Transformational Leadership

Inspire others through transformational leadership

Transformational Leadership


  • You can cultivate a transformational leadership style no matter your role, position, or experience.
  • Transformational leadership characteristics can contribute to inspiring your teams, encouraging initiative and innovation, and improving care.

TRANSFORMATIONAL leaders inspire followers to achieve extraordinary outcomes and, in the process, develop their own leadership capacity. They foster employees’ confidence to produce creative outcomes and sustain a competitive edge in an ever-changing healthcare environment.

The American Nurses Association’s (ANA’s) Nursing Administration: Scope and Standards of Nursing Practice list the characteristics of transformational leaders as open communication, inspiration, enthusiasm, supporting positive change, and empowering others through shared decision-making. Closely aligned with transformational leadership is exemplary leadership, which is described by Kouzes and Posner as including these five practices: modeling the way, encouraging the heart, inspiring a shared vision, enabling others to act, and challenging the process.

Transformational leadership, a core component of the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) Magnet Recognition Program®, supports practices and behaviors that improve nursing and organizational outcomes, such as job satisfaction, organizational commitment, productivity, and turnover. As a nurse leader, you can be intentional in cultivating your personal leadership style, leading by example and creating a positive and empowering esprit de corps that supports nursing excellence.

This article will help you become intentional in cultivating your transformational leadership skills and practices. And we recommend using Kouzes and Posner’s theoretical framework and assessment tool to support your professional development.

See for yourself: Self-assessment

The Leadership Practices Inventory-Self (LPI-S) was developed by Kouzes and Posner to measure specific leadership behaviors. It includes the five exemplary leadership practices and 30 statements rated on a 10-point rt scale (1 = almost never; 10 = almost always). The statements are posed to help respondents see how well they engage in each of the five practices. (See Assess yourself.)

Cultivating the five practices

The exemplary leadership model offers a clear path for anyone wishing to cultivate a transformational leadership style. The following summaries of the five exemplary leadership practices incorporate select criteria from the transformational leadership component of the 2019 Magnet® Application Manual.

Modeling the way

You model the way by setting the example for others to follow, demonstrating open communication and enthusiasm for nursing excellence and patient care.

Experienced nurse leaders interviewed about this practice provide visibility on the units with daily rounding,timely multidisciplinary huddles for significant events, and consistent follow-up with staff about concerns so that they know their leaders care.

In addition, these leaders are transparent with staff in positive and difficult situations, resulting intrust, respect, and collaboration.

Leading by example: When a nurse leader wanted his staff to “commit to sit” with patients for a few minutes to increase engagement, he purposely sat with patients when he rounded and modeled behaviors that he wanted his staff to learn and adopt.

Encouraging the heart

You encourage the heart by enabling input into key decisions from all levels of the organization, appreciating individual contributions, and celebrating accomplishments.

You can use this practice to improve patient care and the practice environment by consistently rewarding staff (use a mix of strategies when recognizing individual accomplishments; some may not want to be publicly acknowledged), making eye contact, establishing personal connections through shared interests, sharing family pictures, and connecting with staff during good and bad times.

Leading by example: When one of her nurses achieved national certification, a nurse leader recognized this accomplishment by sending a congratulatory global email to her direct reports and posting the individual’s picture within the department. This motivated others to achieve similar accomplishments and has contributed to 12 other nurses achieving national certification within a 3-year period.

Inspiring a shared vision

You inspire a shared vision for the future when you can effectively envision it yourself and describe it to others in a way that elicits excitement. Your passion for making a difference is evident, and you enlist others in seeing exciting possibilities for the future so that everyone is aligned in purpose and action.

Leading by example: One nurse leader exemplified this behavior when three of her clinical units were consolidated into one service line.

She solicited staff input on what this new structure should entail, generated excitement about the new competencies they would gain by caring for patients both on and off of the intensive care unit, and explained how the patients and organization would benefit overall. In 1 month, 100 RNs eagerly cross-trained for all three clinical units.

Enabling others to act

You enable others to act when you enlist them to participate in new opportunities and engage them in collaborative activities, creating a sense of trust and empowerment.

You’re dedicated to the concept of structural empowerment and professional governance, and you emphasize professional obligation, accountability, interprofessional collaboration, and shared decision-making.

Examples of this leadership practice include advocating for resources to support unit and organizational goals, leadership development, mentoring, and succession planning. The unit culture should be open and supportive to employee input on new initiative implementation.

