Transformational leadership is a powerful management methodology backed by decades of research. Transformational leaders improve outcomes related to the following:
- Effectiveness and performance
- Creativity and innovation
- Well-being and motivation
- Satisfaction and commitment
- Engagement, trust, and communication
Despite the introduction of new leadership models and theories over the past 40 years since the emergence of transformational leadership, researchers have found that many borrow from its focus on social influence tactics. This replication lends credence to transformational leadership’s validity as a fundamental set of principles that make sense and produce beneficial results across an organization.
A recommended leadership style
The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) recommends the transformational leadership style for hospitals seeking to achieve their Magnet® designation. The model’s focus on continual process improvement aligns well with nurses’ constant need to change and adapt to new developments in health care.
Felicia Sadler, MJ, BSN, RN, CPHQ, LSSBB, Vice President of Quality at Relias, affirmed that even if the transformational leadership style does not feel natural, individuals at all levels can take steps to incorporate qualities and characteristics associated with transformational leaders into their professional practice.
Starting the journey to transformational leadership
Start by taking a personal inventory of your current strengths, weaknesses, and natural leadership style to determine what you need to learn to start your journey to transformational leadership.
Anyone can adopt the transformational leadership style by reflecting on their attitudes and mindset. In addition, you can put these four core elements of the transformational leadership model into action:
- Idealized influence
- Inspirational motivation
- Individualized consideration
- Intellectual stimulation
Step 1: Idealized Influence
Idealized influence describes a leader’s ability to inspire high standards and serve as a role model for outstanding professional practice. Such a leader gains the trust and respect of staff.
For example, a nurse leader who encourages open communication can model this quality by holding team huddles at the start of each shift. The leader can use these opportunities to demonstrate good communication and encourage staff to share experiences, voice concerns, and propose solutions.
How to implement it:
- Actions speak louder than words. Model the behavior you want others to mirror. Rather than only telling others how you’d like them to act, show them.
- Focus on what others are doing well instead of their shortcomings. When possible, be positive.
- Don’t forget the power of saying thank you. Adding specifics will reinforce the behavior you want repeated.
- Give feedback kindly.
- Acknowledge difficult situations.
- Leverage others’ strengths.
- Remember the three “Bs”: Be kind. Be trustworthy. Be visible.
Step 2: Inspirational Motivation
Inspirational motivation refers to the leader’s ability to communicate a vision that others can understand and want to take part in. It aligns individual and organizational goals to create a sense of purpose.
For example, a hospital leader with a transformational style can find creative ways to inspire staff with a vision for the future. Meeting with staff in groups to create goals together is one example.
How to implement it:
- Help others see the big picture and explain the reasons why.
- Don’t micromanage. Instead, give people the freedom to “go do.” There’s more than one way to do something, so give your employees the freedom to accomplish the objectives.
- Think about what keeps your employees engaged — and know that this will change over time. Talk to people and ask them what they want to accomplish.
- Customize rewards and recognition to keep staff engaged.
Step 3: Individualized Consideration
Individualized consideration refers to a leader’s commitment to coaching and mentoring and that leader’s awareness of and concern for the needs of nursing staff. A transformational leader knows individual staff members’ career aspirations and can often guide subordinates to invaluable mentoring opportunities.
For example, a nurse leader may observe that some staff members respond most favorably to public feedback, whereas others prefer private meetings. Respecting these preferences can yield greater individual results than using the same tactics for everyone.
How to implement it:
- Discover employee strengths by learning how they perceive themselves.
- Communicate frequently using different methods — verbally, in writing, or other preferred ways.
- Push employees gently to move them out of their comfort zone.
- Help people understand “sphere of control” and that they need to concentrate on what they can best accomplish.
- Give effective feedback. It’s important to give praise publicly and negative feedback privately.
Ten steps for effective feedback
- Convey positive intent.
- Time feedback appropriately.
- Establish a common goal, such as good patient care.
- Describe what you have observed and be very specific about your observations.
- Focus on the behavior, not the person.
- Watch your language. Stick to the facts and avoid terms like “always” and “never.”
- State the impact of the behavior, such as how it affected patients, team members, or themselves.
- Take a pause, ask the other person to respond and listen.
- Focus on finding joint solutions.
- Establish a timeline to evaluate the solutions you’ve agreed on.
Step 4: Intellectual Stimulation
Intellectual stimulation occurs when a leader asks for and values staff input, challenges followers to develop creative and innovative solutions, and continually seeks ways to provide growth and development opportunities. A climate of intellectual stimulation prompts employees to challenge assumptions, reframe problems and look at new ways of doing things.
For example, instead of falling back on old methods and processes, consider each problem as an opportunity to try something new and better. Look for reliable sources of information to help guide your decisions and accept input widely.
How to implement it:
- Understand why you are doing something. Is it because you’ve always done it that way or does evidence support this method?
- Ask, “How can we do this better?” or “How can we do it more effectively?” Answering these questions requires being open to new ideas.
- Support creativity at work. Many of the best ideas come from people doing the work, and it’s important to provide a conduit for them.
- Think critically and rationally. How much is emotion governing your behavior instead of reasoning? It’s important to make sure you’re thinking through challenging situations rather than reacting.
- Consider whether it’s your problem to solve or if it belongs to someone else.
- Ask yourself, “Am I using evidence-based practice?” Read widely and outside of your practice area to bring knowledge to your decision making.
- Focus on how you will solve a problem and how to prevent it from recurring.
- Think collaboratively. Understand the mindsets of the people you’re working with and respect what each person brings to the table.
Putting it all together
Transformational leadership inspires people to achieve unexpected and even remarkable results. It gives employees autonomy in their roles as well as the authority to make decisions at appropriate times.
Managers who use transformational leadership principles create a climate where employees have a greater commitment to their organizations and higher levels of morale, job satisfaction, and work performance.
Transformational Leadership: Developing Leaders, Inspiring Employees, and Driving Change
Learn more about the transformational leadership model, including how it improves outcomes related to patient safety, staff retention, and employee satisfaction.Download the research brief →