Transformational leadership is among the more recent leadership theories. It focuses on a leader’s ability to inspire followers and it does so by focusing on a vision that can change the structures around the organization. Its objective is clear when you simply look at the word the theory is built around: transform.

But how do you get people to follow a vision? Is transformational change always a good idea?

In this guide, we will hope to answer the above questions and delve deeper into the model of transformational leadership. We’ll start by examining the ideas behind the style, its core elements and the requirements of a transformational leader. We’ll also examine the advantages and disadvantages of the leadership theory and present you with a few examples of true transformational leaders.

Transformational leaders don’t start by denying the world around them. Instead, they describe a future they’d like to create instead.” – Seth Godin

Understanding the different contexts of Transformational Leadership

To understand leadership theories, you often have to look at the history of how the model developed. Understanding the different ideas that contributed to the growth of the framework can make it easier to comprehend the modern context and use of the structure.

In this section, we’ll examine the different historical texts, which influenced the birth of the transformational theory and the ideas these theories added to the framework. We’ll also explore the current theory introduced by Bernard Bass.

The historical context

Although James MacGregor Burns is considered as the father of the transformational leadership theory, James V. Downton first coined the term. In his 1973 book Rebel Leadership: Commitment and Charisma in a Revolutionary Process, he studied the concept of charisma and it’s influence in religious leadership.

But Downton’s work remained rather unnoticed and the concept of transformational leadership didn’t take off until the publication of Burns’ Leadership. The book came out in 1978 and it examined different leadership models of the time in detail. According to Burns, most of these models focused on a transactional process, focusing on different exchanges between the leader and the subordinates.

On the other hand, he thought transformational leadership is different, as it engages the leader to form a relationship with the subordinates and ensure it motivates them and improves their moral behavior. Transformational leadership was a process in which “leaders and followers help each other to advance to a higher level or morale and motivation.”

The central focus for Burns was to identify this difference between the transactional and transformational leadership. For Burns, transactional leadership was based on the idea of give and take approach. An example would be a salary negotiation, where both sides want to find a balance between what they have to give in order to receive something. On the other hand, Burns believed transformational leadership to create a value shift between the leader and the subordinate. The leader would achieve change in the subordinate’s views through a subtle and positive manner.

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