Leadership Theories – Transformational Leadership

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Christian Leadership Styles, Leadership Theories – TRANSFORMATIONAL LEADERSHIP

Part of the following lists of ministry resources: Christian Leadership, Leadership Styles and Theories, Empowering Leadership


Transformational Leadership Theories

Most materials on leadership tie their suggestions in some way to transformational leadership. Transformational leadership originated with James McGregor Burns in his renowned studies on political influence, Leadership (1978), which is regarded as one of the most significant books on this subject in the last half century.

For the meaning of transformational leadership, let’s start with the Wikipedia definition:

Transformational leadership is defined as a leadership approach that causes change in individuals and social systems. In its ideal form, it creates valuable and positive change in the followers with the end goal of developing followers into leaders. Enacted in its authentic form, transformational leadership enhances the motivation, morale and performance of followers through a variety of mechanisms. These include connecting the follower’s sense of identity and self to the mission and the collective identity of the organization; being a role model for followers that inspires them; challenging followers to take greater ownership for their work, and understanding the strengths and weaknesses of followers, so the leader can align followers with tasks that optimize their performance.

For Burns, Transformational leadership is contrasted to transactional, which focus on what leaders and followers receive from each other as they cooperate.

According to Burns, the transforming approach creates significant change in the life of people and organizations. It redesigns perceptions and values, and changes expectations and aspirations of employees. Unlike in the transactional approach, it is not based on a “give and take” relationship, but on the leader’s personality, traits and ability to make a change through example, articulation of an energizing vision and challenging goals. Transforming leaders are idealized in the sense that they are a moral exemplar of working towards the benefit of the team, organization and/or community. (Wikipedia)

It is not difficult to see how this applies to religious leadership, especially in congregations. On the transactional level, members have expectations, and appointed church leaders meet them to fulfill the implicit or stated contract. As long as each gets what they want in the exchange, the church exists peacefully, but not necessarily missionally. The members want good sermons, quality programs, and decisions that represent their best interests. The leaders give this in exchange for the good will, peacekeeping, and continued contributions and attendance of their members. But this does not necessarily elevate either party to higher motivations and morality that are characteristic of transformative kingdom work. In transformative work, each is changed deeply through the work of leading and following respectively.

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Standard Resources on Transformational Leadership

Two volumes capture Burns expressions on transformational leadership:

A few years after Burns original work, Bernard Bass, author of the classic Bass Handbook of Leadership, teamed with social psychologist Ronald Riggio to write:

Bass and Riggio expanded significantly on Burns’ original ideas, so much so that many regard theirs as the best expression of transformational leadership. One might say that Burns introduced the theory, but Bass turned it into a working model. Bass and Riggio’s work is very theoretical and academic, but has some important insights for church leaders.

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Transformational Leadership Styles

Since these foundational works, several other leadership authors have expanded on the transformational leadership model. Some of these are not designed or self-described as transformational. Most of them are known in their own right under different categories, and only a few point explicitly to the influence of Burns or Bass. Yet they emphasize enough of the components to be transformational in nature, with an emphasis on one or more of the four key components originally identified by Bass and Riggio. Follow the links below for further development.

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Related Ministry Resources

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