What is Transformative Leadership?


This post will explore the definition of transformative leadership, how it differs from other leadership styles, and its potential benefits for individuals and organizations. By the end of this post, you will have a better understanding of what transformative leadership can do for your unique leadership situation.

Servant Leaders

Transformative leadership is also called servant leadership. A leader who serves is a leader who is a servant of the people rather than a master over them; they actively and willingly contribute to developing their team.

This type of leadership is to act with humility, inspire others to reach their full potential, and take an interest in the personal and professional development of others. Transformative leaders are typically charismatic individuals, not necessarily due to confidence or eloquence, but as a result of their inspirational and inclusionary words and actions.

Charisma, in this sense, is the result of connecting with others.  People want to be heard and understood; charisma is earned when a leader is genuinely interested in and considers the thoughts and opinions of others.  Leaders with charisma recognize that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  They seek collective growth by recognizing and nurturing the unique contributions of individuals.

Woman with short hair leading a business meeting while others listen to her speak and inspire her team

A transformative leader is a person who inspires others to do their best.

Transformative Leadership is Democratic Leadership

Democratic or participatory leadership encourages widespread involvement in decisions that affect the group. This is in contrast to an environment that asks that individuals follow orders and keep their heads down. When team members know their voice will be heard, they are more likely to use it. Transformative leadership puts an emphasis on collective growth, which is driven by and benefits, the organization as a whole. This recognizes that individuals at every level have valuable skills and perspectives that do not trump those of management.

Is transformative leadership the same as transactional leadership?

Transactional leadership is a style of leadership that focuses on giving employees promotions, raises in pay, and other material rewards for their work. This differs from transformative leadership, which focuses on motivating employees by helping them see the value of their work and giving them opportunities to develop skills.

Transactional leadership fails to offer the benefits of transformative leadership in that it does not focus on changing the status quo or providing genuine enrichment with long-term impact. A work environment wherein employees feel empowered to come up with creative solutions to problems and are invited to take action beyond explicitly provided directions creates opportunities for exponential development.

Transactional leaders are more concerned with maintaining control over their team and trusting that they know what is best, while transformative leaders are willing to test new waters and help their employees grow both personally and professionally.

The Four Key Characteristics of Transformative Leadership

Transformative leadership is based on four things:

  • Inspirational Motivation. A leader’s ability to communicate with others is one of the most important aspects of leadership; without good communication skills, no leader can expect followership from those he or she leads. Transformative leaders use various forms of encouragement as a means for communicating their visions for change within an organization or community; this method creates shared meaning between the leader and followers through excitement about future possibilities and goals within an organization or community.
  • Intellectual Stimulation. This involves the leader stimulating his or her followers' thinking or encouraging them to think differently. The leader may challenge assumptions, teach new ideas and knowledge, introduce new concepts and theories, encourage risk-taking, allow experimentation with different approaches to problems, provide opportunities for training and development, create a sense of excitement about work (or an organization's products), or offer information that people need to make better decisions about their work activities.
  • Idealized Influence. Transformative leaders are role models, handling every situation ethically and with moral conduct. Because of this, their followers trust and respect them. Leadership is based on leading by example as opposed to systems of reward and punishment depending on the follower’s activities.
  • Individualized Consideration. Transformative leaders put an emphasis on every person’s needs and consider the individual talents of the individual. These leaders also encourage open dialogue among group members so that peers can share knowledge. Transformative leaders also demonstrate empathy. This allows employees to feel appreciated, which increases job satisfaction within environments — employees are supported rather than judged due to poor performance metrics.

Inspirational Motivation: Transformative leaders have high emotional intelligence

Transformative leaders have high levels of emotional intelligence. They are able to understand and manage their own emotions, as well as those, and can read the emotions of the people they lead. This self-awareness allows leaders to assess situations effectively and make decisions that benefit everyone involved. Self-aware leaders recognize how feelings can influence their behavior and make conscious efforts to remain positive when giving feedback or delivering bad news.  They know this eases resistance and improves the likelihood of acceptance.

Self-confidence—the courage necessary to make difficult decisions when no one else can see a solution or would expect you to find one—is an important attribute of transformative leaders.  A strong sense of self provides crucial stability within a group.  Displaying confidence in oneself (and in one’s subordinates) puts everyone at ease and supports the positive forward movement.

Self-awareness is another characteristic of transformative leaders. Self-aware leaders can understand their feelings and emotions and how they influence their behavior. As a result, these types of leaders know that it's important to stay positive when giving feedback or delivering bad news because it will be easier for others to accept what they're saying if they seem confident in themselves (and, therefore in their subordinates).

Transformative leaders are inspirational. They inspire others to be the best they can be. They have a clear vision and communicate it effectively so that everyone knows what they are working toward and why it is important. Transformative leaders are also energizing: they motivate individuals to take action, help them find meaning in their work, and encourage them when times get tough.

