The Power of Transformational

There are many different styles and theorems of leadership and countless frameworks for its development. Some are better than others. Of course, the leadership novice must be aware that some leadership styles are pushed without concern for either validity or scientific foundation (Robertson, 2022). However, if validity and effectiveness are important, and if transforming lives and organizations is the goal, then there is one style of leadership that professionals and aspiring leadership professionals should be aware of. This style is called transformational leadership.

Transformational leadership is often seen as a leadership approach that causes a change in individuals and social systems. The general idea is that transformational leadership aligns worker and organizational needs (Busse, 2014). While sometimes considered idealistic, this style is more of a vision to shoot for.

Accordingly, transformational leadership views leaders as agents of change who are vision-oriented and inspire followers to reach a vision as a team (McShane & Von Glinow, 2013). In either academic or expert circles, the theory is currently and arguably one of the most prized leadership theorems that aim to motivate and inspire followers to exceed organizational and individual objectives and expectations. Ideally, transformational leaders create positive change in their followers and ultimately develop their followers into leaders.

Transformational leadership is relatively easy to identify but difficult to pull off. Transformational leaders can take control of chaotic situations, convey the vision or goal to the group or organization, empower their people to achieve the goal, and then get out of the way. They listen, remain calm, and look for opportunities. They are often passionate and can energize the room or group with their words.

Simplistically, this style is about motivation, inspiration, empowerment, and vision. Busse demonstrates that transformational leadership revolves around several primary functions. These include being charismatic and wielding idealized influence, inspiring motivation and alignment, encouraging creativity and innovation, nurturing talents, and unlocking potential (2014). With these in mind, it is easy to see why transformational leadership is so popular with leadership experts and why such experts include transformational components in their development programs.

What The Science Says

Researchers such as Busse have suggested that transformational leadership is currently the most promising of leadership theorems (2014), with good reason. Evaluations of numerous leadership development programs have found that programs focusing on transformational leadership specifically see improved overall leadership and organizational performance.

To explain why, numerous cross-sectional and longitudinal evaluations of leadership development programs have found that transformational leadership specifically improves leadership, performance, and Organizational Citizenship Behavior (Abrell et al., 2011; Chaimongkonrojna, 2011; Mason et al., 2014). Additional evidence comes from a case study by Tonvongal that explored the impact of transformational leadership development on employees. The conclusion was that transformational leadership provides an overall positive result, positively impacting employee engagement and organizational performance (Tonvongval, 2013).

Transformational Development

Transformational leadership emphasizes follower development specifically (Northouse, 2016)—an important note when considering the organization as a whole. From an organizational perspective, transformational leadership aligns well with contingency theories such as path-goal theory, suggesting that a leader’s main task is to ensure that employees’ goals align with organizational goals (Busse, 2014). However, this goal and approach may require expert development to realize fully.

Expert leadership development programs are usually multifaceted and comprise a variety of considerations. Such programs attempt to address the individual’s transactional and transformational components and their potential impact on the organization and its impact on its worker (Hanson, 2013). Since organizations must mitigate internal and external forces, and many organizations desire adaptability and innovative processes, effective professional leadership development programs often base their programs on transformational leadership and contingency theories to address the previously discussed elements better.

Powerful – Not Perfect

While powerful, leaders must understand that transformational leadership is not a magic bullet. Instead, and as previously stated, it is something to aspire to. The Achilles’ heel of transformational leadership is that it assumes that transformation is both desired and achievable.

Therein lies a potential problem for some organizations. Transformational leadership, or any other true leadership style, can still be challenging to achieve when faced with entrenched and toxic organizational mindsets and cultures. However, assuming that transformation is the organization’s desired outcome, leaders must clarify what requires transformation and the desired result, which also requires examining and communicating organizational issues. Statistically speaking, many organizations are unprepared for such transparency.

Regardless, transformational leadership is achievable but requires soft tactics and a healthy organizational culture (Mehta & Krishnan, 2004). Indeed, the organization’s culture is vital, and a sharp focus on that culture is necessary. However, as Dr. John Kotter pointed out in his book Leading Change, culture change comes last, not first (2012). In other words, culture is the caboose, not the engine.

Remember that transformational leadership often focuses on transforming the individual to affect organizational improvement. Leaders must remember that individuals make up the whole of the organization. Therefore, organizations should consider focusing on developing individuals with the goal of having individuals transform the organization to affect both individual and organizational improvement specifically. This is to say that the individual must be developed first. The individual must also be developed individually because group development programs are significantly less effective than individualized ones.

This may seem like a tall order, but professional leadership development can help. Studies demonstrate that the result of such development efforts will provide a positive and significant return on those investments (Robertson, 2022). Conversely, the result of doing nothing or adhering to flawed and outdated leadership styles is merely a continuation of the status quo—or, worse, individual and organizational decline.


Abrell, C., Rowold, J., Weibler, J., & Moenninghoff, M. (2011). Evaluation of a long-term transformational leadership development program. German Journal of Human Resource Management, 25(3), 205–224. https://doi.org/10.1177/239700221102500307

Busse, R. (2014). Comprehensive leadership review – literature, theories and research. Advances in Management7(5), 52–66. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Ronald-Busse/publication/331564071_Advances_in_Management_-_Comprehensive_Leadership_Review_-_Literature_Theories_and_Research/links/5c80e83492851c69505c984b/Advances-in-Management-Comprehensive-Leadership-Review-Literature-Theories-and-Research.pdf

Chaimongkonrojna, T. (2011). The impact of full range leadership development on leadership performance and effective leadership behavior. AU-GSB E-Journal, 4(2), 56–69. https://search.proquest.com/scholarly-journals/impact-full-range-leadership-development-on/docview/2384093731/se-2?accountid=10378

43(3), 4–23. https://doi.org/10.1002/pmj.21267

Hanson, B. (2013). The leadership development interface: Aligning leaders and organizations toward more effective leadership learning. Advances in Developing Human Resources15(1), 106–120. https://doi.org/10.1177/1523422312465853

Kotter, J. (2012). Leading change. Harvard Business Review Press.

Mason, C., Griffin, M., & Parker, S. (2014). Transformational leadership development: Connecting psychological and behavioral change. Leadership & Organization Development Journal, 35(3), 174–194. https://doi.org/10.1108/LODJ-05-2012-0063

McShane, S., & Von Glinow, M. A. (2013). Organizational behavior: Emerging knowledge. Global Reality (6th ed.). McGraw-Hill Irwin.

Mehta, S., & Krishnan, V. (2004). Impact of organizational vulture and influence tactics on Transformational Leadership. Management and Labour Studies29(4), 281–290. https://doi.org/10.1177/0258042X0402900403

Northouse, P. (2016). Leadership: Theory and practice (7th ed.). Sage Publications, Inc.

Robertson, D. M. (2022, April 6). Servant leadership: Not for everyone. LinkedIn. Retrieved May 22, 2022, from https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/servant-leadership-everyone-dr-david-m-robertson-msl/

Robertson, D. M. (2022, May 17). The reality of Leadership Development. LinkedIn. Retrieved May 22, 2022, from https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/reality-leadership-development-dr-david-m-robertson-msl/ 

Tonvongval, S. (2013). Impact of transformational leadership development through organization development intervention on employee engagement and firm performance: A case study. Social Research Reports25, 34–49. https://www.researchreports.ro/images/researchreports/social/srr_2013_vol025_003.pdf