Bernard M. Bass (1999) wrote, “the transformational leader inspires, intellectually stimulates, and is individually considerate of [followers]” (p. 9). Like Bass (1999), many have researched the topic of transformational leadership and its effects on followers. Transformational leaders are known for uniting individuals and supporting team members in a way that helps them to maximize their potential, specifically for the good of an organization. One way in which this type of leader “transforms” followers is through example. It is worth investigating this concept of ‘leading by example’. What specific actions, if any, can a transformational leader make to ‘model’ the type of outcome they wish to see in their followers.

In what ways do leaders ‘model’?

In order to understand how transformational leaders “transform” through ‘example’, it is first beneficial to look at the process of ‘modeling’. How do leaders ‘model’ the results they’d like to see from their team? Let’s analyze four articles, in particular, that give us a few examples of how leaders ‘model’ behaviors. 

In “Organizational Culture in Public Sector Organizations: Promoting Change Through Training and Leading by Example”, Mike Schraeder, Rachel S. Tears, & Mark H. Jordan (2004) propose that “leading-by-example” can improve cultural awareness within an organization and promote cultural change that may need to take place. The authors identify that organizations with strong identities and transformational leaders who are culturally aware are more prosperous than those with weak cultures. They suggest that leaders who model a ‘culturally aware attitude’ in their communication and actions influence their followers to also respect their organization’s specific cultural values. 

To illustrate through example, Schraeder, Tears, & Jordan (2004) pinpoint four ways one supervisor changed the culture in his team. This new supervisor took over a team that was struggling with employee morale and work ethic. First, the supervisor identified that his team suffered from a lack of vision from the organization’s leadership. In his first few months, the supervisor personally sought to have “an aggressive work ethic, display a positive attitude, and show enthusiasm for the mission of the department” (p. 499). Secondly, he instilled a mission filled with integrity. When an error was found on an examination that was produced within the department, the supervisor chose to preemptively expose the mistake instead of hiding the organization’s error. This action proved to serve as an example of what he expected from his team. Third, the supervisor actively participated in teambuilding activities, such as a ropes course and a leadership assessment. He even allowed for his own leadership assessment report to be used as an example for his team to explore. This measure convinced his team to use their own reports with their subordinates who were also taking the same assessment. 

Finally, Schraeder, Tears, & Jordan (2004) attribute an organization’s culture to increased communication (p. 502). The new supervisor they featured not only lived the refreshed vision, he communicated what that vision was and held employees accountable to also live the vision. The increased communication about their vision had a domino effect, boosting employee morale and student scores. By insisting on working according to a unified vision, carrying out work responsibilities with integrity, being an active participant, and keeping in constant communication with his team, this new supervisor was able to create a positive and dynamic culture that encouraged collaboration and teamwork. 

In “Who Makes a Good Leader? Social Preferences and Leading-by-Example”, Simon Gachter, Daniele Nosenzo, Elke Renner, & Martin Sefton (2009) also explore the notion that leaders may influence followers “through leading by example” (p. 2). They created a simple leader-follower game to “examine the effects of social preferences and beliefs about the social preferences” (p. 1). This study identifies reciprocity as an influential factor in the leader-follower relationship. Their conclusions indicate that if both parties believe the other is contributing their best, they will most likely follow suit. 

Gachter, Nosenzo, Renner, & Sefton (2009) focus on ‘selflessness’ and ‘trust’. In their game-like study, they found that followers were more likely to contribute their provided funds for the greater gain of the whole group if their leader, in this case called a ‘reciprocator’, did the same (p. 2). They also suggest that a leader’s trust in their followers influences their contribution to the “public good” (p. 17) and their followers’ confidence in their leader. Through acts of selflessness and trust, “groups will perform better [because they are] led by individuals who are willing to sacrifice personal benefit for the greater good” (p. 18).

In “Transformational Leadership and Job Behaviors: The Mediating Role of Core Job Characteristics”, Ronald F. Piccolo & Jason A. Colquitt (2006) performed a study that supports a relationship between transformational leadership and how employees view their jobs as “challenging and important” (p. 334). Piccolo &Colquitt (2006) propose a new way to examine transformational leadership: how the follower views their job. The results of their study concluded that followers enjoyed being given more responsibility and harder tasks to perform and appreciated leaders who communicated with “meaning” (p. 337). 

