Adopting a Transformational Leadership Style

Transformational leadership is all about perception. It only works if it is able to influence the core—the follower’s feelings. Charismatic and inspiring, transformational leaders are well versed the power of language and imagery. “Transformational characteristics” are included in training courses, but the personal effort of the leader determines whether transformational leadership is achievable.

The positive connection between transformational leadership and job characteristics is so strong, we should almost expect an opposite result in organizations that do not employ  it. When switching to a transformational style of leadership,  a principal or dean must understand how he or she is to influence task perception. The shaping of daily tasks in a transformational manner helps foster positive perceptions among followers.

Transformational behaviors are a continuous process. A school intending to convert to this style should assess the departments where it is needed. The organization should include transformational components in their yearly assessments, such as 360-degree feedback and managerial surveys. These could replace needs assessments.

Transformation doesn’t happen overnight, but it is worthwhile for any school to build on these principles, since the long-term effects enrich the entire institution. Students learn leadership from the school. Transformational leadership in student affairs would help ensure that students initiate this leadership later in life.

Combating Negativity Through Transformational Leadership

Meta-analytic research has produced evidence of a positive relationship between transformational leadership and work-related results. These findings demonstrate that transformational leaders make work meaningful by providing autonomy. Followers of transformational leaders feel strongly that their work is esteemed and self-congruent.

Transformational leaders motivate by increasing self-efficacy in followers, by facilitating social identification within a group, and by linking organizational values to follower values. This allows followers to feel more determined in their work and augments their perceived empowerment.

While cynicism and intentions to quit are widely considered symptoms of employee negativity, initial research in organizational behaviors has considered them to be generalized traits. Recent studies found cynicism to be a specific construct; a reflection of the followers’ perception of the leader. Cynicism is a product of ineffective leadership and lack of participation and consultation in decision making.

Transformational leadership encourages a feeling of empowerment in all followers. There is an inverse relationship between cynicism and transformational leadership, because persons under a highly transformational leader are usually intellectually stimulated and constantly challenged to be open-minded. Various studies have demonstrated relationships between follower empowerment and job satisfaction, decreased anger and frustration, and a sense of organizational attachment.

Intention to quit (ITQ) is another form of employee’s negative reaction to poor leadership. Factors that have been linked to ITQ include poor pay, and lack of job satisfaction and goal commitment. Employees are unlikely to have ITQ toward an organization where their need for efficacy is met in their respective job responsibilities. Highly resilient followers are more likely to adapt after setbacks at work, rather than leave the organization.

Universality of Transformational Leadership

Is transformational leadership a universal style of leadership, or is it regional or culturally limited? Many sources have attempted to carry out cross-national studies to establish this.

A study by Boehnke, Bontis, Distefano, and Distefano investigated the existence of universally consistent behaviors. They sampled 145 senior executives in two divisions of a global petroleum company and its subsidiaries around the world.  One of the major findings of the study was that the basic dimensions of leadership that produce extraordinary performance are universal, with little variation in the six different parts of the world sampled. However, some leadership differences were attributed to the different corporate cultures in the two company divisions.

In the final result, transformational leadership is identified as consistent with a clear majority of sampled behaviors, as provided in the executives’ descriptions of their version of exceptional organizational performance. Terms such as visioning, intellectual stimulation, team building, coaching, and inspiring behavior appeared in 68% or more of the responses. All those attributes refer to a transformational style of leadership.

It is intriguing to note that the only non-transformational characteristic in more than half of the reports was “recognizing and rewarding,” at 62%, which is an element of the transactional style of leadership. It is apparent that transformational leadership is widely accepted as an exceptional leadership technique. It is applicable in all kinds of organizations, including the school setting. Whether you are a practicing leader or someone who aspires to become one, you would be well advised to add transformational leadership to your repertoire.


Transformational leadership is a theory of leadership that was developed by James Burns (1978), and has been written about by many other scholars since then. To read more of James Burns’ work on transformational leadership and other topics, click here to visit his page.

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