Despite the fact that leadership has been a topic of interest to historians and philosophers since ancient times, it was only around the turn of the century that scientific studies began to understand the concept of leadership. Bass, (1990) stated that “The study of history has been the study of leaders–what they did and why they did it” (p. 3). There are copious amounts of research and information on leadership, and despite this an agreed upon definition still does not exist. Scholars and researchers have debated and deliberated the definition of leadership for many years and there are as many definitions as there are people trying to define such.
The attempt to understand why some leaders succeed at the highest levels while others achieve average or below average results has maintained the interest of researchers and leaders themselves. Leadership is central to the sustainability, success and effectiveness of organisations and it is incredibly important that we therefore understand how to improve leader capability. One theoretical perspective, transformational leadership, has stood out.
Transformational leadership’s potential to address issues that are relevant in the modern, changing, and uncertain work environment is the main reason for its positive influence. Transformational leadership is one of the most popular models, and has attracted global interest. Transformational Leadership suggests a powerful influence process, where, (often charismatic) leaders persuade followers to adopt certain behaviours in order to bring about what the leader regards as beneficial change. The central concept here is that of vision. Transformational leaders could be categorised as a visionary, futurist or a catalyst for change that assumes a proactive approach to management.
Transformational Leadership was inspired by James McGregor Burns’ Pulitzer Prize winning book, Leadership. Burns made an important distinction between ‘transactional leadership’, which he suggested was the way that most politicians led their followers on the basis of reciprocal exchange leading to the satisfaction of both the leader’s and the follower’s self-interests; and ‘transformational leadership’, which was practiced by those political leaders who were able to engage their followers not only to achieve something of significance but also to ‘morally uplift’ them. Therefore, a crucial element of Burns’s conception of Transformational Leadership is a firm belief that to be transforming, leaders had to be morally uplifting.
The Four I’s of Transformational Leadership
The research related to transformational leadership by Bass resulted in the labelling of 4 distinct characteristics. These four characteristics or components of authentic transformational leadership are based on the assumption that (1) the moral character of the transformational leader has a tendency to show concern and respect for the followers; (2) the transformational leader has ethical values and integrity embedded in his/her vision, articulation, and executed programs; and (3) ethical choices and actions are made based on moral principles and values. Each of these components can be measured by the Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire (MLQ).
According to Sharif (2019), individualised consideration refers to one-to-one care where a leader considers each follower’s unique circumstances. Such leaders listen to and share an individual’s concerns while simultaneously helping to build the individual’s confidence, rather than treating everyone the same and as if having the same needs. Coaching, mentoring and advising followers with individual attention characterise this component of leadership. Followers are developed to successively higher levels of potential through a supportive climate. Transformational Leaders further provide continuous feedback and links organisational members’ needs to the organisation’s mission. These leaders attempt to remove unnecessary “roadblocks” in the system that inhibit both the development of followers and their achieving optimum performance. The individual consideration behaviours of transformational leaders, may help ameliorate stress through building high-quality and more transparent relationships with followers, utilising their understanding of follower, and posture them in positions where success is more likely, better matching their resources to demands (Hannah, Perez, Lester, & Quick, 2020). Transformational leaders prepare followers for future stressful periods and manage their expectations; recognising abrupt mood and behavioural changes under stress; identifying followers’ stress thresholds; and modulating their workload and work-life balance and therefore stress levels. Having individualised consideration is clearly an important skill and should be honed by managers of teams.