Leading by example: When one nurse leader allowed her staff to schedule themselves, she noticed that sick calls decreased dramatically. Self-scheduling enabled her staff to assume accountability and responsibility for their unit staffing.

Challenging the process

When you challenge the process, you’re not always satisfied with the status quo. You take risks and experiment with new ideas, and you learn from mistakes in away that identifies new opportunities and supports positive change. You identify your ability to influence organizational policy, using data to make decisions and lead strategic organizational changes.

Leading by example: When two clinical units were experiencing communication challenges, a nurse leader helped improve the relationship between the two clinical specialties when she encouraged nurses from one specialty to conduct mobile rounds in the other.

Being physically present and engaging in conversations with their colleagues provided key insights into each specialty’s roles, which led to mutual feedback and cooperation.

After two nurses became engaged in earnest transparency to engage and improve communication, their efforts became contagious, motivating everyone to foster more collaborative relationships.

Take the first step

No matter your role, position, or experience, you can cultivate a transformational leadership style. The LPI-S provides insights you can use today to intentionally develop these leadership characteristics. Taking this step will start you on your journey to inspiring your teams, encouraging initiative and innovation, and improving care.

Joanne T. Clavelle is regional vice president/CNO at West GetWellNetwork in Bethesda, Maryland. MariLou Prado-Inzerillo is vice president of nursing operations at New York–Presbyterian in New York City.

Selected references

American Nurses Association. Nursing: Scope and Standards of Practice. Silver Spring: Maryland; 2010.

Bass BM, Riggio RE. Transformational Leadership. 2nd ed. 2005; London: Psychology Press.

Clavelle JT, Drenkard K, Tullai-McGuinness S, Fitzpatrick JJ. Transformational leadership practices of chief nursing officers in Magnet® organizations. J Nurs Adm. 2012;42(4):195-201.

Clavelle JT, Porter O’Grady T, Weston MJ, Verran JA. Evolution of structural empowerment: Moving from shared to professional governance. J Nurs Adm. 2016;46(6):308-12.

Kouzes JM, Posner BZ. LPI: Leadership Practices Inventory: Development Planner. 4th ed. 2013; San Diego, CA: Pfeiffer.

Kramer M, Schmalenberg C, Maguire P. Nine structures and leadership practices essential for a magnetic (healthy) work environment. Nurs Adm Q. 2010;34(1):4-17.

Mittal S, Dhar RL. Transformational leadership and employee creativity: Mediating role of creative self-efficacy and moderating role ofknowledge sharing. Management Decision. 2015;53(5):894-910.



Transformational Leadership: Becoming an Inspirational Leader

Transformational Leadership

Everyone respects Molly. Her team members are fiercely loyal, and they're highly successful – as individuals, and as a team.

By contrast, other leaders in the organization report that their people seem disengaged. They experience high staff turnover, and their results are often disappointing.

So, what does Molly do that other leaders don't? Molly is a transformational leader and, in this article and video, we'll look at how you can be one, too.

Click here to view a transcript of this video.

To begin with, Molly regularly reminds her team members of the purpose of their work. And she knows that she's a role model for her team, so she demonstrates integrity in all of her working relationships. She sets high expectations, but «walks the walk» to demonstrate the standards that she expects. 

In this article, we'll explore what transformational leadership is, and we'll outline how you can become a transformational leader.

What Is Transformational Leadership?

Leadership expert James MacGregor Burns introduced the concept of transformational leadership in his 1978 book, «Leadership.» He defined transformational leadership as a process where «leaders and their followers raise one another to higher levels of morality and motivation.»

Bernard M. Bass later developed the concept of transformational leadership further. According to his 1985 book, «Leadership and Performance Beyond Expectations,» this kind of leader:

  • Is a model of integrity and fairness.
  • Sets clear goals.
  • Has high expectations.
  • Encourages others.
  • Provides support and recognition.
  • Stirs the emotions of people.
  • Gets people to look beyond their self-interest.
  • Inspires people to reach for the improbable.

More than 25 years after Bass' book, transformational leadership is often argued to be one of the most important ideas in business leadership.

See our article on leadership styles to explore other ways to lead, and to select the one that's right for your situation.

