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Transformational Leadership as a Concept

Transformational leadership, as a concept, has been present and used with leaders all over the world as far back as history records. This style of leadership has been central to several leadership techniques, research articles, and books for an extended history. Transformational leadership developed as a vocabulary term when it was first introduced by James MacGregor Burns in his book, Leadership (Burns, 1978). Burns compares the relationship between the leader and the followers with the terms transformational or transactional (Burns, 1978). According to Burns, in a transformational leadership relationship, the leader raises the motivation of the followers and this results in inspiring and uplifting the relationship in order to accomplish a common goal (Burns, 1978).

Burns compares the transformational leader with what he calls the transactional leader. The terms that are factual about a transactional leader are the opposite compared to transformational leaders in many ways.

Burns (1978), points out that the biggest differences between the two types of leader characteristics are the purpose of the relationship between the leader and followers and the purpose of the leaders role and requests.

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Transformational leadership results with both parties enhancing their motivational focus and desires to accomplish common goals; transactional leadership, on the other hand, results in a transaction comprised of a request or demand from the authoritative power and ends when the transaction has been complete by the worker. Throughout the years, transformational leadership has been revised and revamped with research. Pielstick lists seven major themes that have been consistent in describing the tasks that transformational leaders attempt to accomplish: “creating a shared vision, communicating it, building relationships, developing a culture, guiding implementation, exhibiting character, and achieving results (Pielstick, 1998, p.

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1). Leaders can move from a transaction leadership role to a transformation leadership role by being charismatic to followers in order to inspire, meet the emotional needs
of the followers, or “they may intellectually stimulate employees” (Bass, 1990, p. 21).

In their book Transformational Leaders (2007), Bass and Riggio make the claim that an individual does not have to be at the top of a business in order to be a transformational leader. These authors state that “leadership can occur at all levels and by any individual” (Bass & Riggio, 2007, p. 2) and this is the core to transformational leaders. Transformational leaders, lead others to accomplish more than what was originally expected and typically beyond what was original thought possible (Bass & Riggio, 2007). This is possible because the leader pays attention to the needs of individuals, trains the people below them to become leaders themselves, and empowers each person along the way (Bass & Riggio, 2007). As Antonakis combines the terms transformational and charismatic and uses the two terms interchangeably (2011) Bass and Riggio state that “charisma is only part of transformational leadership (2007, p. 5).

Many researchers have debated whether transformational leaders must be leaders that produce positive change or whether leaders that produce change for destructive purposes, for example Hitler, are also considered transformational leaders. Bass and Riggio (2007) clarify that for the purposes of their book a transformational leader is one that brings about change that is positive and completed for unselfish reasons. The MLQ, multifactor leadership questionnaire, was first published by Dr. Bernard Bass and is considered the benchmark measure of transformational leadership. This MLQ measure has been revised over the years and now comes in a short or long version (MLQ International, 2008). The components that comprise a transformational leader can be scored by using the MLQ tool.

Each of the questions from this tool refers to one of four components of transformational leadership: Idealized influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, and individualized consideration (Mindgarden). Idealized influence is apparent when leaders are role models for their followers (Bass & Riggio, 2007). Transformational leaders show characteristics that align with inspirational motivation by providing meaning and challenge that result in motivating and inspiring those around them (Bass & Riggio, 2007). Transformational leaders stimulate the intelligence of their followers by “questioning assumptions, reframing problems, and approaching old situations in new ways (Bass & Riggio, 2007, p. 7). The fourth component, individual consideration, is represented by transformational leaders when they act as coaches or mentors to their followers by providing the information and placement that is needed on an individual level (Bass & Riggio, 2007).

DenHartog & Koopman bring up the point that “transformational leadership can be viewed as a special case of transactional leadership, in as much as both approaches are linked to the achievement of some goal or objective (DenHartog & Koopman, 2011, p. 176). Den Hartog and Koopman (2011), provide a table, Table 9.2 Trends in Leadership Theory and Research (p. 168) that gives the historical view of leadership theories with a brief description of each. The ‘trait’ approach was considered to have a period of time up to the late 1940’s and is characterized by the notion that “leaders are born” and “leadership is an innate ability (DenHartog & Koopman, 2011, p. 168). This belief is that leadership is a trait that you are either born with or without; it cannot be taught or developed in others. The ‘style’ approach has a date range from the late 1940’s to the late 1960’s and demonstrates traits that emphasize “effectiveness has to do with how the leader behaves (DenHartog & Koopman, 2011, p. 168).

