Transformational Leadership

transformational leadership feature image

Transformational leadership is a popular type of leadership. And, it offers you a potent way to go about your work as a leader.

Transformational leaders influence their followers to:

  • Put self-interests aside in service of a noble cause
  • Go beyond what their job requires and realise their full potential

transformational leadership feature image

A Brief History of Transformational Leadership

James Downton first coined the term transformational leadership in 1973.

Then James MacGregor Burns 1978 wrote a book on political leadership. It was this book that brought the idea more widespread attention. Burns separated:

Then, in 1985, Bernard Bass, published a book that turned leadership on its head. In the book, Bass expanded on Burns’ ideas. And, he described the first model of transformational leadership. Like Burns, Bass separated:

Though, unlike Burns, Bass believed that you should use both types of leadership. He later called this the full range leadership® model.

The Bass model of transformational leadership dominates the field. But, it is not the only model. Other models include the:

Bass Model of Transformational Leadership

According to Bernard Bass, transformational leaders motivate followers by:

  • Making them aware of the importance of a cause
  • Getting them to go above and beyond in service of that cause
  • Helping them meet their own, higher-order needs

Bernard Bass first shared his model of transformational leadership in 1985. Since then, he has made several refinements.

His original model included 3 types of transformational behavior:

  • Charisma
  • Intellectual stimulation
  • Individual consideration

In 19901, Bass, and his colleague, Bruce Avolio, added a new behavior to the model. They called this behavior inspirational motivation. At the same time, they changed the term charisma to idealized influence.

In 19992, Bernard Bass and Paul Steidmeier made a distinction between:

  • Authentic transformational leaders
  • Pseudo-transformational leaders

To be an authentic transformational leader, you must act ethically. This distinction helps to separate:

Moreover, it laid one of the foundations for Authentic Leadership.

Transformational Leadership Part 1: Idealized Influence

Transformational leaders use what Bass calls idealized influence to motivate their followers. As a result, followers go above and beyond what is normally expected of them.

Followers do so willingly because they admire and respect their leader and what she is trying to do. It is this respect and admiration that allows you to influence those you lead.

How do transformational leaders gain such influence?

First, they have a strong sense of purpose that their followers can identify with. Secondly, they hold values that their followers can relate to. And, their behavior genuinely reflects both these points.

For example, transformational leaders make personal sacrifices to serve a noble cause.

As a result, followers respect and admire their leader.

Transformational Leadership Part 2: Inspirational Motivation

Transformational leadership also involves what Bass calls inspirational motivation.

They do this by rallying followers behind a compelling vision and shared goals. Furthermore, they nurture a mutual understanding of:

  • What is right
  • What is wrong 
  • What is important

At the same time, transformational leaders are optimistic about the future. And, they are enthusiastic about creating it.

They also express confidence in their followers. Specifically, in their followers’ capacity to turn their ideas into reality.

In one sense, idealized influence and inspirational motivation achieve the same ends. But idealized influence works because your followers respect and admire you. While inspirational motivation relies on the appeal of your vision.

Transformational Leadership Part 3: Intellectual Stimulation

The third part of the Bass model of transformational leadership involves intellectual stimulation. Put another way, if you want to be a transformational leader, you must harness the potent power of your followers’ minds.

You do this by:

  • Encouraging your followers to think things through on their own
  • Seeking differing perspectives from those you lead
  • Helping your followers to look at problems in new ways
  • Inviting your followers to challenge their existing beliefs
  • Nurturing creativity and innovation
  • Empowering followers to solve problems themselves

Transformational Leadership Part 4: Individualized Consideration

The final part of the Bass model of transformational leadership is individual consideration.

Such consideration starts by viewing your followers as individuals. In turn, you treat people in an individualized way. For example, you can offer direction and structure to those who need it, while offering more autonomy to those who want and deserve it.

Secondly, you expect each of your staff to deliver results. This taps into their subconscious need for achievement.

Individualized consideration also involves coaching, mentoring and developing your staff. You need to help your followers recognise and harness their unique strengths. This taps into their subconscious need for growth.

Finally, you must help your followers connect:

  • Their individual aspirations, needs and development
  • To the aspirations of the organization

Measuring Yourself Against the Bass Transformational Leadership Model

Bernard Bass and his colleagues developed the Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire™ (MLQ). It measures your leadership against the 4 parts of Bass model. The MLQ also measures:

  • Aspects of transactional leadership
  • Outcomes such as satisfaction and extra effort

The MLQ involves you taking a self-assessment. It also involves gathering the perceptions of others, such as your followers.

The MLQ is a reliable and valid measure of transformational leadership3.

