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Transformational Leadership Theory and Personality Essay

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Updated: Dec 30th, 2019

The concept of leadership is as old as mankind. A number of theories and conceptual models that explain this concept have been put forward by psychologists among other organisational experts. The theories have been classified into eight broader schools of thought.

They include: the trait approach to leadership, the behavioral theories, the contingency or situational school, leaders and followers, dispersed leadership, participative theories, relationship theories, and management theories (Bolden, Gosling, Marturano, & Dennison, 2003). These schools of thought emerged in the course of the twentieth century.

Most of the early theorists were interested in the qualities that made leaders unique compared with their followers. On the other hand, latter theorists have considered various variables like situation and level of skills in understanding leadership.

This essay discusses the transformational theory of leadership, which is under the leaders and followers relationship. Key terms used in the theory shall be explained, major components presented, as well as a description of how the theory works.

The strengths and weaknesses of the theory will also be offered. Furthermore, the essay will present a selected organisational behaviour and show how it links to the transformational theory; for instance, the influence of leadership on the identified observational behavior or vice versa.

Transformational Leadership Theory

Transformational theory of leadership is mainly concerned with understanding and explaining the relationships between the leaders and their followers. The theory argues that leaders seek to motivate, encourage, and be a source of inspiration to others by assisting them realise the significance and the higher value of the task presented to them (Covey, 2002).

While other theories focus on the leader as a unique figure, transformational leadership theory is interested in exploring the significance of the relationship between the leader and the follower. The roles of a leader and the one being led are interrelated. Transformational leaders place high priority on the success of their followers in general as well as individual excellence. Thus he or she is supposed to be a team leader.

The concept of transforming leadership was first suggested by James MacGregor Burns in1978. He defines transforming leadership as a relationship of mutual motivation and promotion where followers can assume leadership roles while leaders become agents of moral principles.

Burns suggested further that this kind of leadership occurs when leaders and followers interact and in the process uplift one another to advanced levels of motivation and moral values.

In proposing this theory, Burns was inspired by the humanistic psychology movement and he suggested that a transforming leader has the capacity to change, alter, and raise the motives, values, and objectives of meaningful transformation among those being led (Covey, 2002).

According to Burns, transformational leadership is different from other styles because of the roles expected of a leader and the follower. The other leadership styles consider a leader as a dominant figure who is always in front as others follow.

Transformational leaders are empowered with a special ability to change the leaders as well as the followers by the use of principles that makes them have mutual adherence to modal values and end-values (Tichy & Devanna, 2006).

The concept of transforming leadership as advanced by Burns was later developed by Bernard Bass into that of transformational leadership. Bass proposed that in this style, the leader’s ultimate aim is to transform the followers (Bass & Avolio, 1994). This conception draws a difference between Bass’ and Burn’s idea of leadership.

Bass views the interaction between the leader and the followers as being one-way while Burns’ thinks that both the leader and the one being led have mutual influence and hence a two-way interaction (Bolden et al., 2003). However, Bass includes a new dimension of social change to the style. This perspective is lacking in Burns’ conception of transforming leadership.

According to Bass, transformational leaders have the ability to enlarge the portfolio of needs for his or her followers, change a follower’s self-interest, enhance the confidence levels of the followers, raise the level of expectations of those being led, and to set very high standards of value-expectation of the leader for his or her followers.

A transformational leader, as put forward by Bass, should encourage and facilitate behavioural change and inspire others to achieve higher levels of personal potentialities equivalent of Maslow’s self-actualisation (Bass & Avolio, 1994).

Other prominent contributors to this theory of leadership are Tichy and Devanna who added to the ideas of Burns and Bass. They have jointly written a book entitled Transformational Leadership which is targeted at both organisational and work contexts. They argue that transformational leadership is not due to charisma, but it is behavioural in nature which implies that it can be learned (Tichy & Devanna, 2006).

