Transformational leadership is a system of supervision that was first introduced by James MacGregor Burns. It is a type of leadership where leaders and followers work with one another to achieve higher levels of motivation and team morale.
Instead of dictating changes to their team, transformational leaders inspire people to change their perceptions, expectations, or motivations to work toward a common mission or goal. This process, according to Bernard Bass, who expanded upon this theory, garners higher levels of respect, trust, and admiration.
As with any form of leadership, there are advantages and disadvantages of transformational leadership which must be examined. Although transformational leaders do inspire higher levels of trust and respect, there must also be an absolute believe in the “rightness” of the vision being pursued. If a transformational leader loses faith, so does the rest of their team.
List of the Advantages of Transformational Leadership
1. Transformational leadership lowers turnover costs.
Transformational leaders tend to retain employees more often than other forms of leadership. They are able to retain more customers as well. That is because of the charisma this leadership style requires. Those using transformational leadership seek to satisfy the needs of the organization as they work to satisfy their personal needs simultaneously. That means everyone on the team is more likely to feel like they have a specific role within the organization, which keeps them engaged.
2. It is a leadership style which engages the full person.
Transformational leaders are able to achieve higher levels of productivity from their followers because they seek to meet the demands of personal motives. This leadership style excels at recognizing existing needs or demands, especially in their followers. When used in decisive or heroic ways, followers become fully motivated to work toward what they feel is a righteous cause.
3. Transformational leaders create and manage change.
For organizations and brands to evolve, they must be willing to change, improve, and expand over time. When new initiatives are in place, transformational leadership is the best style available to bring others on-board to the vision being introduced. They are able to sell the changes, improvements, or expansion required because they already believe in the process. They make the changes themselves, which encourages others to make the changes as well. When implemented correctly, this process allows the leader, the followers, and the organization to eventually reach their full potential.
4. New corporate visions can be quickly formulated.
Transformational leaders do an excellent job of incorporating a new vision into their current situation. They are also good at recognizing gaps or problems in the process of a vision, which allows them to make adjustments or recommendations to correct the situation immediately. Then, because their charisma helps to sell the morality of the vision to their followers, the adoption of the new vision filters quickly down the hierarchy of the organization to get everyone onto the same page.
5. Transformational leaders create enthusiasm.
Enthusiasm is contagious. When you see someone having a good time, then you want to share in that experience. If followers see their leader being successful in their pursuit of a new vision or gal, then they want to experience that success as well. Transformational leaders are able to create enthusiasm within their ranks of followers because of their own enthusiasm. That leads to higher levels of productivity, higher levels of team morale, and lower levels of follower turnover.
4. It encourages ongoing learning and development.
Transformational leaders do more than work toward a final goal or vision. They also work toward achieving higher levels of efficiency for themselves and for their followers. This leadership style is one of the best at having people engage with the learning process for this position. These leaders work to stimulate the intellect of their employees, build a positive culture, and provide individualized learning supports. In return, they typically receive a higher level of engagement and performance from their team.
5. Transformational leaders are excellent communicators.
One of the biggest issues corporations face with general productivity is a lack of team communication. When team members are not properly informed of job duties, expectations, or project stipulations, then they cannot be fully productive. Transformational leaders are forced into a position where they must be an excellent communicator. They must provide consistent feedback to their followers to keep them pointed toward the vision or goal being worked toward. Without this communication, it is almost impossible for this leadership style to succeed.
6. It quickly changes low-morale situations.
When a company is struggling for a long time period, they typically use transformational leaders to boost morale and change the environment. The passion, enthusiasm, and high energy levels encourage and inspire others to find success. Whenever there is a state of indifference present in the workplace, the transformational leader is the most capable of breaking the team out of that routine.
7. Transformational leaders understand relationships.
The transformational leader wants to build a strong community within their base of followers at all times. That is because they understand that the core of all business transactions is a strong and healthy relationship. Not only does this approach remove fragmented relationships that happen between employees, teams, or divisions, it also encourages more customers to stick with an organization for repetitive purchases. When present over a long-term time period, the transformational leader can eliminate any unhealthiness which may exist within their sphere of influence.
8. It is a leadership style which focuses heavily on ethics.
Transactional leaders tend to focus on the completion of tasks without seeing why they are important. Transformational leaders might sometimes lose their task-oriented focus, though they always remained focused on doing the right thing in the right way. They are ethically-driven, keeping a tight focus on values, and it comes from an authentic perspective. It is almost impossible to “fake it to make it” as a transformational leader.
9. Transformational leaders ask the important questions.
The most common question you’ll hear from a transformational leader is this: “Why?” The second-most common question you’ll hear is this: “Why not?” This leadership style is more than creative. It is also strategic. They don’t do things because that’s always the way they’ve been done. They want to look for the most efficient path toward success, then bring as many followers as they can along for the ride. Transformational leaders are always looking to find a new way to accomplish things.
10. This leadership style takes pride in the outcomes achieved.
Transformational leaders are unique in that they are able to transcend their own interests for the betterment and growth of their organization. They are motivated to continue pushing on because they take ownership of the process which achieves outcomes. Through this process, they can do more than stimulate others toward success through their role-modeling. Transformational leaders can actually alter the strengths of their followers through their emphasis on communication and motivation.
