Transformational Leadership: How it Matters for Organizational Change
By Madison Hanscom, PhD
Organizations must continually change and adapt in order to sustain improvement in this dynamic world. Without change, companies risk falling behind and losing the competitive edge. Researchers are developing a picture of what leads to successful change and what factors contribute to failure, because unsuccessful change can be disruptive and expensive. For example, it is known that having a proper diagnosis before the change, forming a clear vision, mobilizing energy, removing barriers, developing knowledge and skills for the change, setting goals, and implementing feedback are all crucial components of successful transformation. Another critical component is supportive leadership.
What is transformational leadership?
A transformational leader is someone who influences their people towards the greater good of the organization (1). This type of leader doesn’t do what is easy or expedient — they do what is best for the organization and its members. They have strong ethical principles, they create a collective vision, and are regarded as a role model. A transformational leader encourages people to think for themselves and sets goals that are challenging, yet realistic. They pay special attention to the personal needs of their people both inside and outside of work. These leaders have strong relationships with their people and demonstrate active care. Companies with transformational leaders experience great benefits — including higher morale, motivation, commitment, trust and job performance from employees (1,2).
What impact do these leaders have when a business is undergoing change?
If employees and leaders are not on board at the individual level, change will not be successful at the organizational level. Transformational leaders build inertia to drive that change by working directly with the people — illustrating a positive vision for the change. Researchers have shown when employees have transformational leaders, they have higher engagement and are more likely to champion the change efforts (e.g., they speak positively about it, encourage others to participate in the change) (3). These leaders empower employees to play a more active role in the change and they set them up for success to take ownership. Transformational leaders create an environment where people feel more committed to the company and feel buy in when it comes to making improvements. Specifically, they help employees to see how the change will benefit them and what the positive outcomes will be, and this makes followers more willing to support the change and champion it favorably (3). Transformational leaders also reduce employees’ cynicism towards change (4). These leaders truly energize and empower people – and this is critical because the people can largely determine if the change will succeed.
Call to action
Companies should consider developing leaders in order to create an environment that allows organizational change to be successful. Training is a great way to get leaders familiar with these concepts, practicing, and sustaining positive change.
At Propulo Consulting, we care about the health and wellbeing of all workers. We partner with you to improve the world of work using the latest insights from research. Our team has the expertise to help your business build a safer and healthier culture, and we offer training to take your leadership to the next level.
(1) Judge, T. A., & Piccolo, R. F. (2004). Transformational and transactional leadership: a meta-analytic test of their relative validity. Journal of Applied Psychology, 89(5), 755.
(2) Hoch, J. E., Bommer, W. H., Dulebohn, J. H., & Wu, D. (2018). Do ethical, authentic, and servant leadership explain variance above and beyond transformational leadership? A meta-analysis. Journal of Management, 44(2), 501-529.
(3) Faupel, S., & Süß, S. (2019). The effect of transformational leadership on employees during organizational change–an empirical analysis. Journal of Change Management, 19(3), 145-166.
(4) DeCelles, K. A., Tesluk, P. E., & Taxman, F. S. (2013). A field investigation of multilevel cynicism toward change. Organization Science, 24(1), 154–171