Yet, some academics4 question the validity of the 4 subscales.

Kouzes & Posner Model of Transformational Leadership

In 1987 Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner published their book, The Leadership Challenge. In it, they describe a slightly different model of transformational leadership.

Kouzes and Posner looked at thousands of interviews and case studies. And, they identified 5 key things that transformational leaders do.

1 Model the Way

Transformational leaders are clear about their personal values. They also know how their personal values align with the shared values of their followers.

Most importantly, they act in ways that honor those values.

The first part of this transformational leadership model is like the idea of idealized influence in the Bass model.

2 Inspire A Shared Vision

Transformational leaders create a compelling vision of a desirable future. They then rally their followers behind this vision.

This part of Kouzes & Posner model is like the idea of inspirational motivation in the Bass model.

3 Challenge the Process

Transformational leaders are committed to improvement and growth. They challenge the way things are done, and the beliefs that underpin the status quo.

Such leaders are like pioneers stepping into the unknown. They are willing to take risks, to experiment and to learn as they go.

This third aspect of the Kouzes & Posner transformational leadership model shares some similarities with intellectual stimulation in the Bass model.

4 Enable Others to Act

Transformational leaders harness the abilities of their followers. They consult and collaborate with their followers. And, they often let their followers make decisions for themselves.

Transformational leaders harness the abilities of their followers. They consult and collaborate with their followers. And, they often let their followers make decisions for themselves.

This aspect of Kouzes and Posner’s model shares some similarities with the Bass model. Specifically, with:

5 Encourage the Heart

Transformational leaders need to encourage the hearts of their followers. They do this by providing praise and recognition for a job well done. This includes personal comments as well as public celebrations.

This aspect of transformational leadership does not appear in the Bass model.

Measuring Yourself Against the Kouzes & Posner Transformational Leadership Model

Kouzes and Posner developed the Leadership Practices Inventory®(LPI®). It assesses you against their version of transformational leadership.

Like the MLQ, the LPI is a 360-degree assessment. It has been a popular part of leadership development centered on the above 5 aspects of transformational leadership.


The validation results reported on the LPI are not impressive and there has been very little research on the psychometric properties of this model.
John Antonakis5


Podsakoff’s Transformational Leadership Model

In 1990 Philip Podsakoff and his colleagues reviewed published work on transformational leadership. They identified 6 specific behaviors associated with transformational leadership.

  1. Inspiring followers with their vision for the future. This is like the inspirational motivation aspect of the Bass model. It is also the same as the second behavior in the Kouzes & Posner model.
  2. Acting in ways that reflect their espoused values. This is like the idealized influence aspect of the Bass model. It is also the same as the first leadership behavior in the Kouzes & Posner model.
  3. Getting people to work together to achieve group goals. This is also part of the inspirational motivation aspect of the Bass model.
  4. Holding high expectations of their staff. This is part of the individualized consideration aspect of the Bass model. It is also part of encouraging the heart in the Kouzes & Posner model.
  5. Providing individualized support. This sounds like the individualized consideration aspect of the Bass model. But, Podsakoff focuses on showing respect and consideration for followers’ feelings. In contrast, Bass focused on meeting staff’s individual needs and nurturing personal growth.
  6. Offering intellectual stimulation. This is the same as intellectual stimulation in the Bass model. It also covers Kouzes & Posner’s idea of challenging the process.

Measuring Yourself Against the Podsakoff’s Transformational Leadership Model

Podsakoff and his colleagues developed the Tranformational Leadership Inventory (TLI). It measures your behavior against their model of transformational leadership.

Like the MLQ and the LPI, the TLI is a 360-degree assessment.

The LPI only measures transformational leadership. In contrast, the TLI and the MLQ measure aspects of both:

Unlike the MLQ and the LPI, the TLI is not a propriety instrument. This has made it popular amongst researchers. In fact, the TLI is the second most popular measure of transformational leadership.

Comparing the 3 Models of Transformational Leadership

Bass Kouzes & Posner Podsakoff
Idealized Influence Model the Way Values-Driven Behavior
Inspirational Motivation Shared Vision Inspirational Vision
Group Goals
Intellectual Stimulation Challenge the Process
Enable Others to Act
Intellectual Stimulation
Individualized Consideration Enable Others to Act
Encourage the Heart
Individualized Support
High Expectations
Encourage the Heart High Expectations

As you can see, there is considerable agreement between the 3 models of transformational leadership.

