The Transformational Leader

The Leader of Tomorrow

Leadership has been a topic of interest for many years in the organizational sciences. Leaders are present in many aspects of life such as work teams, families, and government to name a few. Some of these leaders, take Dr. Martin Luther King for example, use their positions to positively influence people around them and inspire their followers to create valued change. However, history has shown us that there is also a dark side to leadership; one needs to look no further than Adolf Hitler to see the atrocious acts that a leader can “inspire” his followers to commit. In organizational settings, followers look to leaders for direction and as role models to drive the company towards the ever-important vision that is the basis for the organization’s existence.

Leadership researchers have identified a large number of different leadership styles, but transformational leadership is often cited as the most effective at empowering people to produce lasting change. This style of leadership has been associated with improved financial outcomes at the organizational level as well as increased productivity for the employees (Bass, 1990).

What is a Transformational Leadership Style?

Transformational leadership is associated with four attributes that work together and build off of each other (Ling et al., 2008) to inspire and energize followers. So what does a transformational leader look like?

1) Transformational leaders are charismatic and create an optimistic vision of the future direction of an organization. Larry Page and Sergey Brin, founders of Google, charismatically articulated a bold and compelling vision that has helped cement the company as one of the top innovators in the industry: “To organize the world’s information and to make it accessible and useful” (“Google’s Vision Statement & Mission Statement, 2015). Had that same vision been stated with less charisma, Google may not have grown into the company it is today.

2) Rather than simply relying on their formal power to get things done, (as an authoritative leader would do), transformational leaders inspire organizational members by motivating them to contribute to the greater good of the company.

3) Transformational leaders are intellectually stimulating in that they challenge their employees to question the status quo and to view organizational problems through a different set of eyes. This is demonstrated by Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple from 1997-200*, who entered the company during tumultuous times with stock prices drastically decreasing and with Apple employees working on nearly 350 projects. He produced lasting positive change by encouraging his employees to shake the status quo and focus company efforts on a mere 10 projects.

4) Finally, transformational leaders provide employees with individualized consideration through coaching and empowerment in order to improve follower development (Ling et al., 2008). While a more traditional leadership style entails setting a challenging goal and promising reward or punishment depending on the outcome of the situation, a transformational leader would mentor followers through the learning experience, provide feedback on their performance, give ample encouragement, and provide the necessary resources required to complete a given task.

By now you may be thinking “Wow! Transformational leaders sound great - but how do I go about identifying one accurately?” Well, look no further than the empirically validated and reliable Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire (MLQ) developed by Avolio & Bass (2004). The MLQ is a 45 item measure that is designed to identify a range of leadership styles, including transformational leadership. Employers can easily obtain this survey and have it be incorporated in the organization’s selection process in order to find that perfect charismatic transformational leader that can intellectually stimulate, inspire, and motivate your employees towards success.


Avolio, B. J. & Bass, B. M. (2004). Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire. Manual and sampler set. (3rd ed.) Redwood City, CA: Mind Garden.

Mischel, W. (1977). The interaction of person and situation. In D. Magnussen & N. S. Endler (Eds.), Personality at the crossroads: Current issues in interactional psychology. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Bass, B. (1990). From transactional to transformational leadership: Learning to share the vision. Organizational Dynamics, 18, 19-32.

Ling, Y., Simsek, Z., Lubatkin, M. H., & Veiga, J. F. (2008). The impact of transformational CEOs on the performance of small- to medium-sized firms: Does organizational context matter? Journal of Applied Psychology, 93, 923–934. (Steve Jobs) (google’s vision)