Four Major Characteristics of Transformational Leadership

Four Major Characteristics of Transformational Leadership
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What is Transformational Leadership?

Sullivan and Decker (2001) define transformational leadership as “a leadership style focused on effecting revolutionary change in organizations through a commitment to the organization’s vision.”

Transformational leadership redefines people’s missions and visions, renews their commitment, and restructures their systems for goal accomplishment through a relationship of mutual stimulation and elevation that converts followers into leaders and leaders into moral agents.

Idealized Influence

The major characteristics of transformational leadership include engendering trust, admiration, loyalty, and respect amongst followers through application of charismatic vision and behavior. Transformational leaders strive towards creating such a state of idealized influence by:

  • articulating a vision and explaining how to attain the vision in an appealing manner
  • leading by example
  • acting confidently and optimistically
  • sharing risks with followers
  • emphasizing values and reinforcing them by symbolic actions
  • displaying a high level of ethical and moral conduct

Leaders who apply idealized influence on their followers gain the trust and confidence of the followers. The followers admire the leader as a role model and respect the decisions made by him or her.

Inspirational Motivation

The transformational leader inspires followers toward the new ideas or goals through inspirational motivation. The major characteristics of inspirational motivation leadership include:

  • articulation of a clear and appealing view of the future
  • development of a shared vision in both economic and ideological terms so that the followers see meaning in their work
  • making sure of each follower’s role in the fulfillment of the shared vision, and setting high standards for the followers to attain objectives
  • encouraging followers to integrate and become part of the overall organizational culture and environment

Transformational leaders elevate people from low levels of need focused on survival by appealing toward their inborn desire to attain higher levels related to love, learning, leaving a legacy, and the like. The ways adopted to do so are many, and include:

  • making vivid descriptions of a good future that raises one’s imagination
  • motivational speeches and conversations
  • public display of optimism and enthusiasm
  • highlighting positive outcomes
  • stimulating teamwork

While attempting to motivate followers toward a higher level of needs, transformational leaders appeal to their followers’ own interests as far as possible. The major challenges however relate to:

  • persuading followers to transcend their own interests for the collective team or organizational interest when required
  • countering the followers’ emotional resistance to change

Intellectual Stimulation

Transformational leadership encourages change through intellectual stimulation aimed at self-reflective change of values and beliefs.

Transformational leaders raise their followers’ awareness regarding problems and develop their capability to solve such problems in many ways. Some of these ways are:

  • fostering a climate that favors critical examination of commonly held notions, beliefs, and the status quo
  • creating an environment conducive to the creation and sharing of knowledge
  • encouraging innovation and creativity
  • heightening sensitivity to environmental changes
  • encouraging the suggestion of radical and controversial ideas without fear of punishment or ridicule
  • empowerment and imposition of the leader’s idea only in the absence of viable ideas from the followers

Individualized Consideration

Individualized consideration ranks among the major characteristics of transformational leadership. The transformational leader treats each follower as a “whole” individual rather than as an employee, and considers the individual’s talents and levels of knowledge to decide what suits him or her to reach higher levels of attainment.

A transformational leader applies such individual considerations by:

  • listening to each follower’s needs and concerns
  • expressing words of thanks or praise as a means of motivation
  • making public recognition of achievements and initiatives
  • making private notes of congratulations to boost self confidence
  • ensuring fair workload distribution
  • undertaking individualized career counseling and mentoring

Technological developments, global competition, the changing nature of the workforce, and modern management precepts such as Total Quality Management have in recent years forced organizations to become leaner and flatter. Leadership is the critical factor in the initiation and implementation of such a change process, and the transformational style of leadership engenders a positive impact on individuals, teams, and organizations during the change process.


Lievens, Filip; Van Geit, Pascal; & Coetsier, Pol. Identification of Transformational Leadership Qualities: An Examination of Potential Biases. University of Ghent, Belgium.

Hay, Iain. Transformational Leadership: Characteristics and Criticisms. Flinders University.

Sullivan, Eleanon, J. & Decker, Philip, P. Effective Leadership and Management in Nursing

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