Transformational Leadership Theory – The 4 Key Components in Leading Change & Managing Change

Transformational leadership theory is all about leadership that creates positive change in the followers whereby they take care of each other’s interests and act in the interests of the group as a whole. James MacGregor Burns first brought the concept of transformational leadership to prominence in his extensive research into leadership.

“Essentially the leader’s task is consciousness-raising on a wide plane. The leader’s fundamental act is to induce people to be aware or conscious of what they feel – to feel their true needs so strongly, to define their values so meaningfully, that they can be moved to purposeful action.”

In this leadership style, the leader enhances the motivation, moral and performance of his follower group. So according to MacGregor – transformational leadership is all about values and meaning, and a purpose that transcends short-term goals and focuses on higher order needs.

At times of organisational change, and big step change, people do feel insecure, anxious and low in energy – so in these situations and especially in these difficult times, enthusiasm and energy are infectious and inspiring.

And yet so many organisational changes fail because leaders pay attention to the changes they are facing instead of the transitions people must make to accommodate them.

In my view it is the responsibility of the director leading the change to supply an infusion of positive energy.
The transformational approach also depends on winning the trust of people – which is made possible by the unconscious assumption that they too will be changed or transformed in some way by following the leader.

The transformational approach also depends on winning the trust of people – which is made possible by the unconscious assumption that they too will be changed or transformed in some way by following the leader.

This is often seen in military commanders and wartime political leaders. An example of this would be the way in which Lady Thatcher – as Prime Minister of the UK Government during the Falklands War in 1982 – was able to engender an enhanced feeling of British national identity amongst the UK population.

Sounds like this leadership style is ideally suited to change management, doesn’t it? However – this approach requires absolute integrity and personal behaviour that is consistent and resonant with your vision and message.

I can recall a ridiculous situation, at one UK company I was involved with, where the directors were attempting to effect a culture change of greater inter-departmental trust and communication yet still retained a separate directors dining room and specially allocated car parking places closest to the office front door!

OK here’s the important bit – how NOT to apply transformational leadership theory to change management

– Be preoccupied with power, position, politics and perks
– Stay focused on the short-term
– Be hard data oriented
– Focus on tactical issues
– Work within existing structures and systems
– Concentrate on getting the job done
– Focus processes and activities that guarantee short-term profits

Doesn’t all this just sound like a description of a typical good project manager with a task driven mentality?

And hey, I have nothing against this style of leadership and management. There is a time and place for the Attila the Hun school of leadership. I have done it many times myself and very effectively – and with no regrets.

But, this leadership style is not enough in a change management situation and particularly in the current climate.

The four components of the transformational leadership style are:

(1) Charisma or idealised influence – the degree to which the leader behaves in admirable ways and displays convictions and takes stands that cause followers to identify with the leader who has a clear set of values and acts as a role model for the followers.

(2) Inspirational motivation – the degree to which the leader articulates a vision that is appeals to and inspires the followers with optimism about future goals, and offers meaning for the current tasks in hand.

(3) Intellectual stimulation – the degree to which the leader challenges assumptions, stimulates and encourages creativity in the followers – by providing a framework for followers to see how they connect [to the leader, the organisation, each other, and the goal] they can creatively overcome any obstacles in the way of the mission.

(4) Personal and individual attention – the degree to which the leader attends to each individual follower’s needs and acts as a mentor or coach and gives respect to and appreciation of the individual’s contribution to the team. This fulfills and enhances each individual team members’ need for self-fulfillment, and self-worth – and in so doing inspires followers to further achievement and growth.

Transformational leadership applied in a change management context, is ideally suited to the holistic and wide view perspective of a programme based approach to change management and as such is key element of successful strategies for managing change.

And, to ensure that you ARE employing successful strategies for managing change – that are appropriate to your organisation – you need to know how to apply: (a) these transformational leadership skills, AND (b) how to apply the supporting programme management based processes – to ensure that you avoid the catastrophic 70% failure rate of ALL business change initiatives.

Maslow Theory of Motivation – The Basis of Successful Change Management

The Maslow Theory of Motivation also known as “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs” model was developed between 1943-1954, and first widely published in “Motivation and Personality” in 1954. Starting from the premise that each human being is motivated by needs that are inborn, presumably as a result of tens of thousands of years of evolution, here is the hierarchy in ascending order:

(1) Physiological needs

These are the very basic needs such as air, water, food, sleep, sex, etc. When these are not satisfied we may feel sickness, irritation, pain, discomfort, etc. These feelings motivate us to alleviate them as soon as possible to establish homeostasis. Once they are alleviated, we may think about other things.

(2) Safety needs

These have to do with establishing stability and consistency in a chaotic world. These needs are mostly psychological in nature. We need the security of a home and family. However, if a family is dysfunction, i.e., an abused child – cannot move to the next level as she is continuously fearful for her safety. Love and a sense of belonging are postponed until she feel safe.

(3) Love and needs of belonging

Humans have [in varying degrees of intensity] a strong desire to affiliate by joining groups such as societies, clubs, professional associations, churches and religious groups etc. There is a universal need to feel love and acceptance by others.

(4) Self-Esteem needs

There are essentially two types of esteem needs: self-esteem resulting from competence or mastery of a task; and the esteem and good opinion of other people.

(5) The need for self-actualisation

Maslow theory of motivation proposes that people who have all their “lower order” needs met progress towards the fulfilment their potential. Typically this can include the pursuit of knowledge, peace, esthetic experiences, self-fulfillment, oneness with God, nirvana, enlightenment etc. So ultimately this is all to do with the desire for self transcendence.

A paradigm shift that forms the basis for good leadership and successful change management

The Maslow theory of motivation brought a new face to the study of human behaviour. Maslow was inspired by greatness in the minds of others, and his own special contribution to the field of motivational psychology led to the creation of the concept of Humanistic Psychology. Most psychologists prior to Maslow had focused on the mentally ill and the abnormal. In complete contrast the Maslow theory of motivation investigated and attempted to define positive mental health.

In so doing, he instigated a paradigm shift via Humanistic Psychology – predicated on the belief that humans are not simply blindly reacting to situations, but trying to accomplish something greater. This new approach represented in the Maslow theory of motivation became the source of many new and different therapies, all grounded in the belief that people possess the inner resources for growth and healing and that the point of therapy is to help remove obstacles to individuals’ achieving them.

It also forms the basis of much current understanding of what constitutes good leadership and forms a major foundation of prevailing models and theories of successful change management. The most fundamental value of this theory is to emphasise and remind those of us involved in leading and managing change of the complexity and multi-facted nature of human needs and motivational drives. Closely aligned to that observation is the difficult realisation that people have transcendent needs and aspirations as well as the more prosaic needs of survival and “pay and rations”.