Where Schraeder, Tears, & Jordan (2004) highlight how a leader is able to unite followers under a shared vision, Piccolo & Colquitt (2006) look closely at the need for a leader to add “meaning” to their team. They focus on the importance of a company’s mission to be the focus of all day-to-day activities in order to create a unified vision for the organization. If the leader lives by the organization’s mission, followers then situate their own success in the success of the organization and believe they are successful when the organization is successful.

In “Leading Organizational Learning: Reflections on Theory and Research”, Gary Yukl (2008) explores ways in which leaders can influence learning in an organization. While Yukl (2008) specifically addresses how leaders can encourage learning in an organization through actions, he also examines how leaders can influence through modeling. Yukl’s (2008) conclusions are not unlike those that have come before him in this paper. He also lists the idea of working towards and articulating “an inspiring vision” (p. 50) with employees. He also addresses how idealized influence such as “leading by example” can create a culture that respects “traditional values” (p. 51). In times of change, stakeholders could disagree about a shared vision. It’s important for leaders to strive towards and to live a culture of shared values (p. 52). Finally, Yukl (2008) also points to increased communication among leaders and followers as it can diffuse knowledge more readily in an organization (p. 53). Through communicating and working according to a unified vision and values, leaders can have a great impact on organizational learning. 

In conclusion, leaders model the results they’d like to see in their team in many ways. First, leaders model work ethic that honors a unified mission, vision, and set of values. Secondly, they may communicate an organizational culture that encourages collaboration and teamwork. Finally, they can lead through acts of selflessness and trust.

What constitutes a transformational leader?

Now that we’ve taken a look at the ways in which leaders can model, we must next define the traits that make a leader ‘transformational’. I will use four more articles to identify the key traits of a transformational leader. 

In “Two Decades of Research and Development in Transformational Leadership”, Bernard M. Bass (1999) reflects on key points that have emerged from two decades of research on transformational leadership. He argues that transformational leadership inspires followers and develops an answer to why transformational leadership is preferable to transactional leadership in some professions because it calls on the leader and followers to look towards the success of the organization to guide them, versus letting the success of their person guide them (p. 9). 

According to Piccolo & Colquitt (2006), leaders can be transformational in four ways: “idealized influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, and individualized consideration” (p. 328). In the workplace, each of these areas can move a follower to perform better on the job. Piccolo & Colquitt (2006) specifically look to Bernard Bass, a well-known author on transformational leadership, to pinpoint the strategies of a transformational leader who motivates their followers to achieve more. 

According to Bass (1999), transformational leaders foster “autonomy and challenging work” (p. 10) by delegating “assignments as opportunities for growth” (p. 11), which “enhances commitment, involvement, loyalty, and performance of followers” (p. 11). These strategies include “constructive feedback”, “convinc[ing] followers to exhibit extra effort”, and “encourag[ing] followers to think creatively about complex problems” (p. 328). Piccolo & Colquitt (2006) concur and state that transformational leaders “arouse followers to a higher level of thinking” (p. 9). Although Bass (1999) identifies a leader’s “charisma” (p. 11) as a means to inspire their followers to achieve more for themselves and “become more innovative and creative” (p. 11), he quickly replaces the term with “idealized influence” (p. 19), a more serious phrase replaced for training purposes, also cited by Piccolo & Colquitt (2006). 

Bass (1999) mentions communication frequently in his article. He explains how a transformational leader must communicate challenges and changes within an organization (p. 16). This communication is usually delivered in the form of a unified ‘vision’ for the team and organization, with “determination and confidence” (p. 11). Furthermore, Bass (1999) states that transformational leaders then go on to provide “a model and [set] the example” (p. 20). Bass (1999) also acknowledges that change can bring out stress in a team, and uses this point as an example for how transformational leaders must also “deal with stress among followers” (p. 12). According to Bass (1999), transformational leaders incorporate “idealized influence” (p. 19) and communicate a vision, confidently. 

