Leadership development best practices: building transformational leadership in your business


In today’s fast-moving business world, companies need strong, effective leaders more than ever before. And they need these leaders to be spread across the organization, heading up teams, and engaging and motivating their people. This is because most organizations currently face the need to transform themselves, whether to respond to new competition, embrace digitization, or meet challenges around sustainability and demonstrating their purpose to customers and stakeholders. Successful transformation is therefore vital.

That’s why successful organizations (and their senior teams) are embracing transformational leadership models. Not only does this approach help with leading transformational change in the organization, but it also motivates and engages employees so that you get the best from them. Within this blog we’ll cover the transformational leadership qualities that need to be developed when adopting this leadership approach across your teams.

How the transformational leadership style differs from management

Firstly, let’s take a step back and look at the difference between leadership and management. While the terms are often used interchangeably, in a nutshell leaders lead by setting out vision and strategy, while managers manage the delivery of work. There’s more on these differences in our blog.

When it comes to leadership itself, there are a wide variety of styles that you can employ – we list 9 major ones here, including transactional and transformational leadership. Drilling down further, transformational leaders use the strength of their vision and personality traits to inspire employees to change expectations, perceptions, and motivations to work towards common goals.

Effective transformational leaders possess four key traits, also known as the 4 i’s of transformational leadership:

  • Idealized influence – leading by example
  • Inspirational motivation – setting challenging and achievable goals and inspiring their team
  • Intellectual stimulation- encouraging openness and creativity
  • Individualized consideration – creating healthy team relationships

There’s a lot more about what makes up the concept and the meaning of transformational leadership in one of our previous blogs.

Transformational leaders are the opposite of transactional leaders, who use rewards and punishments to drive employee performance, but don’t necessarily engage people or motivate them to go above and beyond. We’ll now explore a bit more about transformational leadership skills, along with best practice advice on effective leadership development.

Leadership development: what makes a transformational leader

Communicate and engage with clarity

Transformational leaders don’t just develop a vision, but they communicate it clearly to everyone in the business. All employees therefore understand both the big picture and their personal role in making it happen. As well as this shared vision, authentic transformational leadership requires leaders to set out clear standards of the behavior expected from everyone across the organization – starting with themselves. They act as role models within the work environment.

Achieving this requires charisma, good communication skills and the ability to tailor messages, on the right channels, in the right way to meet the requirements of your audience. A “one size fits all” communication strategy or simply giving a topline speech to the whole company won’t cut through the noise. Transformational leaders know their people and take the time to explain their vision in engaging ways that make it relevant to their day-to-day work.


Listen – and act on – feedback

Transformational leaders value the views and insights of everyone within their team. They therefore listen regularly and use this feedback to drive long term, continuous improvement. This could be through regular check-ins or more scheduled feedback through surveys, but the aim is to create a two-way conversation based on open communication.

Asking for, and acting on, feedback builds trust across the organization and increases engagement. Essentially employees see that they are respected for their skills, knowledge, and experience, increasing their motivation and empowering them to do their best work. And listening covers the leader’s performance too – they are always open to improving by taking on board feedback from their people, such as through 360 degree leadership development assessments and transformational leadership coaching.

Transformational leaders don’t stay in their comfort zone

As we’ve explained, the transformational leadership philosophy is focused on making impactful changes rather than just continuing business as usual. Psychologically most of us are wary of change so transformational leaders need the skills to persuade and convince people that what they are proposing is positive for them as well as the wider company. This starts with building trust and demonstrating interest in employees as people, helping to get them on board with change.

None of this means that transformational leaders aren’t afraid to make tough decisions when necessary. However, they can explain these in ways that resonate with everyone, meaning employees see the logic and reasoning and buy-into the process. Transformational leaders don’t stay in their comfort zone, however. They are open minded and fair, meaning they are willing to listen and change plans when required, rather than simply bulldozing them through without taking on board team feedback.

Why transformational leadership development is essential in today’s world

The benefit of transformational leadership is clear, as psychologist Ronald E. Riggio explains, “Research evidence clearly shows that groups led by transformational leaders have higher levels of performance and satisfaction than groups led by other types of leaders.” Other transformational leadership theories echo these findings.

Transformational leaders also create more agile and responsive organisations that can deliver on changing customer and employee needs. In turn this boosts innovation, engagement, and staff retention.

Importantly, you need to create transformational leaders across your organization. The positive news is that the skills and traits that make up this leadership style can be learnt and developed through coaching, transformational leadership training and continuous feedback.

Download our ebook How Managers Become Leaders: An In-Depth Guide Into Transforming Line Managers Into Successful Leaders to learn how you can build the right leadership skills at all levels of your business.