Leadership Styles: Thoughts on Transformational Leadership in Education

Charisma is not a required trait for leaders, but it certainly helps.  A leader with personal qualities that positively and effectively influences others to achieve goals lessens the likelihood of objectors, grumblers, complainers, whiners, and protesters.  Unfortunately, many (if not most) educational leaders lack this convenient quality.  (Present company included.)

There are, however, some virtues of the Transformational or Transactional Leadership styles that make it a very effective construct for leading schools in ways that help communities deal with tensions, detractors, and force-fields impacting education.  James McGregor Burns analyzed leadership across disciplines and formulated the basic framework for Transformational Leadership.  This leadership style is guided by two important principles.  First, what a leader does must be aligned with collective goals held by the leader and the followers.  Second, the role of the leader and follower are conceptually united by a relational-interchange or interaction between power and conflict (Stewart, J., 2006.)

In Transformational Leadership, followers are consulted by leaders and allowed to participate in decisions and solutions that affect them.  Leadership decisions/actions are developed through a bottom-up process that both includes contributions from followers and aligns with collective values.  Leaders and followers are motivated by shared wants, needs, and aspirations.  The four factors that characterize Transformational Leadership were later described as the “four I’s.”  They are individual consideration, intellectual stimulation, inspirational motivation, and idealized influence.  Transactional Leadership, closely associated with Transformational Leadership, further expresses this branch of leadership theory with a focus on reciprocity or mutually beneficial trades.  The transaction occurs when leaders give something to followers in exchange for something received from followers.  Generally speaking, the Transactional concept focuses on trading to accomplish goals, while the Transformation concept focuses on achieving change (Marzano, R, Walters, T., & McNulty, B., 2005.)

Transformational leaders are best equipped to help communities deal with tensions, detractors, and force fields impacting education because this framework includes all stakeholders in the solution process.  School and community members work toward shared goals and are motivated to achieve mutually beneficial results.  Transformational leaders view stakeholders as contributing members to achieving solutions.  Each stakeholder is given individual consideration for their ideas, wants, and needs.  Each stakeholder is intellectually stimulated by evaluating information, reflecting, and sharing insights and ideas for potential solutions.  Each stakeholder is inspired and motivated by shared goals and the determination to achieve them.  Finally, each stakeholder experiences idealized influence because transformational leaders seek and value contributions from all participants toward the collective development of solutions to resolve problems and/or manage change.


Marzano, R. J., Walters, T., & McNulty, B. A. (2005).  School leadership that works: From research to results. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development.

Stewart, J. (2006).  Transformational leadership: An evolving concept examined through the works of Burns, Bass, Avolio, and Leithwood.  Canadian Journal of Educational Administration and Policy, #54, 1-29.

Author: Ronald Gay

Educator. Student. Researcher. Expositor.

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