How to Become a Transformational Leader

We've distilled Bass' ideas into a process that you can use to become a transformational leader. This involves you:

  1. Creating an inspiring vision of the future.
  2. Motivating people to buy into and deliver the vision.
  3. Managing delivery of the vision.
  4. Building ever-stronger, trust-based relationships with your people.

As you can see, our process doesn't map directly onto Bass' list. However, it does translate the traits that he set out into clear and actionable steps.

Use these steps, along with the tools we outline below, to develop your transformational leadership skills.

Step 1: Create an Inspiring Vision

People need a compelling reason to follow your lead, and this is why you need to create and communicate an inspiring vision of the future.

Your vision sets out your team or organization's purpose – why you all get up in the morning to do what you do. You develop this partly by understanding the values of the people you lead, partly by understanding the capabilities and resources of your organization, and partly by conducting an intelligent analysis of your environment, and selecting the best way forward within it.

This is the subject of business unit strategy, and developing a coherent strategy takes a lot of hard work and careful thought.

If you're developing a vision for your organization, use Mullins' Seven Domains Model to analyze your environment. Then, use tools such as Lafley and Martin's Five-Step Strategy Model to develop your strategy. This is usually then expressed in a business plan, and summarized in a mission statement.

If you're developing a vision for your team, start with the company's mission and vision, and explore the ways in which your team can contribute directly to it.

Step 2: Motivate People to Buy Into and Deliver the Vision

Now, starting with your mission statement, you need to appeal to your people's values, and inspire them with where you're going to lead them, and why.

Use business storytelling as part of your call to action: this will help people appreciate the positive impact of your vision on the people you're trying to help. (Hint: if the only person you're trying to help is yourself, you won't inspire anyone.)

Then, talk about your vision often. Link it to people's goals and tasks to give it context, and help people see how they can contribute to it.

Transformational leaders also know that nothing significant happens unless they encourage their people. So, make sure that you know about the different kinds of motivation, and use these to inspire your people to deliver their best.

Step 3: Manage Delivery of the Vision

A vision is no use on its own: it needs to become reality. However, many leaders make the mistake of developing a vision, but of not putting in the hard and often mundane work of delivering it.

To manage the delivery of your vision, you'll need to combine effective project management with sensitive change management. This will help you deliver the changes you need with the full support of your people. Communicate each person's roles and responsibilities clearly, and connect these to your plans.

Everyone should fully understand what they're responsible for, and know how you will measure their success. Next, set clear, SMART goals for everyone, including some short-term goals that will help people achieve quick wins and stay motivated.

Use management by objectives to link short-term achievement to your longer-term goals.

You may need to build your self-discipline and stamina, so that you don't let yourself down. And, set a good example to your people – especially if they're affected by delays or difficulties – by being a model of hard work and persistence.

Also, stay visible by practicing management by walking around. This is an ideal technique for transformational leaders, because it helps you stay connected with daily activities, and allows you to answer questions as they arise.

Clear communication is essential to transformational leadership.

Take time to make sure that your communications are heard and understood, and give clear, regular feedback, so that your people know what you want.

Step 4: Build Ever-Stronger, Trust-Based Relationships With Your People

As a transformational leader, you need to focus your attention on your people, and work hard to help them achieve their goals and dreams.

Use Dunham and Pierce's Leadership Process Model as your starting point. This tool outlines how important your people are to your success as a leader.

It also underlines the fact that leadership is a long-term process, and that, as a leader, you need to work constantly to build relationships, earn trust, and help your people grow as individuals.

Meet your people individually to understand their developmental needs , and help them to meet their career goals. What do they want to achieve in their role? Where do they see themselves five years from now? How can you help them reach this goal?

You can build trust with your people by being open and honest in your interactions. Use the Johari Window to disclose safe personal information about yourself, and to get a better understanding of «what makes your people tick.»

Lastly, set aside time to coach your people. When you help them find their own solutions, you not only create a skilled team, but you also strengthen their self-confidence and their trust in you.


Click on the image below to see our infographic on Transformational Leadership

Transformational leaders inspire great loyalty and trust in their followers. They have high expectations, and they inspire their people to reach their goals.

You can become a transformational leader by following these steps:

  1. Create an inspiring vision of the future.
  2. Motivate people to buy into and deliver the vision.
  3. Manage delivery of the vision.
  4. Build ever-stronger, trust-based relationships with your people.

Keep in mind that, to succeed as a transformational leader, you'll need to work on your own skills, and set aside time and space for personal development.


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