

Related: The 10 Leadership Roles of a Great Manager

Characteristics of a transformational leader

A highly functional transformational leader often possesses the following characteristics and skills:

Perseverance

When situations are difficult and full of obstacles, transformational leaders persevere without giving up easily. When a transformational leader believes in their vision, they continue working until they achieve it. This may mean learning from mistakes and trying out new ideas to discover the right solution. They are patient and strive to view their objectives on a larger scale.

Humility

Transformational leaders remain humble by constantly learning. They keep an open mind and encourage the ideas and contributions of their employees and organizations. These leaders believe others can bring value. Acknowledging their mistakes is crucial, so they accept their own failures in the pursuit of efficient solutions. Their organization becomes a priority before their own personal gain or reputation.

Time-management skills

Transformational leaders have the ability to self-motivate and to hold themselves accountable. They know how to manage their priorities into what can bring the greatest reward. People with this leadership style understand the requirements of what brings the biggest return. These people are able to use their internal motivation to mobilize and encourage others.

Risk assessment skills

Transformational leaders may be willing to take measured risks. However, this doesn't mean that they let their feelings influence them to take uncalculated risks. These leaders make educated risks after having their team conduct thorough research on market trends, statistics, and analysis. They listen to the advice and input of others before determining the potential benefits of a risky situation.

Decision-making

Transformational leaders don't refrain from making tough decisions. They know how to separate emotions from workplace decisions. They're not afraid of going in the opposite direction as the mainstream if they believe it puts them at an advantage. Although, they always align their decisions with their company's values and mission.

Related: What Is Visionary Leadership? (Characteristics and Benefits)

Visionary skills

A transformational leader has a strong and powerful ability to plan for future scenarios. They're an effective leader when their organization shares this vision and understands how they contribute to it. A leader can do this by creating an achievable and practical vision for their organization. Transformational leaders are role models for their employees.

Power-sharing

Transformational leaders often believe their personal success comes from the collective success of their organization. They delegate responsibilities to trusted employees and they don't feel the need to micro-manage. Transformational leaders typically encourage ideas from their employees and they prefer their individual employees to pursue self-improvement and growth. They may also prioritize giving promotions to those who are hard workers.

Innovative thinking

When it comes to problem-solving, creativity is an essential skill to develop. Embracing alternative approaches and the willingness to take risks often benefits these leaders in the long term. They encourage their employees to be creative in their own right and to challenge normalcy.

Ambition

Transformational leaders often possess an impressive level of ambition. Successful businesses may look for ways to become more efficient and relevant to their customers by striving for change. Through their own self-improvement, their employees become encouraged to work on their own self-development.

Transformational leaders often make plans for long-term, complex objectives. They focus on achieving the overall vision of the company. These leaders manage their priorities to align with the organization's goals.

How to apply transformational leadership

You can become a transformational leader in your workplace by following these steps:

1. Lead by example

It's important to tell others what you expect of them, but leading by example may be more effective. Those that are bringing results inspire others to emulate what they see works effectively. Developing character, including integrity, values, and abilities, can form a leader. Place importance on your own self-improvement before the improvement of others. Establish yourself as a role model by daily exercising the skills of a transformational leader.

2. Value your individual employees

Encourage and uplift your team members. Take the time to recognize the individuals who show hard work and progress. Try to reward good behaviour and look for ways to collaborate closely with your employees. When your employees share your vision and passion, then the organization's goals are more likely to become achievable.

3. Challenge your team

Encouraging your team members to take on more challenges can contribute to the entire team excelling. Support them by leading them towards achievable goals, such as learning new skills or embracing new experiences. As you push yourself outside of your comfort zone, motivate your team to push themselves out of their comfort zones a little at a time.

4. Be open

Keep a level of transparency throughout the company with employees. When you are open to changes, visions and new directions, your team members can contribute their skills and ideas. Make your goals clear so that your team can work towards achieving them.

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