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Transformational Leadership Examples

I have seen many transformational leadership examples during my leadership career and in my role as a CEO. I wrote this article to detail two examples of transformational leadership and broke those examples down along the four elements of transformational leadership for increased understanding. Before we get into the examples, here is a quick overview of transformational leadership. If you are already acquainted with this style, then scroll down further to reach the transformational leadership examples.

Transformational leadership, a short introduction

Transformational leadership is one of the most well-known and popular leadership styles available, and many articles have been written on the subject.

What is the Transformational Leadership Style?

Transformational leadership creates substantial change for team members as well as organizations. Expectations, aspirations, perceptions, and values are transformed into something better. Transformational leadership develops the team members and motivates and inspires them to reach extraordinary success.

Transformational leadership was first defined by James MacGregor Burns in the late 70s as part of Full Range Leadership. Bass and Avolio developed transformational leadership and the Full Range Leadership Model further in subsequent years. The transformational leadership style compares well to a combination of democratic, visionary, and coaching leadership among the six leadership styles by Goleman. Transformational leadership also has some commonalities with Servant leadership. (You can find articles on all those styles and more in our leadership styles portal.)

Advantages of the Transformational Leadership Style:

  • It is excellent for change management and growth
  • High transparency and strong communication builds participation and engagement
  • The shared vision results in inspiration, motivation, and collaboration

Disadvantages of the Transformational Leadership Style:

  • Transformational leadership can be very time consuming and long term
  • It does not work well without a strong change element or vision
  • Can result in too much risk-taking and overlooking short-term requirements

Want to know more? Read our article on the transformational leadership style.

Transformational leadership examples

There is an abundance of examples when transformational leadership has been used with success. Here are a few transformational leadership examples I have experienced myself:

  • A company turnaround, more than doubling the profit in a few years
  • Transformation of an organization’s mindset concerning quality, including the clean up of long-lasting warranty issues and systematic improvements minimizing future quality problems
  • Transforming a quiet and subdued team to a vocal and opinionated team that felt vital empowerment and accountability for the future of the organization

In my examples below, I focus on one aspect that is less like the aforementioned styles, namely change.

Transformational leadership example: Company turnaround

I was personally involved in a company turnaround situation a few years back. The company was suffering from quality problems and poor performance. The company culture and its people had suffered a couple of nasty blows and were beaten down and had lost their creativity, sense of urgency, ambition, and hope. This culture made the problem a systematic one instead of a temporary one. Furthermore, the culture made it extremely difficult to get out of the negative spiral as well.

Although I didn’t know it back then, transformational leadership is what we used.

My part in this consisted of being a highly engaged leader focused on turning things completely around. Let me explain how this was done by separating the story into the four components of transformational leadership.

Transformational example: Individual Consideration (IC)

My colleagues and I interviewed lots of people in the organization. We did not just interview managers, but people of different levels, specializations, and departments. We asked them what the most significant assets and the biggest problems of the company were. On top of this, we asked them what they would fix first if they were calling the shots. I was in the middle of being a transformational leader without really knowing it.

Besides gathering lots of input and information about the company, people, and the problems, it also achieved the following:

  • Key people in the organization felt they were important and were listened to
  • These people felt that the leader cared about the company and the people
  • They were influential horizontally in the organization, and I am entirely sure that the people around them hear of this interview and the interaction with top executives, spreading the perception of individual consideration to a broader group

Once we had deployed the first improvement actions, we communicated the progress to everybody through information sessions online, town hall meetings, intranet updates, recurring newsletters, etc. People perceived that the management increased transparency, and everybody felt they were important enough to participate in the progress update. The large visibility and gradual solution delivery, which improved the entire situation, started to build hope, trust, and belief.

Transformational example: Intellectual Stimulation (IS)

As described above, people were part of defining the problems. Besides interviews, we arranged workshops to identify problems and find solutions to them. Besides gaining important input on how to solve the problems, these workshops unleashed creativity and challenged people to act. They started to understand that the problems were theirs to solve, and there was no use waiting for someone else to solve the problems for them. This step was crucial in stopping the widespread blame games in the organization where “most problems are caused by department X” was a common phrase, the X shifting a lot depending on who you talked to, of course. Empowerment and accountability started to build.

All the improvement plans were put together and rolled out. Who participated in the solution implementation projects? Cross-functional teams that had experienced the problems close hand and often held the solutions to them. In many cases, those same people had to change their ways to stop the problems from occurring in the first place. Transformational leadership has a strong sense of continuous improvement, and we deployed it as a permanent mechanism rather than a one-time project.

Transformational example: Inspirational Motivation (IM)

In the beginning, we spent time communicating a story of the company’s current condition and how it could and should be instead. Everybody knew how bad things were, but few said it out loud. Once the leadership stated the obvious and embraced the problems to their core, people felt change already. This was the “before” picture in our vision as transformational leaders.
None of us should accept the current situation since we knew we were capable of something much better than this! We wanted to feel proud again, and not always have to apologize for our errors! The forward-looking vision was turning our company into what it had the potential to be.

It worked. Finally, the problems which had been around for years were going to be addressed and solved. As the transformation moved forward, people saw what they were capable of, which generated a winning spirit, team commitment, and engagement. This mental transformation was crucial in making the next improvement steps possible.

Transformational example: Idealized Influence (II)

I was one of a few new transformational leaders that were injected into this organization. We came in without the feeling of defeat and skepticism. We worked hard like never before, and we cared like never before. We challenged ourselves and others like never before.
The attitude started spreading to a few more people, who also started showing signs of transformational leadership.

