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Publication #HR020

Transformational Leadership: The Transformation of Managers and Associates1

John Hall, Shannon Johnson, Allen Wysocki, and Karl Kepner2


The role every manager must fill in the workplace is leadership. Managers often make the mistake of assuming that because they are the managers, they are also the leaders and that their associates will automatically follow. In reality, position only denotes title, not leadership. Peter Northouse (2001) defines leadership as a process whereby one individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal. To be an effective leader, the manager must influence his associates in a positive way to reach the goals of the organization. Furthermore, the transformational leadership approach can help managers become exceptional leaders. This paper will explain the transformational leadership approach by discussing its strengths, weaknesses, and steps for application.

Transformational Leadership

To use this approach in the workforce, one must first understand exactly what transformational leadership is. In the simplest terms, transformational leadership is a process that changes and transforms individuals (Northouse, 2001). In other words, transformational leadership is the ability to get people to want to change, to improve, and to be led. It involves assessing associates' motives, satisfying their needs, and valuing them (Northouse, 2001). Therefore, a transformational leader could make the company more successful by valuing its associates.

One such example is Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart, who often visited Wal-Mart stores across the country to meet with associates to show his appreciation for what they did for the company. Sam Walton gave “rules for success” in his autobiography, one of which was to appreciate associates with praise (Walton, 1996).

There are four factors to transformational leadership, (also known as the “four I's”): idealized influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, and individual consideration. Each factor will be discussed to help managers use this approach in the workplace.

  • Idealized influence describes managers who are exemplary role models for associates. Managers with idealized influence can be trusted and respected by associates to make good decisions for the organization.

  • Inspirational motivation describes managers who motivate associates to commit to the vision of the organization. Managers with inspirational motivation encourage team spirit to reach goals of increased revenue and market growth for the organization.

  • Intellectual Stimulation describes managers who encourage innovation and creativity through challenging the normal beliefs or views of a group. Managers with intellectual stimulation promote critical thinking and problem solving to make the organization better.

  • Individual consideration describes managers who act as coaches and advisors to the associates. Managers with individual consideration encourage associates to reach goals that help both the associates and the organization.

Effective transformational leadership results in performances that exceed organizational expectations. Figure 1 illustrates the “additive” effect of transformational leadership because managers must pull together the components to reach “performance beyond expectations” (Northouse, 2001).

Figure 1. 

Additive effect of transformational leadership.

[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Each of the four components describes characteristics that are valuable to the “transformation” process. When managers are strong role models, encouragers, innovators, and coaches, they are utilizing the “four I's” to help “transform” their associates into better, more productive and successful individuals. Northouse (2001) states that in 39 studies of transformational literature, individuals who exhibited transformational leadership were more effective leaders with better work outcomes. This was true for both high- and low-level leaders in the public and private sectors (Northouse, 2001). Therefore, it can be very advantageous for managers to apply the transformational approach in the workplace.

Strengths and Weaknesses of Transformational Leadership

As with any theory or approach to leadership, strengths and weaknesses become evident. Northouse (2001) identifies the strengths and weaknesses of the transformational leadership approach as follows:

  • Strengths are widely researched (using well-known leaders), effectively influence associates on all levels (from one-on-one to the whole organization), and strongly emphasize associates' needs and values.

  • Weaknesses have many components that seem too broad, treat leadership more as a personality trait than as a learned behavior, and have the potential for abusing power.

Applying Transformational Leadership

Because transformational leadership covers a wide range of aspects within leadership, there are no specific steps for a manager to follow. Becoming an effective transformational leader is a process. This means that conscious effort must be made to adopt a transformational style. Understanding the basics of transformational leadership and the four I's can help a manager apply this approach. According to Northouse (2001), a transformational leader has the following qualities:

  • empowers followers to do what is best for the organization;

  • is a strong role model with high values;

  • listens to all viewpoints to develop a spirit of cooperation;

  • creates a vision, using people in the organization;

  • acts as a change agent within the organization by setting an example of how to initiate and implement change;

  • helps the organization by helping others contribute to the organization.


Transformational leadership is a vital role for effective managers because leader effectiveness determines the success level of the organization. According to Hesselbein and Cohen (1999, p. 263), organizations that take the time to teach leadership are far ahead of the competition. By becoming familiar with the transformational leadership approach and combining the four I's, managers can become effective leaders in the business world.

Transformational leadership can be applied in one-on-one or group situations. Using this approach, the manager (leader) and the associates (followers) are “transformed” to enhance job performance and help the organization be more productive and successful.


Hesselbein, Frances, and Paul M. Cohen. (1999). Leader to Leader. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Northouse, Peter G. (2001). Leadership Theory and Practice, second edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Walton, Sam and John Huey. (1996). Sam Walton: Made in America: My Story. Canada: Bantam Books.



This document is HR020, one of a series of the Food and Resource Economics Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Original publication date June 2002. Reviewed February 2012. Visit the EDIS website at


John Hall, Master of Agribusiness student; Shannon Johnson, Master of Agribusiness student; Allen Wysocki, Assistant Professor; and Karl Kepner, Distinguished Professor; Department of Food and Resource Economics, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.