A transformational leader, therefore, is viewed under this theory as a role model with which the followers admire and would want to identify with. For a long time, the most common model of leadership has been that of a ‘bottom line’ approach. However, transformational leadership adopts the ‘top line’ perspective.

Some characteristics of transformational leadership, as outlined by Covey (2002) include:

  • Builds on an innate desire by man for meaning in life
  • Focuses on promoting moral and ethical values
  • Rises above daily affairs
  • Is geared towards the attainment of long-term goals without violating accepted human values and principles
  • Concerned mostly with missions and laying of strategies to achieve them
  • Aim at helping people release their full human potential by identifying and cultivating people’s talents
  • Evaluates and re-evaluates job opportunities with an aim of making them challenging and purposeful
  • Focuses on internal organisational structures and systems in order to reinforce desired values and goals

The main goal of transformational leadership, according to Bolden et al. (2003), is to literally ‘transform’ people as well as organisations by changing their mind and heart; enlarging vision, insight, and level of understanding; ensuring clarity of purposes; making behavior to be in tandem with held beliefs, principles, or values; and facilitating permanent changes that are self-perpetuating, and with own dynamic momentum.

Transformational leaders are associated with unique behaviours that distinguish them from other leadership styles. In their book ‘Transformational Leadership Styles and Behaviors,’ Bass and Avolio identify some of the behaviors exhibited by transformational leaders (1994). The first style is the idealised behaviour which emphasises on living one’s ideals.

It is characterised by an individual talking about the deep-held values and beliefs and tendency to have a strong sense of purpose in life. People with this style are very concerned with the moral and ethical consequences of their decisions and actions and are always enthusiastic in exploring new possibilities of doing things. Such leaders also like talking about the essence of building trust among each other.

The second behaviour is the desire of the leader to inspire others. This is usually achieved by being optimistic about the future even if in the midst of trouble, talking confidently about the achievement of set goals, assuring the followers that the goals will be attained, and providing a vivid image of the future and essential things to be done.

A transformational leader is also known to take a strong stand even on controversial issues. Thirdly, those using this style of leadership are usually intellectually stimulating.

They offer a critique of every assumption to evaluate their appropriateness and explore various alternatives when solving problems facing their organisation by viewing the problem from different angles. Such leaders are also known to discourage followers from using conventional approaches while addressing traditional problems by encouraging them to question those assumptions that have not been subjected to critical questioning.

The fourth characteristic of transformational leaders is that of embracing individualised consideration. They prefer spending time and resources teaching and developing others and treat each one of them as an individual as opposed to as a group.

These leaders are keen on understanding individual concerns of the followers and helping them capitalise on their strengths. The fifth behaviour associated with transformational leadership is that of idealised attributes where the leader instills a sense of pride in the followers and often prioritises the concerns of the group. They always strive to be role models by dedicating themselves to the service of others.

This theory of leadership has both advantages and disadvantages.

On the positive side, the theory is quite optimistic and envisions a future of possibilities, can transform people’s mindsets to see new chances, help in ensuring that the organisation remains true to its mission and vision, enhances uniqueness of an organisation, does not encourage master-servant relationship in the organisation, and helps in bringing up an inspired workforce that will strive to achieve the organisation’s goals.

However, the theory may be criticised for being overambitious and setting unrealistic goals, advocates for the bigger picture which may result in missing out important details, and relying on motivation and inspiration alone as suggested by the theory may obscure one from truth and reality.

Organisational Behaviour

Organisational Behavior (OB) refers to the study of individual as well as group dynamics in a given organisation, and the nature of the organisations under consideration (Nelson & Quick, 2007). It has been acknowledged that when people interact in organisations, a number of factors influence the interaction process.

Despite the diversity in the workplace in terms of people’s backgrounds and cultural values, they are expected to work in harmony for maximum output. This topic has seen a growing interest in the study of organisational behavior.