In “A Short Measure of Transformational Leadership”, Sally A. Carless, Alexander J. Wearing, & Leon Mann (2000) reviewed relevant research to find seven behaviors that define a transformational leader. Among the seven behaviors, the authors consider “communicat[ing] a vision” to be the most important behavior (p. 390). In their words, “transformational leaders develop an image of the future of their organization and communicate this vision to their subordinates, often by frequent statements” (Carless, Wearing, & Mann, 2000, p. 390). Secondly, Carless, Wearing, and Mann (2000) also found ‘empowerment’ to be a significant behavior that transformational leaders practiced by involving “team members in decision making” and providing “autonomy”(p. 391). Third, Carless, Wearing, and Mann (2000) list “leading by example” as a means to communicate “beliefs and values” (p. 392) to a team. Lastly, Carless, Wearing, and Mann (2000) agree with Bass (1999) that communicating a vision is considered a transformational activity, followed by “leading by example” in order to communicate “beliefs and values” (Bass, 1999, p. 392). Carless, Wearing, and Mann (2000) add that transformational leaders empower their followers with choices and involve them in decision making (p. 391).

In “Being an Effective Transformational Leader”, Richard Y. Chang (2006) presents his “VITAL” transformational leadership model (p. 17). The “V” in “VITAL” stands for “visioning” a clear future. Chang (2006) believes that “embracing an organization-wide vision” gives leaders and teams a common goal for which to contribute. The “I” stands for the “inspiring” transformational leaders must do with their team to “motivate others toward success” (p. 17). According to Chang (2006), “teaming” (T) is achieved when leaders adjust their management style to guide to the “diverse communication styles” (p. 17) on their team. Chang (2006) suggests developing a “measurement scorecard” in order to measure the achievement (A) of the team. Finally, Chang (2006) discusses “leveraging” (L) one’s team in order to keep costs down. Chang (2006) agrees with Bass (1999) and Carless, Wearing, and Mann (2000) that a vision is an important tool for transformational leaders to start with.

In “SRM Forum: The Leadership Challenge- A Call for the Transformational Leader, Noel M. Tichy & David O. Ulrich (1984) propose that transformational leadership is exactly the kind of leadership that is needed to revitalize large U.S. corporations and is crucial for the saving the American economy (p. 59). The authors highlight Lee Iacocca, chairman of Chrysler in the early 1980s, as an example of how transformational leaders must first signal a change. Iacocca transformed the internal culture through “internal communication as a vehicle to signal change” (p. 60). Secondly, Iacocca increased his visibility at private and public events in order to “reinforce these changes” (p. 60).

Tichy & Ulrich (1984) identify three “programs of activity” (p. 63) of the transformational leader. Their first program is the “creation of a vision”, which they believe “remains the core responsibility of the transformational leader” (p. 63). Among the traits, The authors hope transformational leaders can bring to large corporations is the ability to “mobilize employees to accept and work toward achieving the new vision” (p. 59). They point out that it is not the creation of the vision that is the hardest part, but that it is “mobilization of commitment” (p. 64) that takes the most effort and time. The authors define that transformational leaders must allow this time to get leadership and followers to get to know each other in order to discuss and back the new vision. Finally,they describe an “institutionalization of change” when transformational leaders translate their vision into practice by making “alterations to communication, decision making, and problem-solving systems” (p. 64). 

Among the qualities, Tichy & Ulrich (1984) believe transformational leaders possess are traits that can’t necessarily be learned and are more intuitive. For example, they list “the kind of political dialogue our founding fathers had” (p. 66) when describing the type of language transformational leaders must use to persuade and influence followers. An understanding of institutional knowledge and culture within organizations is also important, according to the authors, because transformational leaders should reward good culture in order to promote it. 

In conclusion, Tichy & Ulrich (1984) agree with Bass (1999), Carless, Wearing, & Mann (2000), and Chang (2006) that creating a vision is the “core responsibility of the transformational leader” (Tichy & Ulrich, 1984, p. 63). Secondly, Tichy & Ulrich (1984) agree with Bass (1999) and Carless, Wearing, & Mann (2000) that putting the vision into practice is the second concern for a leader through “alterations to communication, decision making, and problem-solving systems” (Tichy & Ulrich, 1984, p. 64). 

Finally, in what ways can transformational leaders “transform” through modeling a certain behavior?

This essay began by investigating how leaders ‘model’ the behaviors they wish to see in their followers. Secondly, it then looked at how transformational leaders ‘transform’ their followers. Finally, it now examines two more articles that can help us to discover how transformational leaders ‘transform’ through modeling certain behaviors. 

