“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.”
While the term “transformational leadership” was yet to be coined in the early 1800s, John Quincy Adams provided that strong definition for the concept. The characteristics of transformational leaders throughout history and today revolve around motivating others toward a common goal.
By learning more about leadership styles and considering transformational leadership examples, professionals can identify and develop the skills they need to become effective change agents.
What Does it Mean to Be a Transformational Leader?
Transformational leadership refers to a leadership style that emphasizes encouragement, motivation, and the collective pursuit of the good. Transformational leaders, who can also be called change agents, inspire their employees to be innovative, to try new things, and even to make mistakes. These leaders prioritize their employees, building their self-esteem and empowering them to flourish in their roles.
Change agents lead with positive standards rather than punitive ones, communicating belief and trust to their employees.
Why Is Transformational Leadership Important?
Studies show that individuals who practice transformational leadership generate greater satisfaction in their followers than those who practice any other leadership style. These change agents also improve the intrinsic motivation of their employees, increase employees’ performance, and reduce burnout and work stress. Teams whose leaders practice transformational leadership show an increase in performance of 78.1 percent.
Research also reveals that change agents who embody the characteristics of a transformational leader cultivate work environments in which employees have higher levels of understanding and engagement with their organization's mission. As employees grow in a sense of belonging and participation, which results in a greater sense of well-being at work, they are more likely to drive high financial performance.
7 Skills Shared by Transformational Leaders
Transformational leaders are known for exhibiting leadership skills that build trust and community in their organizations. From inspirational charisma to individualized consideration, transformational leaders drive innovation by bringing people together to respond to change with collaboration and creativity.
Consider seven key skills shared by transformational leaders and some examples of these skills making a difference in the workplace.
1. Emotional Intelligence
Emotional intelligence (also called emotional quotient or EQ) refers to an individual’s capacity for understanding and managing their own emotions and their ability to understand the emotions of the people around them. In the workplace, emotional intelligence may look like providing constructive feedback and staying calm in tense situations.
At FedEx Express, integrating an emotional intelligence process for managers led to program participants experiencing increases in decision-making (72 percent), quality of life (60 percent), and influence (60). The program also leads an 8–11 percent increase in core leadership competencies.
2. Idealized Influence
Change agents display idealized influence by laying a foundation of trust for building relationships with their employees. This includes demonstrating high moral and ethical standards, serving as a role model, and gaining respect through acting rightly. Examples of demonstrating idealized influence in the workplace include not showing favoritism, honesty even when it could result in lower revenue, and dedication to organizational goals that benefit society at large.
In a study that spanned 378 teachers and 42 schools, researchers found that when heads of schools demonstrated idealized influence, students experienced several positive outcomes. These positive results included students growing in their commitment or loyalty to their schools, feeling as though each student was treated fairly, and participating in innovation.
Transformational leaders are change agents who use their imaginations or unique ideas to produce new products, systems, or ways of thinking. Within an organization, this may look like a leader including lower-level employees in brainstorming sessions, building diverse teams, and communicating creative freedom to team members.
At Mazda Motor Manufacturing, employees were trained in creative problem-solving, team building, and continuous improvement. The result? After just a few months, teams began to meet productivity and quality standards ahead of schedule. Supervisors reported that creativity-trained workers gained an understanding of new processes two weeks faster than their untrained counterparts.
4. Inspirational Motivation
Change agents do not simply communicate a vision for an organization, they model it. Inspirational motivators charismatically display an attractive vision that followers desire to emulate. These leaders may display high levels of optimism and implement procedures to help employees find meaning in their work.
In one study of the effect of CEO inspirational motivation on senior managers, researchers found that the inspirational motivation of the CEO significantly predicted the performance of senior managers.
Adaptability refers to an individual’s ability to be agile in the face of shifting circumstances. As change agents, transformational leaders not only demonstrate adaptability in their own approach to change but guide others to develop agility and an openness to new dynamics as well.
India-based B2B SaaS company, Freshworks, was one of many companies that demonstrated adaptability during COVID-19. Within forty-eight hours of the World Health Organization’s declaration of a pandemic, Freshworks had distributed over 22,000 4G internet dongles to staff members. In October 2020, the company met its pre-pandemic deadline for its biggest project yet, Freshworks CRM, thanks to the company’s early adaptability.
6. Individualized Consideration
Change agents pay attention to each follower’s needs and serve as personalized coaches or mentors to their employees. They foster open lines of communication so that employees feel empowered to share their ideas and skills, which in turn equips the leader to recognize and leverage each individual's unique abilities.
In a study of supply chain performance, researchers found that leaders who displayed individual consideration as one of their leadership skills could be expected to see supply chain management results that were 17 percent higher than their counterparts who did not exhibit individualized consideration.
Through humility, a genuine effort to build relationships with employees, and self-aware open-mindedness, transformational leaders cultivate organizational cultures of collaboration. These change agents empower employees to work together to reach a goal, create a product, or produce an outcome that benefits the organization.
Studies regularly espouse the benefits of collaboration in the workplace. One found that companies encouraging collaborative work were five times as likely to be high performing. Similarly, another study found that research participants who were trained to act collaboratively stuck at their task 64 percent longer than individuals working alone. The collaborators also reported higher engagement and success rates and lower fatigue levels.
Become a Change Agent through Marymount University’s Online Ed.D. Program
Transformational leaders make a positive difference in schools, corporations, and nonprofit organizations. If you want to join them, the fully online Doctor of Education in Leadership and Innovation from Marymount University can prepare you to be a change agent. With courses like Global Leadership Perspectives and Crisis Management, and projects that specifically address real-world problems of practice within ones’ workspace, Marymount University’s Ed.D. program equips professionals with the tools to create innovative solutions to enact a powerful reaction of positive change within their organization.
“Marymount is innovative and not afraid to be bold and brave,” says MUO Ed.D. student Johnathan Harris. Colleague Kristie Edwards agrees, noting that the program has given her “priceless” tools for improving her craft as a principal who aspires to become a leadership coach.
Connect with an enrollment advisor to learn more about our flexible program designed for working professionals.