What is Transformational Leadership?

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Transformational leaders seek to meet the needs of their followers and follow recognized leadership principles. They are inspirational and can mobilize and motivate people to work together to accomplish shared goals. Leaders who follow transformational principles also keep group morale high, and have strong problem and conflict-solving skills. If you want to develop leadership skills as a managerial or other leadership role, asking the question “What is transformational leadership?” is a strong first step.

History of Transformational Concepts of Leadership

Concepts underlying the term “transformational leadership” have their roots in history, but the term was first defined by James V. Downton in the early 1970s. Other scholars refined the concept, saying that transformational leaders sought to change existing thoughts, goals and processes to achieve better results and serve the greater good in organizations and even society as a whole. James MacGregor Burns wrote a theory of this type of leadership in the late 1970s which encompassed not only organizational good, but also ethical considerations, taking the “high road” in defining individual leadership values and overall social benefit.

Leading by Example

One of the basic tenets of this type of leadership is leading by example. Leaders seeking to be transformational try to inspire their followers through human understanding. They use techniques of empathy and developing a strong rapport to learn the priorities of followers and help to guide them into strong groups that work well together. The ability to sacrifice their own interests for the good of the group, courage, and strong personal beliefs and ethics are characteristics exemplified by this type of leader.

Transformational or Transactional?

Transformational leaders work within existing systems to change them for the better, as opposed to inventing completely new or disrupting current systems without replacing them. They focus on finding out what needs to change and developing solutions to that change. They conduct team-building to maximize work ability and competence and achieve goals. Management training scholars compare these leaders to a differing style called transactional. The term sounds very similar to “transformational,” but transactional leaders focus on known, step-by-step solutions and emphasize similarities between workers rather than change or transformation.

Examples of Transformational Leaders

Some transformational leaders have changed the history of their field or companies and predicted huge economic and social trends. One was Peter Drucker, an economist and author of numerous influential books. Drucker not only correctly predicted the rise of Japan as a world economic power after the second World War, he was one of the first proponents of entrepreneurial thinking. He focused on organizational and individual values for acting as a change agent. Standard Oil founder John D. Rockefeller was another early transformational leader. He built the oil company from a single refinery to one of the world’s largest organizations by aligning every employee and department with a single, clear vision of quality and success.

Most people will recognize the name and work of one of the most iconic transformational leaders: Walt Disney. According to Penn State’s Leadership Program Disney’s clear vision started with the first Mickey Mouse cartoon, leading to the worldwide family entertainment corporation Disney is today. Walt Disney’s life and career are clear examples answering the question “What is transformational leadership?”

See also: 15 Best Value Online Human Resource Management Degree Programs

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