What is Transformational Leadership Theory?
In the 1970’s James McGregor Burns hypothesized that leadership is the key to organizational renewal and global transformation and developed an effective leadership model for the twenty-first century called transformational leadership theory. The transformational model motivates followers beyond expectations and exhibits characteristics of charisma, inspiration, intellectual stimulation, individual consideration for followers, and motivation (Bass 1985). In developing his transformational leadership model Burns (1978) referenced Jesus Christ and “His miraculous transforming leadership”(Burns, 1978), Moses, Martin Luther and other key leaders who helped shape history.
Through an extensive examination of literature Burns discovered over 130 different definitions for leadership. He summarized his data into two basic categories and coined the terms “transformational” and “transactional” leadership (Bass, 1985). The transactional model engages in a social exchange where the leader and followers honor a contract. The contract is reinforced with reward or punishment and it often employs a reciprocal process of identifying and mobilizing persons with certain motives and values or through the use of various economic, political, status resources. Burns found that the chief cultural monitors in transactional organizations are: fairness, responsibility and the honoring of commitments (Burns, 1978, pg. 425).
Bass’ research shows that organizations which are hierarchical in structure and transactional in nature are less effective in reaching and sustaining their goal, accomplishing or expanding their mission, or transforming societies and culture than transformational ones. His research reveals that transformational leaders are more effective in shaping, altering and elevating the motives, values, goals and overall outcomes of organizations by influencing the culture of an organization (Bass, 1985, p. 426). The premise holds that whatever personal or separate interests followers may have, they can be united and pooled with the interests and needs of others, both leaders and followers, and best addressed through the mutual pursuit of the higher goals of liberty, justice and equality within the organization. Transformational leaders teach and model these characteristics to followers creating cultural monitors that transcend personal need and interest to that of mission and the greater good of all (Bass, 1985, p. 426)
Transformational leaders recognize and seek to address the existing needs and personal interest of followers but tend to go further by arousing and satisfying the higher needs of the organization (liberty, justice and equality) in order to engage the whole person for the good of all. The transformational leader raises consciousness of higher needs through intellectual stimulation, articulation, and role modeling (Bass, 1985, p. 14). They focus on raising the issues of consciousness and consequence requiring vision, self confidence, articulation, and inner strength to argue successfully for what he sees as right or good (Bass, 1985, p. 17).
Transformational leaders are known for motivating others beyond their current level of expectation or confidence. According to Burns this is accomplished three ways. First, leaders motivate followers by raising the level of consciousness within the organization from self interest to the pooled needs of others and then focusing attention on accomplishing the greater good for all. Second, transformational leaders motivate followers by focusing attention on the positive consequences of transcending self-interest for the common good of all. Third, motivation occurs by leaders teaching and modeling the altering of personal needs or wants (See Maslow’s and/or Alderfer’s list) to include the greater good of all (Bass, 1985, p. 20). As a result, a transformational leader can invent, introduce, and advance the culture of an organization. He can change the behavior of the organization, changes what the organization can talk about, and can change both the self-identify of followers and the organization (Bass, 1985, p. 24).