There’s no one size fits all style for effective leadership in teaching; many variables can affect the type of leadership that is needed, such as the industry and size of the team. While there are many leadership styles, Transformational Leadership has gained much attention and is highly sought after across many industries including higher education.

Simply put, transformational leaders inspire and motivate others to create positive change. While that may seem broad, it’s important to understand the specific qualities that drive transformational leaders and how they impact others, as well as the nuances of this leadership style. 

This blog will address:

What is Transformational Leadership? 

    • What are the qualities of a transformational leader?
    • What are the four elements of Transformational Leadership?
    • Transformational Leadership vs Transactional Leadership
    • Where is Transformational Leadership used?

The need for Transformational Leadership in Higher Education

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What is Transformational Leadership?

Transformational Leadership is a leadership style that encourages, motivates, and inspires others to create change and grow the future of the organization. This results in an engaged and productive workforce that feels empowered and supported. 

Marc Hardy Ph.D., leadership expert and creator of Leadership Through Sharing Fire, describes the importance of leading by teaching as a transformational leader, “To be remembered as a transformative leader, we need to see ourselves as a teacher who gives people the tools to create a better professional and personal life. If we want to be remembered as a person who truly had an impact on the lives of others and the organization, we should be willing to share knowledge and guidance.“

The concept of Transformational Leadership was initially introduced in 1978 by leadership expert James MacGregor Burns and further developed by researcher Bernard Bass. Transformational leaders create a clear vision and lead by example to build the trust and confidence of their teams. So what’s in it for this type of leader? “More productive and happy employees. People who look up to you and admire and trust you, not because of your power, but because of your perceptions of them and your belief in their potential,” said Hardy.

What are the qualities of a transformational leader?

Transformational leaders create change in their team and organization. While it’s hard to note every characteristic, here are five common qualities of a transformational leader:

1. Adaptable and innovative

Regardless of the industry, leaders must be able to adapt to the fast-paced and ever-changing work environment and market. They’re able to quickly recognize the situation and audience to adapt accordingly, while still remaining authentic. Transformational leaders are innovative when faced with uncertainty and new situations and seek creative ways to plan and take action. 

2. Forward-thinking and proactive

In contrast to many styles of leadership that aim to maintain the status quo and keep operations afloat, transformational leaders are always thinking “what’s next?” Transformational leaders understand what needs to change and have a great sense of the bigger picture for the team and organization. 

3. Communicative and transparent

Transformational leaders are not only forward-thinking and proactive, they also clearly communicate their vision and goals to their team and organization. Clarity provides context and clear direction of what’s needed to be successful. Oftentimes, trust is built by genuine communication and transparency. Building trust is key to establishing an engaged team that feels heard and supported.

4. Emotionally intelligent and self-aware

Emotional intelligence is key for leaders because it allows them to harness their emotions and reflect on their strengths and weaknesses. This reflection provides a true look at areas to improve and continue learning for themselves and others. 

5. Charismatic with strong interpersonal skills

The main focus for transformational leaders is the ability to connect with their team to inspire and motivate them to create a better future. The ability to rally their team towards a clear vision requires charisma and strong interpersonal skills. This includes being truly present, listening, inspiring, and building trust and credibility with stakeholders. 

What are the four elements of Transformational Leadership?

Bass identified four elements needed for transformational leadership:

1. Idealized Influence

Lead by example

Transformational leaders lead by example and act as role models for their team. When leaders “walk the talk,” they not only build trust and gain admiration from their team, they also demonstrate the qualities that are expected from others. 

2. Inspirational Motivation

Provide clear vision

Transformational leaders provide a clear vision and direction to inspire and motivate others on the team. This helps motivate others to improve their performance and improves morale. The first two elements, Idealized Influence and Inspirational Motivation, create a strong foundation of credibility and trust with the team.

3. Individualized Consideration

Know your team and build trust

As with any team, each individual has specific needs and expectations. Some are motivated by monetary bonuses, while others are motivated by a simple thank you. Transformational leaders need the ability to identify key motivators for each individual in order to develop and inspire them to continue growing. Truly knowing the individuals on the team allows leaders to grow and develop each individual’s skills and progression in their role.

4. Intellectual Stimulation

Encourage creativity and innovation

Transformational leaders encourage and support others to be creative and think outside the box. By creating a culture that encourages creativity and innovation, job satisfaction and performance can increase as well as overall team morale.

Transformational Leadership vs Transactional Leadership

What is the difference between Transformational Leadership and Transactional Leadership?

What is Transactional Leadership?

Transactional Leadership essentially rewards and incentivizes good performance and uses power to discipline employees based on poor performance. This style of leadership in teaching has a strict structure and order based on process and control. Generally, transactional leaders are focused on maintaining the normal flow of operations today, not strategically looking ahead at tomorrow.

Transactional Leadership Pros and Cons


  • Simple to implement and follow
  • Quickly addresses operational details
  • Incentives can be a strong motivator for performance
  • Eliminates confusion with the chain of command


  • Removes individuality and innovation
  • Does not prepare others to lead
  • No empathy is provided
  • Tends to focus more on discipline and consequences than rewards

The main difference between the two leadership styles is that Transactional Leadership is focused on maintaining results today through process and control, while Transformational Leadership is focused on tomorrow’s vision and innovation by inspiring others to create positive change. 

Where is Transformational Leadership used?

More and more industries are recognizing the positive impact of Transformational Leadership. From technology and finance to education and government – transformational leaders are needed to drive organizations towards success. Transformational leaders thrive in changing markets and new situations because they’re constantly thinking ahead and planning for the future. They’re aware of what’s changing and how their team and organization need to adapt and stay ahead. 

According to Hardy, Transformational Leadership isn’t just a new style of leading, but something that should be adopted across all industries, including higher education, “If we truly want to create successful, sustainable organizations, from the top down we need to discard the old industrial model of negative cultures that no longer work in today’s world and adopt the new models of leadership based on compassion, people and positive psychology.”

The need for Transformational Leadership in Higher Education

While Transformational leadership is increasingly popular across every industry, it’s perfectly aligned with the needs of higher education and can create positive change for the faculty and students of the institution. 

Transformational leaders have the ability to drive student engagement by listening to their views and showing understanding, sparking important discussions through open lines of communication, and encouraging students to do better not only for themselves but for their classmates and campus community.

Increased student engagement typically yields a better learning experience and, ultimately, student success. 

Whether it’s an instructor developing thoughtful class discussions and effective online exams or a dean creating diversity and inclusion initiatives or strategies to engage donors, transformational leaders march towards their vision of a better educational experience for everyone.

“My hat is off to those leaders who understand the importance of leading positive change and who walk their talk. There are some very enlightened leaders emerging who embrace the creation of a positive culture and have had tremendous success,” Hardy explained. With workplaces and industries that are constantly changing and evolving, strong leadership is more important than ever. Understanding the true impact of Transformational Leadership will not only allow your team and organization to adapt and grow, but it’ll also inspire and motivate the next generation of leaders in the workforce.

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