What is Transformational Leadership?
A quick Google search on “leadership styles” shows that there are seven distinct styles of leadership -- or ten. Or eight, six, five, four or three. Ok, there are a lot of different leadership styles, and there’s no definitive answer on how many there are. They have names like Autocratic, Paternalistic, Democratic, Laissez-faire, Transactional, AND Transformational. Transformational certainly sounds better than most of the others. But what is it, and why is it different?
The term “Transformational Leadership” was first introduced by James MacGregor Burns, who was studying political leaders at the University of Maryland. Through his studies, he received the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award in History and Biography. In the late 1970s, he shifted his focus to studying leaders’ traits and the actions of great leaders. This led to him founding a new category of study called leadership studies. Here he introduced two concepts of leadership, one called Transactional Leadership and one called Transformational Leadership.
What is the difference between Transactional Leadership v. Transformational Leadership?
According to Burns, Transactional Leadership is a leadership style in which the person or organization motivates others by giving or withholding rewards or punishments. Part of their style is to focus on supervision or performance. Transactional leadership works to encourage followers and can be passive or assertive. Generally, a transactional leader provides merits, bonuses, or recognition to employees when meeting the organization’s goals. Transactional leaders are not looking to change the organization. They are looking to keep things the same, focusing on driving results through closely monitored employee performance.
There’s a place for transactional leadership, but it’s limited and fading. Think about a leader managing a factory that churns out widgets from an assembly line. If you’re not planning to change your widgets or the manufacturing process, transactional leadership might be just the thing to drive to peak efficiency.
But the place for these kinds of processes and the leadership style that goes with them is shrinking. Today, traditional industries and procedures are continually being disrupted to make way for new solutions. A leadership style that’s more accommodating to change is in order.
Transformational leadership is all about -- well, transformation. Transformational leaders are visionaries who mobilize employees or followers to think creatively and work together to bring about revolutionary change.
Our founder, Keith Krach, is one of the world’s most prolific transformational leaders. Through his 40-year career, he has transformed multiple industries, higher education, philanthropy, mentorship, and diplomacy. The whole point of the Global Mentor Network is to create more transformational leaders through a transformed approach to mentorship -- mentorship at scale.
Krach (and GMN) defines a transformational leader as a person who: “Challenges the status quo, mobilizing and empowering people to achieve a noble cause that will have a profound, far-reaching impact.”
If you break it down, transformational leadership is about three things:
- Challenging the status quo
- Empowering others to achieve a noble cause
- Mobilize people to bring about real change
Progress, learning, and development are all about challenging the status quo. You can’t introduce something new without taking on the old. While Krach has made a fortune or two in tech, he’s not tech-focused. He’s people-focused.
In his words, “At the end of the day, we are in the people business. The ability to inspire, mobilize, and unify people -- with a noble cause -- is absolutely key to becoming a transformational leader.”
Finally, according to Krach, “Change is the most powerful word in any language because, without change, we do not develop, prosper, or grow.”
What are the characteristics of a transformational leader?
At GMN, we’ve worked closely with Keith Krach to develop a set of characteristics that we believe describe the unique way transformational leaders see themselves, others, and the world.
When it comes to themselves or their inner life, transformational leaders are:
Principled -- They apply moral principles to every action. Every day.
Courageous -- They dare to make a difference, despite their fears.
Challenging -- They don’t settle for the status quo. They transform their world.
Resilient -- They keep going, despite setbacks and failure.
As transformational leaders relate to others, they are:
Mobilizing -- They multiply their impact by spurring others to act.
Empowering -- They give others the encouragement they need to excel.
Unifying -- They build high-performance teams that are focused on a shared vision.
Inspirational -- They kindle a fire in others’ hearts to join their noble cause.
And when they look to the world, transformational leaders are:
Visionary -- They create inspiring visions of a transformed world.
Innovative -- They tap new realities to create new possibilities.
Strategic -- They master the chess moves to reach their goals.
Prolific -- They leave a trail of successes in their wake.
All of our mentors on GMN are transformational leaders; they have inspired others to bring about transformational changes in the world. Explore hundreds of stories from our mentors about the challenges, struggles, and rewards of transformational leadership at www.GMN.net.
Learn about your strengths and weaknesses as a transformational leader, by trying our Transformational Leader Index (TLI) assessment