Transformational Leaders


First described by Weber in 1947, then later by Burns in 1978 and Bass in 1985, transformational leaders were one of the two main categories of leaders documented; the other being transactional leaders. Transformational leaders are characterized by their willingness to seek innovative solutions in an attempt to bring about changes in all of society.


Transformational leaders were discussed by Weber in his description of charismatic leaders.  Burns and Bass expanded on this idea of the transforming leader in their behavioral leadership models.  All three leadership theorists agreed that transformational leaders were very different than transactional leaders.

Transformational leaders are comfortable seeking solutions that are both groundbreaking and without restrictions.  Transactional leaders are willing to work within existing systems and negotiate to attain the goals of the organization.

Burns describes several categories of transformational leaders including:

  • Intellectual Leaders:  focused on the vision of the future
  • Reform Leaders:  focused on the morals of society
  • Revolutionary Leaders:  focused on changing all of society
  • Charismatic Leaders:  focused on bringing change through the use of personal charisma

Burns was also careful to distinguish between moral leaders and amoral leaders.

Related Terms

transactional leaders, situational leadership style