A final trait shared by transformative leaders is high self-confidence. This strong sense of self provides crucial stability within a group.  Displaying confidence in oneself (and in one’s subordinates) puts everyone at ease and supports the positive forward movement.

Intellectual Stimulation: Transformative leaders think outside the box

Transformative leaders are creative. They are able to think outside the box, come up with new ideas, and change their strategies when needed. They inspire their team to action by sharing their vision and making sure that everyone is on board with what they want to achieve, not out of necessity but as a result of earned buy-in.

Transformative leadership is especially important in times of change or uncertainty. When people are unsure of what to do or where they should go, leaders need to step in and provide direction for others so that everyone can get back on track together as a team.

Idealized Influence: Transformative leaders act ethically

Transformative leaders act ethically and are able to provide role models for their followers. They use idealized influence, which involves behaving in ways that are ethical and have a positive influence on those around them. This means that they are transparent and honest and make decisions based on the best interests of their organization or community. They also prioritize the needs of their followers and understand the importance of having a clear, consistent, and strong set of values.

This is not to say that transformative leaders don’t make mistakes; all leaders do. But when they do make a mistake, they own up to it and take responsibility for their actions rather than shifting blame onto someone else. This kind of behavior is what sets transformative leaders apart from others: they are willing to be held accountable for their actions and are able to maintain a level of transparency that is refreshing and trustworthy.

Individualized Consideration: Transformative leaders care about their followers

Finally, transformative leaders are able to provide individualized consideration for each of their followers. This means that they take the time to get to know each person on a personal level, understanding their strengths, weaknesses, goals, and desires. They are able to adapt their leadership style to suit the needs of each individual, and they provide the support, guidance, and mentorship that each person needs to succeed.

Transformative leaders have high levels of empathy, and they are able to understand and relate to the emotions and feelings of their followers. They also prioritize the well-being of their followers and are able to create a positive and inclusive work environment.

How to become a transformative leader

If you want to become a transformative leader, there are several things you can do:

  • Listen actively. Active listening means paying attention to what the other person is saying without interrupting or waiting for your turn to speak. It means asking open-ended questions, reflecting back on what you've heard, and confirming your understanding.
  • Show empathy. Understand and relate to the feelings and emotions of others.
  • Develop emotional intelligence. This involves understanding your own emotions and how they influence your behavior. It also involves understanding the emotions of others and being able to manage and influence those emotions in a positive way.
  • Seek feedback. Regularly ask for feedback from peers, subordinates, and superiors. This will help you understand how you're perceived and where you can improve.
  • Engage in continuous learning. Seek out opportunities for professional development, read books on leadership and management, and attend seminars or workshops.
  • Practice self-reflection. Regularly take time to reflect on your behavior, decisions, and leadership style. This will help you understand what's working and where you can improve.
  • Lead by example. As a leader, your behavior sets the tone for the rest of the team. Make sure you're modeling the values and behaviors you want to see in your followers.


Transformative leadership is about serving others, inspiring and motivating them, stimulating their thinking, acting as role models, and providing individualized consideration. It requires a high level of emotional intelligence, self-awareness, and empathy. If you aspire to be a transformative leader, focus on developing these qualities and skills. Your team and organization will benefit immensely from your leadership.

People Also Ask

What is an example of transformative leadership?

Here, we have provided three real-world examples of transformative leadership:

  1. Martin Luther King Jr.'s leadership in the Civil Rights Movement. He motivated people to change the world through peaceful protest and civil disobedience.
  2. Nelson Mandela's leadership in the fight against apartheid in South Africa. He showed that reconciliation and forgiveness are powerful weapons against oppression.
  3. Steve Jobs' leadership at Apple. He turned a computer company into one of the most innovative and successful businesses in the world.

What are the 4 types of transformative leadership?

The four types of transformative leadership are idealized influence, inspirational motivation, individualized consideration, and intellectual stimulation.

  • Idealized Influence: the ability to evoke admiration and respect in followers
  • Inspirational Motivation: the ability to generate a sense of excitement and enthusiasm in followers
  • Individualized Consideration: the ability to show concern for and attend to the unique needs of followers
  • Intellectual Stimulation: the ability to challenge followers with new ideas and perspectives

What is the main focus of transformative leadership?

The main focus of transformative leadership is to inspire individuals to achieve more than they thought possible and to help them achieve their full potential.

Transformative leaders are able to tap into people's emotions and inspire them to take action. They are also excellent at creating a vision for the future that is inspiring and motivating, and they can help individuals see how they can play a role in achieving that vision. Transformative leaders help individuals become more than they are currently and enable them to reach their full potential.

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