Transformational Leadership Theory Explained

Transformational Leadership Theory Explained [2024]

Transformational Leadership Theory Explained 

The transformational leadership theory partly conceived by James Macgregor Burns in 1978 and Bernard Bass in 1985 emerges as responding to the shortcoming of traditional leadership theories.

This theory suggests that effective leaders produce and promote a desirable vision or image of the organization or institution. Transformational leaders should encourage their institutions to accept change.

Oyetunji, argues that transformational leadership focuses on diverse kinds of leaders’ influence that inspire followers to develop as leaders. They create organizational circumstances in which followers can develop their own leadership capabilities as to be investigated in this study.

Transformational leaders could also be considered not just as leaders who inspire their followers to develop as leaders, but also as leaders who inspire followers in achieving other set goals or a specific vision as stated by Sendjaya 2002, in his article on Transformational leadership.

Rowe also argues that transformational leadership focuses on developing the organization’s ability to innovate. Rather than focusing precisely on direct coordination, and control.

And Supervising of the curriculum and instruction, transformational leadership seeks to build the organization’s ability to select its purpose and to support the development of changes to practices of teaching and learning.

The studies done by Leithwood et al, give us strong evidence or support the fact that transformational leadership is a key factor in facilitating a positive school culture.

In this study, a positive school culture involves not just the development of changes to practice teaching and learning. It involves a change in behaviour by enhancing prosocial behaviour in students. Sendjaya in his journal on leadership and organizational studies (2002) considers transformational leadership under four key behavioral components:

1). The first is charismatic leadership or idealized influence; where a transformational leader places emphasis on the needs of others, serves as an inspirational role model, instills pride and optimism, and emphasizes commitment, alignment around a shared purpose, high ethical and moral standards, and respect and trust. As a result, such leaders are admired, respected, trusted, and viewed as role models by their followers.

2). Next is inspirational motivation. The leader here articulates an organizational vision, demonstrates a sincere and passionate commitment to that vision and related goals, and clearly communicates expectations; the leader is enthusiastic, optimistic, motivational, and inspirational.

Idealized influence and inspirational motivation foster alignment around shared goals within an environment of high ethical and moral standards that supports and strengthens shared governance within an academic community.

This cannot be identified in a school as an organization with poor ethical and moral standards as identified in our secondary schools. Transformational leadership can go a long way in considering and enhancing prosocial behavior in students as a related goal.

3). Thirdly intellectual stimulation. A transformational leader encourages creativity, innovation, risk-taking, and a willingness to abandon inefficient systems and followers are stimulated to question assumptions, approach issues in novel ways, and creatively solve problems.

Academic freedoms, lifelong learning, and scholarship flourish within an environment that encourages intellectual stimulation. Prosocial behavior can also be stimulated in students by intellectual stimulation as lifelong learning as it deals with behavior and interacting with others positively.

4). The fourth behavioral component according to Sendjaya is individualized consideration. The transformational leader evaluates and considers the distinct needs of each individual follower, creates a supportive environment that is focused on followers’ achievement and growth, and uses coaching, mentoring, the creation of new development opportunities, and continuous feedback to empower followers and help them achieve their potential.

Also, principles such as motivational interviewing and counseling impact followers’ interactions with students within an academic healthcare environment. Where students’ problems are handled and treated individually under the above principles, will create a healthy environment in enhancing good behavior in students.

A transformational leader uses the four behavior components to motivate followers and they turn to align with the vision, mission and collective goals of the organization (school in the context of this present study). The transformational leader is able to unite and align followers around collective goals that promote a collaborative approach to problem-solving and resource management.

To achieve this, followers must trust, admire, and respect their leader and be motivated to perform beyond expectations. Together, these factors will drive the success of the organization. Transformational leadership is associated with increases in employee satisfaction, commitment to the organization, effort, retention, organizational citizenship, and overall performance.

Transformational leaders are more proactive, more able to motivate followers, and more capable of developing organizational goals that interest followers, and as a result, the followers display a greater commitment to an alignment with the organizations (schools), work harder, and are more cohesive.

Transformational leaders possess high emotional intelligence and as a result, their effectiveness is rated highly by their followers. The impact of transformational leadership occurs in part through the related effects of establishing trust and value congruence among followers.

There exists a broad overview of the different types of leadership theories and the way in which each theory explains and interprets leadership behavior and effectiveness.

The focus of this study is on the transformation theory of leadership. Robbins and Coulter, (2007) describe a transformational leader as a person who stimulates and inspires (transforms) or creates positive change in followers to achieve extraordinary outcomes and the leader too pays attention to the concern and developmental needs of individual followers.

The foundation of transformational leadership is linked to James Macgregor Burns (1978), in his descriptive research on political leaders. But its usage has spread into management and organizational psychology with modifications by B M Bass and J B Avalio (Jung & Sosik, 2002).