Personality and Organisation

The behaviour of an individual is determined by his or her personality which incorporates a person’s qualities, unique skills and expertise together with such traits as grooming and general attitude (Nelson & Quick, 2007).

All these combine to form a specific consistent behavioural pattern of a person in specified contexts. Personality is a reflection of how one’s feelings, thoughts, cognitions and overt behaviour have been ordered. It has been established that certain u patterns are not physically observable unless they are tested.

Any given organisation is greatly influenced by the personality of individuals in it. A number of methods have been developed to measure people’s personality. They include Personality Inventories, Projective Tests, and Assessment Centre (Nelson & Quick, 2007).

Personality Inventory is a commonly used method and involves answering a set of questions which are designed to elicit a specific dimension of personality. The respondents are expected to indicate the extent to which they either agree or disagree with a given statement.

Projective Test, on the other hand, is a bit sophisticated method of testing personality. In this approach, it is assumed that the prevalent fantasies, feelings, aspirations and expectations are measurable and can be used to test personality. Ten pictures which are symmetrically dived into two are presented to a person undergoing the test and the individual is expected to indicate what he or she perceives in the pictures.

The third method, Assessment Center, is made up of several methods used to test employees’ personalities. It includes various tasks associated with the organisation. The results are then classified into behavioural patterns that may be used to determine personality like sensitivity to others, personal ambitions, independence, and so on.

The main objective of strategies used in organsational behavior is to help employees perform at their best and hence facilitate the achievement of organisational goals. It has been established that the performance of an individual depends largely on the competencies and will-power. However, motivation of employees plays a crucial role in the attainment of set goals.

Managers, therefore, ought to understand each employee and how best to motivate them. Motivation is a skill that should be employed by every manager.

Some of the strategies include the provision of opportunities for growth and recognition in the workplace, allowing the employee to exercise some degree of freedom on the work schedule, empowering workers in their area of specialisation, among other approaches. A highly motivated employee has optimum output and vice versa.

Personality and Transformational Leadership Theory

This essay has discussed the Transformational Leadership Theory in terms of its components, how it works, as well as some of the strengths and weaknesses. The relationship between personality and organisation has also been explored. There is a strong relationship between transformational leadership theory and the topic of personality in organisational behaviour.

It has been noted that the theory argues that leaders always seek to motivate, encourage, and be a source of inspiration to others by assisting them realise the significance and the higher value of the task presented to them.

This theory, therefore, advocates for the development of personality of an individual. This is in support of the idea that personality of an employee has significant influence on the general performance of the organisation.

In organisational behavior, there is need to understand how individuals are motivated and how their interaction affects the running of the organisation. This also calls for an investigation of how managers or organisational leaders interact with their employees or followers.

Here, transformational leadership theory may be helpful since its principles are at the core of leader-follower relationship and the role of each party. Both topics advocate for the need for motivation in bringing out the best in individuals.

For a leader who uses the transformational style, he or she must fully understand the personality of his or her followers and hence the need to be conversant with this topic under organisational behavior.

It can be concluded that there is a strong link between transformational leadership theory and personality in organisations. The focus of the two is on understanding individual persons and their characteristics. Motivation forms the basis of these two areas of interest. Although personality may be used to define an individual as he or she is, there is a possibility of influencing it through proper motivation and inspiration.


Bass, B. M. & Avolio, B. J. (1994). Improving organizational effectiveness through transformational leadership. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications

Bolden, R., Gosling, J., Marturano, A. & Dennison, P. (2003). A Review of Leadership Theory and Competency Frameworks. Center for Leadership Studies: University of Exeter

Covey, S. (2002). Principle-Centered Leadership (3rd ed). Simon and Schuster

Nelson, D. L. & Quick, J. C. (2007). Understanding organizational behavior (3rd ed). Cengage Learning

Tichy, N. & Devanna, M. (2006). Transformational leadership (4th ed.). New York: Wiley

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