11. Transformational leaders seek to avoid coercion.
The transformational leader does not want to use their position to control others. They do not use fear or influence to coerce compliance. This leadership style prefers to use inspiration as the motivator for change instead. These leaders use humanistic concerns to change internal cultures because they bring the concept of hope back into the big picture. That is why the followers of a transformational leader are often loyal to a fault with their devotion. They adopt the morality and ethics of the transformational leader in their own lives.
12. People are treated as individuals.
Transformational leaders believe in the power of perspective. They treat each follower as an individual, with their own unique needs and capabilities. That approach keeps the team environment informal and friendly because it treats followers as an equal. Directions are followed through support, advice, and encouragement, along with role-modeling, instead of issuing orders. Transformational leaders will even assign specific tasks based on their knowledge of each person’s unique motivations, abilities, and strengths.
List of the Disadvantages of Transformational Leadership
1. Transformational leaders can develop negative outcomes.
Transformational leadership does provide many positive outcome opportunities. Each positive opportunity offers a negative outcome potential as well. As they like to say in the Star Wars universe, there is a “dark side” which must be avoided by transformational leaders.
Adolf Hitler may be the most extreme example of a negative transformational leader. He offered a vision, appealed to the values of his people, and was quite charismatic. The outcome he eventually achieved, however, led his people away from moral betterment.
2. There must be continual communication available.
Transformational leaders can only be successful if they maintain open lines of communication with their team. It is through this communication that the vision and “rightness” of a task are transferred from the leader to the followers. Close, frequent communication must occur for this to happen. If the team perceives that this communication isn’t happening, then they will lose interest in the tasks being asked of them.
3. It requires constant and consistent feedback.
Transformational leaders are also required to maintain the enthusiasm of their team to achieve a specific vision or goal. To keep enthusiasm levels high, leaders must provide a constant stream of feedback to their followers about the progress being made. This feedback must occur frequently for it to be successful. Transformational leaders who are perceived to lack this skill or to provide this to their followers are likely to fail.
4. Transformational leaders need their followers to agree with them.
A transformational leader will not pursue a task if they do not believe in the moral rightness of completing it. That is because the leader must continuously sell the vision they have to encourage their team to work toward it. If any of the followers disagree with the leader’s assessment that the work being done, or the outcome achieved by the vision is immoral, then they will not participate. In some situations, followers may even rebel against the leader if they feel that they are being led in an immoral direction.
5. Risks taken through transformational leadership can be disruptive.
Transformational leaders use their charismatic approach to serve as a role model for their followers and their organization. They use this energy to show people how to achieve goals or accomplish tasks. There are certain risks that are generally accepted by those using this leadership style to find innovation or create change. If the leader accepts risks that are, or perceived to be, excessive or unnecessary, then the actions of the leader become detrimental to the team and their organization.
6. It can lead to employee burnout.
Transformational leaders can inspire their teams to achieve high levels of success. They do an excellent job of encouraging their followers to work together to achieve strategic goals. Optimism from a transformational leader creates optimism within the team. If high levels of sustained productivity are required to achieve the vision in question, however, or there are unreasonable deadlines in place, then it can lead to burnout occurring within the followers.
7. Transformational leaders often focus on individual needs.
The transformational leader seeks diversity because more opinions and experiences lead to more innovation. To encourage diversity, transformational leaders encourage followers to pursue vocational enhancement opportunities. This may include seminars, workshops, focus groups, or even formal classes. The needs of individuals are often the focus of the leader instead of the needs of the team, which means one team member tends to receive more attention than others in this area. That leads to a lack of trust from affected team members, which ultimately affects the levels of productivity that are achievable.
8. It is a leadership style that can focus on deception.
Transformational leaders excel at recognizing the existing needs or demands of their potential followers. Because these leaders are naturally equipped with this skill, some seek to reinforce their leadership position by exploiting their followers to stay productive. This occurs when the transformation seeks to satisfy their higher needs without the same consideration being made for their followers. If this is discovered, it creates a disruptive event for the team and organization which reduce productivity levels.
9. Transformational leaders are not always detail-oriented.
Transformational leaders tend to look toward the big picture at all times. They come up with fantastic ideas to achieve outlandish dreams. That process can cause some leaders to become fixated on the end prize instead of looking at the details required to achieve that goal. One of the biggest weaknesses that many transformational leaders must overcome is their lack of a transactional focus.
10. It is a leadership style which may ignore certain protocols.
Transformational leaders gain energy from their ability to implement new ideas and inspire others. They feel an energy drain when they are forced into a position where they must make difficult decisions. Transformational leaders don’t usually like to get bogged down with administrative work either, even if completing it would help them to achieve their vision. That causes the leaders to ignore certain protocols, like saving receipts from purchases to turn them into their accounting department.
The top advantages and disadvantages of transformational leadership show us that leaders using this method can take teams to new heights or bigger lows. There must be a certain morality in place to pursue a shared vision for everyone if this leadership style is to succeed. If that vision is not shared, or if followers lose their faith in the leader, then there cannot be success.
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