Bernard Bass developed the transformational leadership theory in 1985 as a way to describe the psychological mechanisms that are used by leaders. His theory is an enhancement to the original transformational leadership theory that was first proposed by James Burns in 1978.
Bass made this contribution to the theory because he was interested in the level of influence that a leader could exert on their followers. Leaders have followers because there are specific qualities in the leader that create trust, such as honesty. When those qualities are found in high levels, then there is a direct association with the levels of loyalty that followers have for their leader.
A leader, therefore, transforms their followers by displaying their own leadership qualities. It goes beyond being a role model because the leader encourages changes at the individual level.
Bass found that these 4 elements were part of true transformational leadership.
1. Individual Consideration
The leader must place an emphasis on what a member of their group needs. Leaders then take on the specific role that is necessary to create motivation at the individual level to encourage productivity. That might mean serving as a mentor or a facilitator. It may require a leader to be a teacher. In some instances, it might even mean a transformational leader must give someone time and space to work independently.
2. Intellectual Stimulation.
Transformational leaders recognize boredom when then see it. To keep people challenged, it becomes necessary to ask people to contribute to the group. Learning often leads to independence, which challenges the prevailing order of things. A leader utilizing this element will often be seen as a teacher, but in reality, they are facilitating change at the individual level.
3. Inspirational Motivation.
A leader cannot inspire people to follow unless they are willing to provide a goal or a vision that can be reached. There must be a legitimate reason that encourages people to work hard at achieving a goal. People move forward naturally to better their own lives. It is a transformational leader that can encourage a group of people to move forward toward mutually beneficial success.
4. Idealized Influence.
A transformational leader can never exist within a comfort zone. They must keep striving to do better and be better. In an idealized situation, the leader will become a role model for everyone on their team. Pride, enthusiasm, and trust will be constantly enhanced so that the team can continue to be inspired.
To help leaders understand where they fall on the spectrum of transformational leadership, Bass created the MLQ, or multi-factor leadership questionnaire. This questionnaire looks at active and passive features of leadership to provide insights to those who complete it honestly.
Pros and Cons of the Transformational Leadership Theory
Using the Bass transformational leadership theory means having precise information about a personal leadership role. It is a chance for leaders to assess their specific qualities in a safe environment so they can begin to improve their ability to influence others.
Over time, that allows a leader to know how their audience can be transformed. In doing so, a positive impact is made on the life of the leader and the lives of their followers.
Individual results will always vary when testing is involved. The transformational leadership theory isn’t fact. It is an idea that can help people gain a deeper insight into themselves, but the results must be accurate to do so. Some leaders struggle with providing an honest answer on an evaluation such as this, which means skewed results will be produced.
A skewed result provides false information that could potentially harm the leader and the followers they are attempting to inspire.
It is also difficult to have any metrics when determining if a transformational leadership style is actually effective. To what degree should followers be transformed by a leader? Who would assess the transformational process? How long would this transformation last?
Can followers who are transformed by a leader maintain the positive benefits they gain if they were to switch leaders in the future?
The 5 Personality Traits Identified in Transformational Leaders
Anyone can become a transformational leader.
Bass, Burns, and others who have researched this subject have come to identify specific factors that increase the likelihood of certain individuals becoming a transformational leader. Each element may have a different level of emphasis on an individual level, but all 5 are typically present in leaders identified with this trait.
1. Extraverted. Transformational leaders build networks and relationships with great ease. They use components of their personality to engender trust in their followers to lead a team forward in support of an organization, agency, or team.
2. Neuroticism. A leader with transformational attributes experiences high levels of anxiety. They are the first to see themselves in a role that is anything but transformational. Many have low levels of self-esteem and may wish to have themselves excluded from any responsibilities that come with their position.
3. Openness. Transformational leaders use every resource available to them as a way to improve the standing of the team and themselves. That means these leaders are open to the wisdom and experience that other people can provide. This gives the leader a chance to see the “big picture” when everyone else is focused on the “small picture.”
4. Agreeable Nature. A transformational leader is concerned about the welfare of their followers. They tend to have an agreeable nature because that makes them more approachable. There may be elements of charisma within the leader’s personality as well.
5. Conscientiousness. Transformational leaders know where they want to go and are willing to work hard to get their team there. Although this attribute is often associated with transactional leadership, a transformational leader can inspire others by rolling up their sleeves and getting their hands dirty with everyone else.
When these attributes come together in the right way, positive outcomes are more likely to occur. Transformational leaders typically see better positive outcomes when compared to other leadership styles as well. That is why leaders should focus on this leadership style whenever possible, even if it feels like it isn’t well-suited to them at times.
In the past, transformational leaders were found in politics, at work, and in the classroom. As we advance into the digital age, we’re finding that transformational leaders must also be highly organized leaders. They must balance high data loads, communication needs, and the company mission while still having the same empathy and concern for their followers.
A transformational leader provides an opportunity to make the world a better place. It occurs on the individual level quite frequently, but if you watch carefully, you’ll also see these leaders transforming the world into a better place.