Key similarities:

  • All 3 models involve leaders is being a positive role model
  • All 3 models involve using an inspirational vision
  • Bass & Podsakoff both use group goals
  • All 3 models involve empowering staff
  • All 3 models include holding high expectations of staff

Key differences:

  • Kouzes & Posner do not use group goals
  • Within individualized considerationBass focuses on developing followers, while Podsakoff fouses on supporting followers

And, Kouzes & Posner’s idea of encouraging the heart focuses on recognising and celebrating good work. Neither Bass nor Podsakoff include this in their models of transformational leadership. Yet, they do include it in their models of transactional leadership.

The Impact of Transformational Leadership

On the plus side, research shows that transformational leadership has several benefits.

Benefit Set 1

Transformational leaders have a positive impact6 on staff:

  • Satisfaction
  • Motivation
  • Performance

Benefit Set 2

Transformational leadership leads to lower rates of staff9:

  • Turnover
  • Stress
  • Burnout

Benefit 3

Transformational CEOs improve innovation at the organizational level10.

Note 1

This positive impact relates to leaders at all levels of leadership7.

Note 2

Improvements in performance include 8:

  • Individual performance
  • Team performance
  • Organizational performance

Note 3

There are positive impacts in different types of organization7. For example, public and private organizations. Yet, leaders in public organizations tend to show more transformational behaviors7.

Note 4

Performance measures include both:

  • Subjective perceptions
  • Objective criteria

Performance levels rose despite the measure being used7. But, followers’ opinions of their performance were higher than objective measures7.

The Downside

On the downside:

  • A more recent meta-analysis11 showed the effect was less than impact in the above studies. Yet, the impact was still positive.
  • Contingent reward behavior is part of transactional leadership. Yet, it has a positive impact equal to the effect of transformational leadership11.
  • Some researchers believe that charisma (aka idealized influence) is distinct from transformational leadership. As a result, they think it should not be part of the transformational leadership model12.
  • There is only limited support for separating the 4 factors in the Bass model. There is also some support for combining them into 1 global factor13.
  • Some academics believe that transformational leadership focuses too much on the leader. The danger is that other factors related to performance may be ignored14. For example, follower contribution and contextual factors may be overlooked.


And some interesting findings:

  • Women tend to show more transformational behaviors than men. But the differences are small15.
  • Contingent reward behavior had more impact in business settings than it did in other settings. These other settings include military, educational and public organizations16.
  • Overall, there is only a weak link between personality (Big 5) and transformational leadership17. Yet, different aspects of personality were linked to different parts of transformational leadership18. First, extraversion and agreeableness were the 2 strongest aspects of personality related to idealized influence. Secondly, extraversion, openness and agreeableness had the strongest impact on inspirational motivation. Thirdly, openness had the largest impact on intellectual stimulation. Finally, openness and agreeableness had the largest effect on individual consideration.
  • The MBTI is a different way of measuring personality. Some leaders are Extroverted, iNtuitive and/or P These leaders saw themselves as more transformational than other types. Followers agreed that Extroverted leaders were more transformational than Introverted leaders. But followers also saw Feeling and Sensing leaders as being more transformational than Thinking and iNtuitive types19.



Leadership and Performance Beyond Expectations. by Bernard Bass.

Multifactor Leadership Questionaire Manual by Bernard Bass and Bruce Avolio

Transformational Leadership (2nd ed.) by Bernard Bass & Ronald Riggio

Leadership by James Macgregor Burns, J. M. (1978)

Rebel Leadership: Commitment and Charisma in the Revolutionary Process by James Downton

The Leadership Challenge by Jim Kouzes & Barry Posner


Download a pdf of the Research Footnote References here.


Full Range Leadership® is a registered trademark of Bernard Bass and Bruce J. Avolio.

The Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire™ is a trademark of Mind Garden, Inc.

The Leadership Practices Inventory® and the LPI® are registered trademarks of John Wiley & Sons.

The MBTI® is a registered trademark of the Myers & Briggs Foundation.

How to Create a Compelling Company Vision

company vision feature image apple tree analogy

Leaders set the direction for their organization. And, one potent way they do this is through creating a compelling company vision.

company vision feature image apple tree analogy

While I use the words company vision, you could apply the advice in this article to any form of organization. You can even apply it to sub-divisions of an organization.

What Is a Company Vision?

A company vision is simply a mental picture of a future state that you want to move your organization towards.

Vision is an essential part of transformational leadership. And, researchers have linked transformational leadership to higher levels of staff satisfaction, motivation and performance. So, your vision for your company matters.

The Apple Tree Analogy

John Kotter uses a simple apple tree analogy to explain how company vision works.

One leader takes charge and starts commanding people to get up and move. ‘Move now,’ she screams. She then continues barking in much the same way as a drill sergeant.