Transformational leadership requires a manager to be concerned with providing ways and reasons for people to change the way they think about technical problems, human relation problems, and even their own personal attitudes and values that have developed over the individual’s life span. This is characterised by promoting intelligence, rationality, logical thinking, and careful problem solving (Humphreys & Einstein, 2003). An intellectually stimulating leader is intent on showing subordinates new ways of looking at old problems. Organisational learning and adaptation are encouraged by such leadership, because of its strong emphasis on the development of human capital. Transformational leaders tend to encourage, challenge, and inspire knowledge building amongst staff since knowledge serves as an important source of sustainable competitive advantage. Followers are supported for questioning their own beliefs, assumptions and values, and those of the leader, which may be outdated or inappropriate for solving the problems confronting the organisation. Creativity is encouraged, there is no public criticism of individual members’ mistakes or criticism if ideas differ from the leaders’ ideas. This would require the leader to have well-balanced self-confidence, self-awareness and emotional intelligence,
Charisma used to be seen as an innate trait, which one either has or does not have. Charismatic leadership is identified as among the most critical leadership style-influencing individual behaviours (Shao, Feng, & Wang, 2017). The effects of charismatic leadership are more emotional than calculative in that the follower is inspired to enthusiastically give unquestioned obedience, loyalty, commitment and devotion to the leader and to the cause that the leader represents. Charismatic leaders are good at inspiring followers by talking optimistically about what needs to be accomplished in the future, and instilling in their followers positive ideals that are related to desired outcomes. Avolio et al., (1991) elaborates by stating that inspirational motivation is realised further through an interplay with individualised consideration and intellectual stimulations in that the behaviour strengthens the leader’s inspirational appeal because it makes followers feel valued, self-confident, and assured that their leader can overcome obstacles to meet new challenges and opportunities. If a vision is further specified and shared by followers, a leader’s level of inspirational motivation is strengthened.
This factor results in followers developing deep trust and respect for the leader. There are two aspects to idealised influence: the leader’s behaviours and the elements that are attributed to the leader by followers and other associates. Showing followers that they can accomplish objectives that they felt were impossible, builds the leader’s influence for future missions and objectives. Such leaders will ultimately build the capacity in followers to become self-directed. According to Hernon & Schwartz, (2008) this factor requires the leader to have self-knowledge, which supports relating to others effectively. Successful leaders need to establish credibility with colleagues while also listening to and building consensus with colleagues in order to display idealised influence. Transformational leaders are idealised in the sense that, in addition to providing vision and a sense of mission, they are also expected to serve as a role model or moral exemplar by going “beyond their individual self-interest for the greater good of the group and making personal sacrifices for others’ benefits” when necessary. Leaders who have a great deal of idealised influence are willing to take risks, and are consistent rather than arbitrary. This will establish credibility for managers with their teams and consequently trust levels are strengthened.
These components of transformational leadership may have been created a while back, however they are intuitively still valid in many ways and needs to be adapted for our current world of work. These leadership behaviours do not come naturally to managers, and as such need to be honed and developed. Neuroscience coaching techniques and principles in particular provides a new foundation for developing managers and leaders to develop these skills as well as grow in self-awareness which is a primary requirement for leadership.
Please reach out should you wish to find out more about how to develop transformational leadership skills in your organisation. We are launching a highly interactive Masterclass Workshop on developing Transformational Leadership skills through Neuroscience principles and techniques. DM or contact me as below for more information.
Avolio, Bruce J, Waldman, D. A., & Yammarino, F. J. (1991). Leading in the 1990s: The Four I’s of Transformational Leadership. Journal of European Industrial Training, 15(4), 9–16.
Bass, Bernard M. (1990). Handbook of leadership: Theory, research, and managerial applications (3rd ed.). New York: The Free Press.
Hannah, S. T., Perez, A. L. U., Lester, P. B., & Quick, J. C. (2020). Bolstering Workplace Psychological Well-Being Through Transactional and Transformational Leadership. Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies, 27(3), 222–240.
Hernon, P., & Schwartz, C. (2008). Leadership: Developing a research agenda for academic libraries. Library and Information Science Research, 30(4), 243–249.
Humphreys, J. H., & Einstein, W. O. (2003). Nothing new under the sun: Transformational leadership from a historical perspective. Management Decision, 41(1), 85–95.
Sharif, K. (2019). Transformational leadership behaviours of women in a socially dynamic environment. International Journal of Organizational Analysis, 27(4), 1191–1217.