In “Transformational Leader as Champion and Techie: Implications for Leadership Educators”, C. B. Crawford, Lawrence V. Gould, & Robert F. Scott (2003) examine the effects of technological innovation on transformational leadership. The authors look to previous research to draw conclusions. Crawford, Gould & Scott (2003) identify that “transformational leadership is needed in an evolving technological society” (p. 61). By adapting to this evolution in “attitude and behavior”, leaders can “reform fear into motivation” (p. 61). 

Crawford, Gould & Scott (2003) performed a study that favored the “relationship between transformational leadership and innovation” (p. 65), specifically examining the role of technology. They state that “champions of innovation were significantly more transformational than non-champions” (p. 61). They point out that champions led rationally under “organizational rules and procedures”, participate by “enlisting others’ help”, and “going outside the formal channels” (p. 61) to carry out innovation in unconventional ways.  They argue that the act of innovating incorporates the characteristic of “change” (p. 67), and also transformation. The authors applaud transformational leaders for their tenacity in modeling the act of innovating with the help of advancements in technology because they serve as an example to their followers. 

In “Transformational Leadership and Team Performance”, Shelley D. Dionne, Francis J. Yammarino, Leanne E. Atwater, & William D. Spangler (2004) investigate the link between transformational leadership and team performance. The authors look to “idealized influence, intellectual stimulation, and individualized consideration” (p. 177) to help transformational leaders “positively affect team communication, cohesion and conflict management” (p. 177). 

According to Dionne, Yammarino, Atwater, & Spangler (2004), transformational leaders may use the following actions to carry out idealized influence: articulating a vision, instilling prideful membership in the team, getting followers to think like a team, and “talking optimistically about the future” (p. 182).

Although previous parts of this essay have examined teamwork, it has not yet looked at cohesion, which Dionne, Yammarino, Atwater, & Spangler (2004) define as how much team members “are motivated to remain on the team” (p. 181). The authors concluded from their research that the “visioning behaviors” (p. 181) a transformational leader uses to play a large role in team cohesion. 

Secondly, although this essay has also looked at increased and open communication, it hasn’t yet examined the correlation between open communication and positive performance. Dionne, Yammarino, Atwater, & Spangler (2004) recognize that good communication means “increased listening, prompt feedback, and openness to suggestions” (p. 185) by transformational leaders with each individual team member. The authors argue that this does have a direct correlation to the team because it increases communication and the flow of information, which increases “team performance” (p. 185). 

The articles referenced in this essay help to provide some insight into how transformational leaders can ‘transform’ behavior through modeling. Modeling from transformational leadership includes having a good work ethic, leading through acts of selflessness and trust, and communicating an organizational culture that encourages collaboration and teamwork. Leaders transform when they create a vision and are then able to transform the specific vision into a set of practices and behaviors. Lastly, transformational leaders can be helped in their leadership tasks through advancements in technology as a source of innovation to influence followers with a vision that creates complete team cohesion. 


Bass, B. M. (1999). Two decades of research and development in transformational leadership. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 8(1), 9-32.

Carless, S. A., Wearing, A. J., & Mann, L. (2000). A short measure of transformational leadership. Journal of Business and Psychology, 14(3), 389-405.

Chang, R. Y. (2006). Being an effective transformational leader. Chief Learning Officer, 5(8), 17.

Crawford, C. B., Gould, L. V., & Scott, R. F. (2003). Transformational leader as champion and techie: implications for leadership educators. Journal of Leadership Education, 2(1), 1-12.

Dionne, S. D., Yammarino, F. J., Atwater, L. E., & Spangler, W. D. (2004). Transformational leadership and team performance. Journal of organizational change management, 17(2), 177-193.

Gachter, S., Nosenzo, D., Renner, E., & Sefton, M. (2009). Who makes a good leader? Social preferences and leading-by-example.

Piccolo, R. F., & Colquitt, J. A. (2006). Transformational Leadership and Job Behaviors: The Mediating Role of Core Job Characteristics. Academy of Management journal, 49(2), 327-340.

Schraeder, M., Tears, R. S., & Jordan, M. H. (2005). Organizational culture in public sector organizations: Promoting change through training and leading by example. Leadership & Organization Development Journal, 26(6), 492-502.

Tichy, N. M., & Ulrich, D. O. (1984). The leadership challenge–a call for the transformational leader. Sloan Management Review, 26(1), 59-68.

Yukl, G. (2009). Leading organizational learning: Reflections on theory and research. The Leadership Quarterly, 20(1), 49-53.