Transformational Leadership: Do Great Leaders Share the Same Traits?

Transformational Leadership

“The transforming leader looks for potential motives in followers, seeks to satisfy higher needs, and engages the full person of the follower.”
-James MacGregor Burns

Scholars over the years have studied personality traits that you are born with and develop in childhood the traits of a great leader.  In recent times, scholars have shifted to study core competencies, which sets of behaviors and processes leaders adapt and can modify. Companies are investing a great deal of time and money to understand ways to access peoples core competencies and provide leadership development for their future leaders.

Not only are companies investing in this area for future leaders but so are the University’s. The quote from James MacGregor  Burns’s, the  book entitled Leadership served as my textbook for my semester-long course on transformational leadership. Throughout the semester, students were to choose a leader, past or present, and draw conclusions about his or her leadership style and present it to the class. The leaders discussed, more often than not, were historical figures and rarely did a student choose recent or current leaders. Towards the end of the semester, I started wondering why the interest in past leaders?  It’s obvious that leadership plays a major role in an organization’s success or failure in today’s business world. So how is it that transformational qualities are relevant for leaders today, especially in the workplace?

The Four Basics of Transformational Leadership

Transformational leadership is based off of a mutual relationship between a leader and his or her employees. Four main components the transformational leader strives to achieve are:

  1. Idealized Influence-a leader’s behavior becomes a role model for employees
  2. Inspirational Motivation-includes a leader’s sense of team spirit, enthusiasm, passion, and optimism; leaders motivate employees to dedicate themselves to the organization’s vision
  3. Intellectual Stimulation-a leader must question old assumptions, reframe problems, support creativity and innovation, and look at new ways to make decisions
  4. Individualized Consideration-a leader pays attention to individual’s needs, seeks to develop followers by mentoring and coaching employees to reach their full potential

These four components are essential when it comes to transforming an organization and empowering employees.  The transformational leader is quick to adapt to changes within an organization.  Along with this, he or she dedicates time and effort into translating the organization’s vision and mission to each employee, to motivate, inspire, and unify the organization as a whole.

Studies Show

Transformational Leaders are sought after in the business world today more than ever. Studies have shown that managers and staff that take on a transformational leadership approach have a positive influence on the overall success and performance of an organization. A study from Boyle & Associates Inc stresses the importance of transformational leaders during “periods of significant change, adversity, competition, and economic instability.” Given our nation’s economic state, it is imperative for leaders of organizations to empower employees and teams, lead by example, and approach business strategies, decision making methods, and problem-solving routines from different perspectives.

The Transactional Leader

The counter to a transformational leader is the transactional leader. Transactional leaders believe that people are motivated by reward/punishment and feel that employees should be happy to cede all authority and responsibility to a leader. The strictly transactional leader is unable embody qualities like empowerment and development of employees, whereas the transformational leader will realize certain situations call for a transactional style of leadership.

The main difference between the two styles, however, is that the relationship between transactional leaders and employees is centered on goals and rewards, such as increases in pay and moving up in an organization. For strictly transactional companies, the overall outcome is simply a “prescription for mediocrity.” (Boyle & Associates, Inc)

It’s true that leaders of the past give us insight as to what works and doesn’t work for leadership styles.  More importantly, though, I think we need to look at what constitutes successful leaders today.  By studying transformational leaders and their successful organizations, we understand how to transform employees and organizations in order to continue looking forward to drive success.

This is part 1 of 2. Check back soon for part 2.