A leader of a different group manages the move down to the last detail – ‘hop up, leave your personal belongings on the ground, march towards the apple tree, do not get closer than 2 feet from anyone else, leave your personal belongings.

A third leader says to her group, ‘it’s going to rain soon, why don’t we walk over to that apple tree. We can stay dry and have fresh apples for lunch.’

It was the third leader who used vision. Yes, the vision she used was with a small group of people, rather than a company vision, but the lesson remains the same.

This example shows that a company vision does not have to be complicated, complex or mystical. Nor is it about hanging a vision statement on the wall.

Rather, it is about motivating people to move in a particular direction.

What Makes A Vision Compelling?

Some authors have described the characteristics of a compelling vision. But, only a few are backed up by empirical research.

Leadership Sage is dedicated to offering you evidence-based advice. So, the 7 elements of a compelling company vision listed below are based on this research.

Compelling Company Vision Element 1: Be Desirable

The first thing that makes a vision compelling is its desirability. You want your vision to inspire, motivate and offer direction to those you lead. So, you must ensure that it appeals to their hopes, ideals and values.

Compelling Company Vision Element 2: Be Clear

Secondly, you must make sure that your vision offers people a clear picture of what the desired future looks like. You want your vision to give direction to those you lead. A vague or fuzzy picture will not be able to do this.

Compelling Company Vision Element 3: Be Broad

Your company vision needs to be clear. But it must also be broad. You want it to guide people’s actions, while still allowing your staff to apply it creatively to their own work. Moreover, you want to motivate your followers in an ongoing way. Specific goals lose their motivational value once they have been met.

Compelling Company Vision Element 4: Be Challenging

To be motivating, your vision must be challenging and even audacious. Yet, it must also be realistic. If your vision is not challenging enough, it will not motivate your staff to do anything different to what they are already doing. But, if people don’t believe it is achievable, it won’t motivate them either.

Compelling Company Vision Element 5: Be Focused on the Long-Term

Goals and objectives focus on short-term results, while vision focuses on the long-term. Your vision needs to guide your staff far into the future. This is essential due to the scope and scale of the challenge inherent in your vision.

Compelling Company Vision Element 6: Be Concise

A compelling company vision is concise. But not to the point of being meaningless or unclear. You must be able to explain your vision in less than 5 minutes. And, as a general rule, it should be made of less than 23 words. This allows you to integrate it into all of your communications and it helps others to remember it.

Compelling Company Vision Element 7: Be Stable

While it may be worth refining your vision periodically, you don’t want to be changing it every other day. So, a good vision must be able to endure foreseeable changes in the environment, including changes in technology.

In Short

Compelling company visions are:

  1. Desirable
  2. Clear
  3. Broad
  4. Challenging
  5. Focused on the long-term
  6. Concise
  7. Stable

Sample Company Visions

To make unique sports cars that represent the finest in Italian design and craftsmanship, both on the track and on the road.
Company Vision for Audi
To provide access to the world’s information in one click.
Company Vision for Google
Making the best possible ice cream, in the nicest possible way.
Company Vision for Ben & Jerry’s
To develop leaders who will one day make a global difference.
Company Vision for Harvard University
The web’s most convenient, secure and cost-effective payments solution.
Company Vision for PayPal
To be the world’s most customer-centric company.
Company Vision for Amazon




Bennis, W., & Nanus, B. (1985). Leaders: Strategies for Taking Charge. New York: Harper & Row.

Kotter, J. P. (1996). Leading Change. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2007). The Leadership Challenge. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Nanus, B. (1992). Visionary Leadership. San Francisco: Wiley.

Research References

Awamleh, R., & Gardner, W. L. (1999). Perceptions of Leader Charisma and Effectiveness: The Effects of Vision Content, Delivery, and Organizational Performance. Leadership Quarterly, 10, 345–373.

Baum, J. R., Locke, E. A., & Kirkpatrick, S. A. (1998). A Longitudinal Study of the Relation of Vision and Vision Communication to Venture Growth in Entrepreneurial Firms. Journal of Applied Psychology, 83 (1), 43-54.

Kantabutra, S. (2008). Vision Effects in Thai Retail Stores: Practical Implications. International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management, 36 (4), 323-342.

Kantabutra, S. (2008). What Do We Know About Vision? Journal of Applied Business Research, 24 (2), 127-138.

Kantabutra, S., & Avery, G. C. (2007). Vision Effects in Customer and Staff Satisfaction: An Empirical Investigation. Leadership & Organization Development Journal, 28 (3), 209-229.

Yukl, G. A. (1999). An Evaluation of Conceptual Weaknesses in Transformational and Charismatic Leadership Theories. The Leadership Quarterly, 10 (2), 285-305.