In Burns’ theory of transformational leadership, Burns (1978, p.20), the author described transformational leadership as a process whereby leaders and followers are both raised to higher levels of morality and motivation such as liberty, justice, equality, peace, and humanitarianism.

According to Burns (1978), leadership is a process, not a set of discrete acts, it is viewed both as an influence process between individuals as well as a process of mobilizing power to reform institutions and change social systems.

Meanwhile, at the macro level, transformational leadership involves expressing, shaping, and mediating conflict among groups of people in addition to motivating individuals. All these are attributes expected from school leaders.

They cannot possibly have all of these but with training which this study advocates, more talents of charismatic leadership qualities would be seen and expressed.

Bass (1985) looks at transformational leadership in terms of the leader’s impact on subordinates where trust, admiration, and respect for the leader exist. Here, the followers are therefore motivated to do more than what was originally expected of them. Bass opines that a leader can transform followers by:

  • Making them more aware of the importance and value of task outcomes.
  • Introducing them to transcend their own self-interest for the sake of the team.
  • Activating their high-order needs.

Besides charisma, Bass (1985, p.31), also thinks that leaders may also transform followers by serving as a coach, teachers,s and mentors. These are high-order needs or skills that all school heads need. In cases where a leader does not have an impact on the followers, ineffectiveness will certainly be the order of the day in such an institution.

Thus, to ensure a generally high standard in all school heads, training becomes imperative. Warrilow (2012), looking at the transformational leadership theory, identified four components of the transformational leadership style:

Components of Transformational Leadership Styles

1.). Charisma or idealized influence: here, the followers identify with the leader who has a clear set of values and acts as a role model for them as well as the degree to which the leader behaves in admirable ways and displays convictions on their stands.

2). Inspirational motivation: the degree to which the leader articulates a vision, that is, appeals to and inspires the followers with optimism about future goals, and offers meaning for the current tasks in hand.

3). Intellectual stimulation: the degree to which the leader challenges assumptions, stimulates and encourages creativity in the followers – by providing a framework for followers to see how they connect to the leader, the organization, each other, and the goal they can creatively overcome any obstacles in the way of the mission.

4). Personal and individual attention: the degree to which the leader attends to each individual follower’s needs and acts as a mentor or coach and gives respect to and appreciation of the individual’s contribution to the team.

This fulfills and enhances each individual team member’s need for self-fulfillment, and self-worth and in so doing inspires followers to further achievement and growth. These leadership styles can be best harnessed for the use of educational leaders through training for the betterment of the administration of Primary, Secondary and universities.

Abdul Ghani Abdullah (2005), looks at the impact that a leader’s transformational leadership would have on both teachers and learners. Abdul states that it will affect the responsibility of the teachers to the school. Transformational leadership can increase teachers’ motivation and this will directly or indirectly have a good impact on the student’s academic performance.

This view is supported by Moolenar, Daly, and Sleegers (2010), who equally stated that transformational leadership is positively associated with climate and innovative school, it will lead and motivate their followers to do more than they expected in terms of extra effort and productivity.

Judge & Piccolo, (2004), identify two theories considered slightly similar but different. These are transactional vs transformational theories. They consider that these two theories are two of the most commonly researched within academic literature. The difference between these theories is particularly evident when looking at what leaders and followers offer one another.

Transformational leaders and theory offer followers a purpose beyond achieving the short-term goal and focus on the basic needs of their followers. Meanwhile, Transactional leaders or theory focuses on the exchange of resources and giving followers something they want in exchange for something they want (Judge & Piccolo, 2004). Both theories were developed by Bass (1985).


Bass, B. M., Avolio, J. B., Leanne, A. (1996). The Transformational and Transactional Leadership of Men and Women. Applied Psychology 45(1), 5-34.

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

Judge, A. T., Piccolo, R. F. (2004). Transformational and Transactional Leadership: A Mentor Leithwood, K., Seashore Louis, K., Anderson, S., &Wahlstrom, K. (2004). Review of research: How leadership influences student learning. Retrieved from the Wallace Foundation:…/0/Review of Research Learning From Leadership.pdf.

Leithwood, K., Seashore Louis, K., Anderson, S., &Wahlstrom, K. (2004). Review of research: How leadership influences student learning. Retrieved from the Wallace Foundation:…/0/Review of Research Learning From Leadership.pdf.

Moolenar, N. N., Daly, A. J., Sleegers, P. J. C. (2010). Occupying the Principal Position; Sendjaya, S., Sarros, J. C. (2002). Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies. Servant Leadership: Its Origin, development and Application in Organizations.

Syvertsen, A. K., Flanagan, C. A., & Stout, M. (2009). Code of silence: Students’ perceptions of school climate and willingness to intervene in a peer’s dangerous plan. Journal of Educational Psychology, 101, 219-232. doi:10.1037/a0013246


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