Transformational Leadership Brings About Positive Change

​Transformational leaders have a strong influence over their followers. Influence can be defined as the way a person impacts thoughts, feelings and actions of others. What is interesting is the way the influence is exerted.  Hopefully you know what it’s like to work for someone who is positive and engaging and a joy to work with/for. Unfortunately the converse will be true too.  There will be people you’ve worked for that left you disheartened and stressed. In this article we review transformational leadership and compare it to other styles.

transformational leadershipHow do you influence?

The best leaders engage in a leadership style which has the power to transform lives, organisations and countries for the better.  The worst engage in behaviours which denigrate others. They seek to increase personal power and wealth. Compare and contrast Churchill with Mugabe or other autocratic despots.

So what type of leader generates positive transformational behaviours, and which results in abusive narcissistic ones?  Recent research (1) has highlighted that those leaders with a collaborative identity engage in transformational behaviours. This is compared with a relational identity where consideration behaviours are found. The third type of identity is an individualistic one where such a leader often engages in abusive behaviours.

Transformational leadership

​A transformational leader enhances the motivation, morale, and performance of followers. They create significant change in the life of people and organisations in the process. Such leaders have an ability to make a change through example, articulate an energising vision and provide challenging goals. Transforming leaders are idealised in the sense that they are a moral exemplar of working towards the benefit of the team, organisation and/or community.

A collaborative identity is key as such a leader has a collective mind-set and typically internalises the group’s values. They fulfil what is expected of them and act in ways which benefit group interests. They communicate shared values, use inclusive language (e.g. “we will fight them on the beaches”) and model self-sacrificial behaviour. They don’t engage in self-serving behaviours (they don’t take undeserved credit, they are generous towards others).

Working for a leader such as this results in higher levels of job performance, satisfaction and citizenship behaviour. For more reading read Burns on Leadership (2). An interesting side read on this type of leader see the level 5 leader in “Good to Great” by Jim Collins (3). See also Hofstede’s work on cultural aspects of collectivism versus individualism (4)).

The considerate leader

Those with a relational identity prioritise and use close interpersonal relationships with followers, i.e. a dyadic relationship. Their self-worth is typically derived from the positive affirmation of others. They act in ways to benefit their relational partners, i.e. they seek to take into account their partner’s needs. Such a leadership identity is typically characterised by concern and respect for followers, satisfying relatedness needs and providing support. Research has shown that leaders that engage in considerate behaviours are seen as effective by their followers.

The abusive leader ​

Finally those leaders with strong individual tendencies are motivated by personal values and goals. They tend to demonstrate their sense of uniqueness and superiority relative to others. They desire status and power, and will act in ways to visibly distinguish themselves from followers. Typically this results in behaviours which increase the power distance, resulting in abuse of followers (e.g. blaming, criticising, anger and withholding needed information). The end result is poor relationships with staff, and the leader being perceived as narcissistic and arrogant. I’m sure we can all think of examples of such a leader, but my question is whether we as leaders ourselves (whether in an organisational context, or privately within our relationships) engage in such individualistic and therefore abusive behaviours?

What type of leader do you want to be?​

A significant body of evidence has shown that transformational leadership – that is those leaders who engage in transformational or considerate behaviours are effective and generate a great deal of satisfaction amongst followers. Abusive behaviours are by their very definition stressful and destructive.

What is also important is that these transformational leadership behaviours need to be consistent.  Regardless of the pressures on a leader, acting consistently means followers trust their leader – with resulting enhanced performance and execution of strategy.

Are these types of leaders unique? Robert Greenleaf in his book The Servant Leader Within says “Leaders are ordinary people who, through the needs of the community, emerge as ‘special’ people. Through certain events and situations, they acquire extraordinary and compelling powers that attract followers.” (5)

Leadership coaching works at both the identity and behavioural aspects of leadership. Gaining greater self awareness of what drives us as individuals, how we relate to those around us and what we seek to achieve as individuals and an organisation are key aspects of coaching. If you would like to explore your personal leadership style, and understand how you can become a better leader contact us today. We are experts at facilitating leadership development. As your leadership skills improve, you are able to more positively impact your organisation.  Find out more by contacting us here.

 (Author Mark Bateman, Jan 2013. Image by HikingArtist.)


(1) Johnson, Russell E., Merlijn Venus, Klodiana Lanaj, Changguo Mao, and Chu-Hsiang Chang. 2012. “Leader Identity as an Antecedent of the Frequency and Consistency of Transformational, Consideration, and Abusive Leadership Behaviors.” Journal of Applied Psychology 97 (6) (November): 1262–1272. pdh.

(2) For more on Transformational Leadership read Burns on Leadership, 1978 (republished by HarperPerennial; 1 edition (15 April 2010))

(3) Good To Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t, Jim Collins, Random House Business; 1st edition (4 Oct 2001)

(4) Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind, Third Edition: Intercultural Cooperation and Its Importance for Survival, Geert Hofstede, McGraw-Hill Professional; 3 edition (1 Jun 2010)

(5) Page 34, The Servant Leader Within: A Transformative Path. Robert K. Greenleaf. Paulist Press International,U.S. (1 Jan 2003)