The 4 Attributes of Transformational Leadership

Leadership – it’s not just giving orders. The role of school administration is about more than just making schedules and disciplining children. Transformational leadership offers administrators the opportunity to drive organizational change and to create strong schools by fostering a culture of learning and growth in educators that then gives children an environment in which to grow.

It’s not difficult to see how Transformational Leadership would fit well into the school setting, as its attributes line up perfectly with the goals of education. In fact, when transformational leadership is applied to school setting the results are quite remarkable. So what are the attributes of transformational leadership, and how can administrators go about implementing them?

1.    Idealized/Charismatic influence

A leader must be able to inspire the people who they are leading. How? Through language, etiquette, mannerisms and lifestyle. Those being led must have great amount of trust in their leader in order to allow themselves to be guided. Living by example is essential, because just as this model demands that educators look beyond self interest, by extension the leader must look beyond their own self interest as well. High levels of integrity and moral values are absolutely essential.

In order for leadership to be transformational, a charismatic leader has to spread out responsibility and to take it on without compromising. That means that their followers must follow because they are committed to the cause and confident in their leader’s ability to get things done. Charisma isn’t some ethereal quality that’s limited to politicians and movie stars – in the real world it is derived from respect and a visible projection of responsibility. The other point here is that followers will follow other followers. If a leader is able to distribute tasks and have those tasks completed effectively by subordinates, then others will latch onto that and naturally follow. In effect a leader can grow their charisma by utilizing their resources effectively.

2.    Inspirational Motivation

The top goal of a transformational leader is to get the full support of everyone involved, all with an eye for the common goal. The best way to do this is to be open and honest about challenges. When people feel that their leader is willing to face known issues rather than brushing them aside, they become invested. The aim is to develop that sense of belonging within the school culture, which then supports everyone involved.

Transformational Leadership takes the compartments out of the school. Rather than teachers being focused only on what’s going on in their classrooms, their vision becomes expanded to see how their relationships with others in the school affects the outcomes of students. There is an investment in the success of other teachers, who are all working toward the same goal of brightening young minds. The core of transformational leadership is employee commitment, which then creates opportunities for the goals of the entire school environment to be achieved.

  1. Intellectual Stimulation

Education is at it’s core about getting those neurons to fire. Leaders who encourage their employees to stay rational in the face of emotional challenges that come with the educational setting are creating an environment that will have less conflict and more growth. Innovation and hard work are encouraged through intellectual pursuits like problems solving. Just as keeping students intellectually engaged in the classroom keeps them on track, so too does keeping teachers intellectually engaged keep them on track.

It’s so important that there is an understanding that education is about growth. Any good teacher will tell you that teachers learn as much from their students as their students learn from them. There is an organic understanding among educators that teaching and learning are partners. Educators cannot help their children to grow if they are not growing themselves, and in fact educators want to grow. Educational leaders should use this desire for growth to keep their followers actively engaged.

  1. Individualized Consideration

Creating relationships is essential, and that means two-way communication. Followers who feel heard and valued are much more invested in the process and interested in pursuing the larger, organizational goals. Not to mention this individualized process allows leaders to then know the strengths of the people within the organization, so as to better structure the group for success. In a school setting, this translates to interactions beyond the mandatory observations and meetings. Administrators who seek connection with their staff in smaller, more regular ways are able to build trust and a sense of shared service that leads to a better and more productive relationship overall.

Best practice for a transformational leader is to have opportunities to work with individuals on a one-on-one basis in at least some form. While in large settings this might be more of a challenge, nonetheless it is the individualized communication that creates the right environment for transformational leadership. There are myriad ways to make this happen, without having to pile on undue stress or time commitments. Transformational leaders employ creative means to create those relationships.


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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