Transformational Leadership: Definition, Characteristics and Tips

Transformational Leadership: Definition, Characteristics and Tips


Transformational leadership is exemplified in many areas. Nelson Mandela, the handball coach who shines through his exploits or the passionate teacher who gives birth to a vocation in a student: these figures of natural authority lead to change, while making an impression on the minds of their disciples.

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In a changing societal and technological context, transformational leadership applies in business as an effective approach to management. The transformational leader guides his team towards a positive and necessary change, which satisfies the interests of the company and promotes the personal development of each collaborator.

In business, transformational leadership is illustrated, for example, in the context of a CSR project: the team is made aware of good environmental practices and gradually adopts them until it becomes automatic; for the company, carrying out this organizational transformation makes it possible to contribute to the general interest and improves its brand image. Another example: the transformational leader leads the digital transition, an essential and strategic long-term project for the company in its competitive environment, and beneficial to employees who become more efficient by familiarizing themselves with the use of innovative tools.

Transformational leadership is distinct from other forms of leadership, including:

  • Transactional leadership, which aims to lead short-term projects by motivating the efforts of employees based on the reward system.
  • Charismatic leadership, where the leader federates to succeed, but without necessarily being attentive to the individual progress of employees.
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What are the characteristics of a transformational leader?

Like any leader, the transformational leader has a natural authority : he influences his team because he inspires them. He is also charismatic, humble, open-minded and empathetic. Some of the qualities common to all leaders are accentuated in the transformational leader, qualities thanks to which he shines in the context of in-depth transformation projects, over the long term.

According to Professor Bernard M. Bass, author of a theory on transformational leadership dating from the late 1980s, four major characteristics distinguish this type of leader. These are the 4 I’s for: ” Idealized influence », « Inspirational motivation », « Individual consideration ” and ” intellectual stimulation “. Transformational leaders also seem to share four strong personality traits: they are sociable, open to novelty, altruistic and conscientious.

Theory and experience make it possible to attribute three major characteristics specific to the transformational leader. He is a visionary, assertive and benevolent leader.

A visionary leader

The transformational leader is an actor of change at all stages of the transformation.

  • At the beginning of the project, he sensed the need and the opportunity for change. He is able to take a step back to get an overview, the famous “big picture”, of a situation, and he has advanced knowledge to deduce the consequences. This vision allows him to initiate the transformation project, often by anticipation.
  • Throughout the transformation process, he maintains a vision of the final result and adapts it according to circumstances, thanks to his heightened perception of risks and opportunities. Creative, he manages to think beyond conventional frameworks, to find new and effective solutions in response to new problems.

The transformational leader has a high social conscience, he focuses on positive changes that create a strong impact, which he identifies thanks to his correct vision of the future. He knows how to identify the priority issues, which generally relate to issues that go beyond the sole interest of the company, but which the company must nevertheless be concerned about. The climate emergency, for example, is a societal problem that the company can participate in solving: the transformational leader makes it a change project, to change internal practices.

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An assertive leader

The transformational leader does not constrain his team, he leaves employees great freedom of choice and action. Unlike the transactional leader, he does not condition the rewards on the results, and does not differentiate the collaborators of his team according to their exemplarity or their performance. He affirms his ideas and his strategy, while respecting the opinions of others.

Thanks to his charisma, in reality, he positions himself as an inspiring and stimulating figure: his team is naturally influenced by his ideas and adheres to them voluntarily and enthusiastically, even when transformation projects go beyond the strictly personal interests of employees. The transformational leader is intellectually brilliant and has a powerful aura. He is thus influential to the point of persuading his team of his own ideals and convictions: the collaborators become imbued with it and make it a priority motivation, they evolve positively in contact with him.

A benevolent leader

The transformational leader, endowed with an exemplary moral sense, is committed to the well-being and progress of each employee. His goal is not to take credit for success, but to achieve that success. However, he considers success in a collective dimension: the company, the employee and society at large must benefit from it. He therefore demonstrates benevolence, like the relationship between a teacher and his student.

  • He considers each member of his team individually: his intrinsic values, his level of skills and his shortcomings.
  • It encourages employees to surpass themselves, by giving them ways to develop their potential.
  • It does not sanction error.
  • He is available for his team, and implements tools and practices to collaborate effectively.
  • It raises the maturity of employees in terms of moral conscience, by creating an ethical work environment.
  • It promotes group harmony and cooperation between employees.
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How to develop transformational leadership?

Transformational leadership is built on innate qualities. However, the manager can work to develop certain key characteristics, to be an actor of change in the company when it proves to be relevant.

First of all, it is essential to keep abreast of current and upcoming issues. By diligently documenting himself using reliable sources, the manager can gradually learn to anticipate trends, detect opportunities and risks. This is how he triggers change, he drives transformation. Knowing the history and understanding the economy, in addition, is important to learn from proven solutions and to avoid past pitfalls.

Secondly, it is necessary to learn patience. The current environment requires accelerating innovation, rushing decisions and obtaining rapid results. The change projects led by the transformational leader, on the contrary, are accomplished over the long term because they require deep transformations, which modify ingrained practices. The manager must be patient to avoid frustration.

Developing transformational leadership also involves change their way of thinking and behavior. The manager must strengthen his support for employees, know how to step aside for the benefit of the team during collective successes and, overall, stimulate his creativity to operate a successful transformation.

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