Encourage, inspire, and motivate. These are the usual words we see around the term transformational leadership. The term was first conceptualized by sociologist James Downton in 1973, popularized by James MacGregor Burns in his 1978 book Leadership, and further developed by Bernard Bass to what is now the modern transformational leadership theory. In a nutshell, transformational leadership is a leadership style in which the leader encourages, inspires, and motivates in order to drive change, innovation, and growth for an organization (White 2018).
Transformational leaders are great visionaries with impeccable ability of driving innovations and creativity (Cherry 2020). They are also exemplary role models; their ethics, values, and strong sense of mission and vision enables them to command the respect and loyalty of their followers (Towler 2019). Transformational leaders also exhibit high degree of self-awareness in addition to their ability of fostering meaningful relationships with their followers (Riggio 2020).
One key trait of a transformational leader is being charismatic. German sociologist Max Webber refers to charisma as a form of social authority which transformational leaders derive their power from through their actions and character, instead of the traditional sources such as formal position (Towler 2019). Transformational leaders also need to be highly communicative to inspire and motivate. They need to be able to clearly articulate the mission, vision, and values. While the message content itself is important, the leader’s charismatic delivery of the message has great effect on the followers’ attitude towards the message (Hunt and Conger 1999).
According to Bass, transformational leadership has four elements: inspirational motivation, idealised influence, individualised consideration, and intellectual stimulation (Lea 2019). Inspirational motivation (a.k.a. “charisma”) refers to the articulation of the vision, leveraging emotions to drive performance. Idealised influence is simply becoming a role model. Individualised consideration refers to the leaders’ ability of providing guidance to their followers; being a mentor or coach and attending to their needs. Intellectual stimulation is challenging the status quo and seeking opportunities to propel creativity and innovation (Towler 2019).
How does this it affect motivation?
Abraham Maslow’s Theory of Motivation puts self-fulfilment as the highest-order need, beyond the basic survival and psychological ones. Transformational leadership is purpose-driven style which motivates the individuals to tap on their full potential and to reach actualisation through encouragement, inspiration, and creativity.
Charismatic articulation of the vision can invigorate the followers, triggering their emotions which can inspire and motive them to perform at higher levels (Porter, Angle, and Allen 2003). Followers are also motivated when they see their leaders setting an example with a strong sense of purpose (Grant 2012). With the clear understanding of the vision, followers often explore on the problem thereby resulting in enhanced creativity (Porter, Angle, and Allen 2003). Followers also feel valued when their leaders care about their welfare, providing them support and guidance, therefore increasing their motivation (Bradberry 2018).
Transformational Leader: Alexander the Great
When we think of an example of a transformational leader, oftentimes we think of modern personalities such as Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey, Nelson Mandela, and etc – people whose fame was brought about by their leadership in their own companies, professions, and countries. While they are clearly great examples of such leader, I would argue that Alexander the Great presents a simpler case.
Compelling and clear vision. Alexander’s vision was simple but very compelling – to establish the greatest empire and defeat the Persian army. This vision was clearly shared with his trusted generals and motivated his men, who knew they were part of the greatest conquest in history (Jarus 2017).
Leadership by example. Alexander did lead his men from the front and shared the same experiences with them. When the troops were hungry and thirsty, he himself also went hungry and thirsty (De Vries 2014). Another example was when one of the Macedonian soldier hesitated to climb the city wall during a battle, Alexander took a ladder and started climbing. This inspired the rest of his troops and enabled them to overcome their fears (Mokapati 2016).
Spurs innovation and creativity. Alexander’s army was the most advanced during the era due to his reliance and support for the creative minds of his military engineers. They were able to develop new weaponries, armours, and military tactics.
Emphatic and appreciative. Before each battle, Alexander converses with his troops, recognizes, praises, and rewards soldiers who were exceptional in the battles. He also visits those wounded after the battles. It’s also said that he was an emphatic listener and said to have known the names hundreds of his troops (de Vries 2014).
Transformation leadership is a powerful leadership style which taps on the higher-level of motivation needs of a person. It is beyond the basic and psychological needs; it engages the passion, purpose, and conviction which are more potent than superficial rewards (such as money and fame) can bring. To become such a leader, it is crucial to be charismatic, be a role model through your own values and principles, and open-minded in seeking new opportunities while genuinely caring for your followers.
Bradberry, T. (2018) 7 ways managers motivate and demotivate employees [online] available from <https://www.theladders.com/career-advice/7-ways-managers-motivate-and-demotivate-employees> [21 April 2021]
Cherry, K. (2019) Transformational Leadership [online] available from <https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-transformational-leadership-2795313> [21 April 2021]
CQ Net (2016) Four Dimensions of Transformational Leadership [online] available from < https://www.ckju.net/en/dossier/qualities-transformational-leaders-and-what-distinguishes-them-transactional-leaders> [21 April 2021]
De Vries, M.F.R.K., (2014) 11 Leadership Lessons from Alexander the Great [online] available from <https://knowledge.insead.edu/blog/insead-blog/11-leadership-lessons-from-alexander-the-great-3697> [21 April 2021]
Grant, A.M., (2012) ‘Leading with meaning: beneficiary contact, prosocial impact, and the performance effects of transformational leadership’. Academy of Management Journal 55 (2), 458-476
Hunt, J. and Conger, J.A. (1999) ‘Charismatic and transformational leadership: Taking stock of the present and the future (part II)’. Leadership Quarterly 10 (3), 331-334
Jarus, O. (2017) Alexander the Great: Facts, Biography & Accomplishments [online] available from <https://www.livescience.com/39997-alexander-the-great.html> [21 April 2021]
Lea, S. (2019) Four I’s of Transformational Leadership [online] available fromhttps://www.businessballs.com/leadership-styles/four-is-of-transformational-leadership/ [20 April 2021]
Mokapati, P. (2016) Leadership Lessons from Alexander, the Great (Part I) [online] available from <https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/leadership-lessons-from-alexander-great-part-i-praveen-mokkapati/> [21 April 2021]
Porter, L.W., Angle, H.L. and Allen, R.W. (2003) Organizational influence processes. 2nd edn. New York: Routledge
Riggio R.E. (2020) How to Develop Yourself into a Transformational Leader [online] available from <https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/cutting-edge-leadership/202012/how-develop-yourself-transformational-leader> [20 April 2021]
Simply Psychology (2020) Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs [online] available from https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow-needs2.webp [22 April 2021]
Towler, A. (2019) The qualities of transformational leaders and what distinguishes them from transactional leaders [online] available from <https://www.ckju.net/en/dossier/qualities-transformational-leaders-and-what-distinguishes-them-transactional-leaders> [21 April 2021]
Wallpaper Cave (n.d.) Alexander The Great [online] available from <https://wallpapercave.com/w/wp6407051> [22 April 2021]
White, S. (2018) What is transformational leadership? A Model for motivating innovation. [online] available from <https://www.cio.com/article/3257184/what-is-transformational-leadership-a-model-for-motivating-innovation.html> [20 April 2021]