From the 1960’s to the 1990’s the trend was based on the contingency approach; “the effectiveness of leadership is affected by the situation/context (DenHartog & Koopman, 2011, p. 168). The last approach listed on the table is the New Leadership approach which includes charismatic and transformational leadership styles. New leadership states that leaders “need vision and inspire loyalty and emotional attachment (DenHartog & Koopman, 2011, p. 168). During this last stage, new leadership, leaders were now described as leaders as opposed to managers. This last stage is opposite to the first in that this leadership trait is not something you are necessarily born with, yet it can be something that is taught. William Brown and Douglas May wanted to research the effects of transformational leadership training to determine if traits that align with this leadership style can be taught and result in a positive outcome. In their research, The efficacy of transformational leadership training, one of the three major findings was that “an intensive year long transformational leadership development and training program resulted in significant increases in contingent reward and transformational leadership behaviors among first-line supervisors” (May & Brown, 2012).

John Antonakis combines the terms transformational leader and charismatic leader in chapter 8 of the book The Nature of Leadership (2011). Throughout the chapter, Antonakis compares several different researchers’ views and theories as they relate to these types of leadership traits. Anonakis, however, brings a different challenge to the idea that transformational and charismatic leadership traits are the actual causes that can bring about positive change in the people surrounded by the leaders that have these traits. He does not dismiss the fact that these traits could bring about the changes seen; however, he calls for researchers to conduct longitudinal studies which “establishes that transformational leaders have the ability to actually transform individuals and organizations” (Day & Antonakis, 2011. p. 280). He then challenges researchers to find the “empirical evidence” necessary in order to make the direct connection between specific transformational leadership traits and positive gains (Day & Antonakis, 2011. p. 280).

Not all researchers are collecting information that reveals positive results stemming from transformational leaders in place. Kotlyar and Karakowsky (2007) propose that transformational leadership traits have a potential link to enhancing dysfunctional team conflict (Kotlyar & Karakowsky, 2007). Boerner and Eisenbeiss (2008), research to find the effect of transformational leadership styles on worker dependency and creativity. Their research suggests that though many positive results are yielded when a leader has transformational leadership traits, there are also negative consequences that follow. Initially the creativity from workers will increase as well as the over dependency workers have on leaders with transformational leadership traits (Boerner & Eisenbeiss, 2008). This dependency then leads to a decline in worker creativity according to their research (Boerner & Eisnbeiss, 2008).

In conclusion, transformational leadership traits and styles are vital aspects that are a part of successful leaders. Further research is needed in this field in order to give this area the validity needed to present a strong case. Further research is also needed to establish any connections between transformational leadership qualities and any possible negative outcomes over extended periods of time.

Bass, B. M. (1990). From transactional to transformational leadership: Learning to share the vision. Organizational Dynamics. Elsevier Science Publishing, Inc. 18(3), 19-31 Bass, B. M. & Riggio, R. E. (2007). Transformational leadership (2nd ed). Taylor & Francis. Boerner, S. & Eisenbiess, S. A. (2011). A double-edged sword: Transformational leadership and individual creativity. British Journal of Management. 24(1) 54-68 Burns, J.M. (1978). Leadership. New York. Harper & Row, Onursal Arkan. Day, D.V. and Antonakis, J. (2011). The nature of leadership: Chapter 8 transformational and charismatic leadership. (2nd ed.) SAGE Publications, Inc Den Hartog, D. and Koopman, P. (2011). Leadership in organizations. Handbook of Industrial, Work & Organizational Psychology. 2. Kotlyar, I., & Karakowsky, L. (2007). Falling over ourselves to follow the leader. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, 14(1) 38-49 May, D. & Brown, W. (2012). The efficacy of transformational leadership training. Journal of Management Development. Emerald Group Publishing Limited. 31(6) 520-536 Mindgarden. Transformational leadership. Retrieved from MLQ International (2008). Melbourne. Retrieved from Pielstick, C.D. (1998). The transforming leader: A meta-ethnographic analysis. Community College Review, 26(3), 15-34

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Transformational Leadership as a Concept. (2016, Apr 10). Retrieved from

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