After a while, people started to see that we kept our promises and kept listening to them. We had strong morals and ethics, and we were not acting as the top-down autocratic leaders they had been used to previously, which brought some similarities to servant leadership into play. This built trust, belief, loyalty, and willingness to transform the company together. (Refer to our article: Transformational versus Servant Leadership.)

The result? A few years later, this company set new sales and profit records. The profit had almost tripled compared to the year before the transformation. This company and team are still very successful today, and capable people quickly deal with any emerging problems.

Transformational leadership example: A failed attempt at large scale change

Let me give you an example of a change done oppositely as well, lacking transformational leadership.

Many years ago, I had personal insight into a company where a major change was planned. The idea was to transform a rather wide array of stand-alone and decentralized companies and turn them all into functions. All factories, regardless of legacy, which products they made, etc., belonged to the new Supply function. Similar approaches for sales functions, service, research and development, etc., resulted in other large-scale functional organizations. This is a big deal in a company manufacturing a spectrum of various products. The old organization meant functions organized around product X, whereas the sister company was focused on the completely different product Y to simplify this example. After the change, salespeople who had always sold only product X were now expected to sell product X, Y, and many others. Same thing for the factories, where the staff should go from manufacturing” their” product to “any” product in the portfolio. This was a core change impacting so many aspects of the company.

All be it that I did not have full access to the top decision-makers at this time, so I do not know how they approached this and how they viewed risks, etc. However, I did see this from below, and it wasn’t pretty.

Connecting back to the four components of transformational leadership for this example:

Transformational example: Individual Consideration (IC)

Very little consideration was taken to the people involved. If the top leaders were transformational leaders, then there was definitely a gap on the way downwards in the hierarchy since little to no consideration was experienced at lower levels.
Limited communication, few explanations, little motivation were the telltale signs of this change. People were even told that if they disliked the change, they should simply leave the company. The climate was very strict, hierarchical, and almost toxic. (Refer to a comparison to autocratic leadership here: Transformational vs. Autocratic Leadership.)

Transformational example: Intellectual Stimulation (IS)

Everything was top-down instructions and orders (refer to Downward Communication) and no tapping into the creativity of others or inviting for participation. People were directed and told what to do and when to do it, resulting in a complete lack of Intellectual Stimulation.

Transformational example: Inspirational Motivation (IM)

There was an overall vision, but it was not appealing. A considerable portion of it was to simplify the structure and establishing a functional focus. If people felt forgotten or had concerns about losing customer focus and business focus, there weren’t any good answers. At least none of them reached me. The lack of a properly communicated and accepted vision resulted in virtually zero inspirational motivation among the employees. Learn more about the similarities and differences of Transformational and Visionary Leadership in our article here: Transformational vs. Visionary Leadership.

Transformational example: Idealized Influence (II)

There was no sense of any relationship or bonds between people and the top leader. Period. Zero idealized influence in this case.

I am not assigning blame here, and I know hindsight is 20/20, but at least I see this as a learning opportunity. The outcome was a procrastinating organization that did anything they could to find loopholes for stalling the directives. Everything moved at different speeds, so one division was done when another one had barely started etc. Many people fought back with the feeling that they were protecting organizational identity and the business itself from this endeavor. After a little more than a year, the reorganization was completed. On paper, at least. The new organization was dysfunctional, ruled in local substructures or informal fiefdoms. The higher levels of leadership thought they were in charge, but that was only the case on paper. This was not transformational leadership. It might have been a mix of pacesetting and commanding leadership with autocratic behaviors in general, who knows? (Read more about pacesetting, commanding, and autocratic leadership in our leadership styles portal.)

Sales dropped, employee engagement dropped, and a lot of talented individuals left the company. Roughly two years later, the organizational change was rolled back almost entirely, and focus on business and customers reemerged. As far as I know, to this day, that company is still organized in its separate parts, and it seems to work well. It is such a pity they lost so many talented people in the process.

This story is simplified, of course. It is not black or white. I am sure that a lot of changes actually took place and were kept. A lot of the improvements stayed, but the bigger aspects of the change were absolutely removed.

So, what could have been done differently if transformational leadership had been appropriately applied? To begin with, if that had been the case, I do not think the change would have happened at all. On the other hand, with transformational leadership and the right Inspirational Motivation, a good vision could have been embraced by the employees. This in turn, could have triggered Intellectual Stimulation, and the ideas generated from that would have strengthened the concept. Listening to people in such a way could have improved things from the Individual Consideration component view. Had the top couple of layers of management been involved in transformational leadership this way, some of them might have emerged as transformational leaders in their areas and acted along with the fourth component: Idealized Influence. If the top leader didn’t have a relationship with people, the lower-level leaders certainly had, and this could have been utilized much better.

Would an implementation of transformational leadership have given a different result? I don’t know. I do know that this approach would have increased the knowledge of the potential consequences of the change beforehand. I do know that a lot of the procrastination would have been avoided and that people very likely would have bought into the change to a higher degree. Thus, increasing the chance of success substantially.

I hope these two transformational examples provided some additional light to the transformational leadership style.

Further reading

We have an in-depth article on Transformational leadership.

If you are interested in learning how transformational leadership compares to other styles, I recommend the following articles here at our site:

I also recommend you check out many of the other 25 leadership styles in our portal. We have articles on the Six Leadership Styles by Goleman, the Situational leadership model, servant leadership, the Ohio state leadership studies, and loads of other leadership frameworks.

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