Are you a transformational leader, or do you know such a leader? Some people have an extraordinary ability to inspire others and bring forth loyalty. A person who has such a personality is said to have charisma. The German sociologist Max Weber explains: charisma causes one to be set apart from ordinary people and to be treated as endowed with superhuman, or at least exceptional, powers.1 It’s important to note that power without moral character is a dangerous formula. Charismatic leaders can create both good and bad outcomes. 

Charismatic leaders demonstrate specific types of behavior:  

(1) They are role models for the beliefs and values they want their followers to adopt.  For example, Mahatma Gandhi advocated nonviolence and was a role model of influence through civil disobedience.  

(2) They demonstrate ability that elicits the respect of followers. Leaders in art, science, religion, business, government, and social service influence followers through their personal competence.

(3) They have ideological goals with moral overtones. Martin Luther and Martin Luther King, Jr. both employed this type of charismatic behavior.  

(4) They communicate high expectations. Military history is replete with examples of charismatic war leaders.  

(5) Charismatic leaders ignite the motives of their followers to take action.

A crisis can create “charisma-hungry” followers who are looking for a leader to alleviate or resolve their dilemma.  Some charismatic leaders may create crises to increase followers’ acceptance of their vision, the range of actions they can take, and followers’ level of effort.3 In every walk of life, an individual with charisma may emerge. When this happens, the person is recognized as a leader. Consider the account by Willie Davis, an all-pro lineman for the Green Bay Packers, that shows how coach Vince Lombardi exercised tremendous influence in the field of sports because of his charismatic personality. Men played their hearts out for Lombardi. Their goal was to please him, to be equal to their understanding of his methods and goals. 

The example of Lombardi shows how an individual can generate the respect and following of others through personal charisma. According to Willie Davis, how did Lombardi do this? 

  • First, he cared. No one was more committed to achieving the goal and winning the game. 

  • Second, he worked hard. No one worked harder and more diligently to prepare.  

  • Third, he knew the right answers. He knew the game of football, he knew the teams, and he had a plan to succeed. 

  • Fourth, he believed. He believed in himself and his players, and that made them believers as well. 

  • Fifth, he kept the bar high. He had uncompromising standards that raised the pride of his team as they rose to the challenge. 

  • Sixth, he knew people. He knew how to motivate each of his players, each in his own way. 

Since Vince Lombardi died in 1970, he has been lionized as the greatest NFL head coach ever, due to his charismatic personality and the success of his teams.


Transformational Leadership Assessment 

Rate yourself (or your leader) on Vince Lombardi’s transformational qualities. (1 is low; 10 is high) 




1) Commitment 

 1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9  10 


2) Hard Work 

 1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9  10 


3) Job Knowledge 

 1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9  10 


4) Self-Confidence 

 1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9  10 


5) High Standards 

 1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9  10 


6) Motivation Ability 

 1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9  10 



Total Score 



54-60 = Excellent 

48-53 = Very Good 

42-47 = Average 

36-41 = Poor 

6-35   = Failing 

In his book Leadership, political sociologist James MacGregor Burns states that the term charisma has taken on a number of different but overlapping meanings: leaders’ magical qualities; an emotional bond between the leader and the led; dependence on a powerful figure by the masses; assumptions that a leader is omniscient and virtuous; and simply popular support for a leader that verges on love. Burns states that charismatic leadership often involves conflict and struggle, and this may help explain the violent ends of such transformational leaders as Abraham Lincoln, Joan of Arc, and Jesus Christ.5 

Transactional versus Transformational Leadership 

Leadership is social influence and the result is a change in character or direction that otherwise would not happen. Social influence can be transactional or transformational. What is the difference between a transactional and a transformational leader? In contrast to transactional leaders, who emphasize exchanging one thing for another, such as jobs for votes and rewards for favors, transformational leaders engage the full person of the follower. The result is an elevation of the potential of followers and achievement beyond previous expectations.6 Research shows that transformational leadership has a positive effect on performance. Employees with transformational leaders have higher levels of motivation, productivity, and organizational commitment.7 It is important to note that transformational leadership can occur at all levels of an organization, and transformational leaders can emerge in both formal and informal roles.

A leader doesn’t have to be extroverted and boisterous to be transformational. Many transformational leaders are known for their humility and quiet charisma. An ideal example of a quiet transformational leader is Saint Teresa of Calcutta, whose humanitarian work with India’s sick and poor and her founding of the Missionaries of Charity are known throughout the world. Her mission was to care for, in her own words, “the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people who have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone.”9 

Biographer Walter Isaacson describes Steve Jobs as a transformational leader whose passion for perfection and ferocious drive revolutionized six industries: personal computers, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computing, and digital publishing. Isaacson identifies 15 beliefs and practices that worked for Jobs as a leader. Both new and experienced leaders can learn from Jobs’s leadership formula for success.10  

Focus -- Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do.  

Simplify — Zero in on essence, eliminate unnecessary components. 

Own — Take responsibility for “the whole widget,” end to end. 

Compete — When one is behind, leapfrog the competition. 

Prioritize — Make the right products and profits will follow. 

Intuit — Listen to your feelings, not just your intellect. 

Bend — Create a convincing reality through shear mental force. 

Present — The package is important. 

Perfect — Use good wood, even if it doesn’t show. 

Demand — Expect good people to do great things; they will deliver. 

Communicate — People who know what they are talking about don’t need PowerPoint. 

Engage — Mix and mingle where the work will get done. 

Attend — Both the big picture and the minute details matter, so pay attention to both. 

Imagine — Combine art and science to create the best. 

Commit — Stay hungry; stay foolish. 

Despite his reputation as a difficult leader, Jobs learned and grew from experience. He evolved from a young and impetuous entrepreneur to become a thoughtful and resilient company-builder. The more mature and confident he became, the more he surrounded himself with strong and competent executives. Always charismatic, Jobs learned to listen and he improved as a leader. The company’s great successes were group efforts.11 


For related reading, see: 

Leadership by James MacGregor Burns (New York: Harper Perennial Classics, 2010). 

On Becoming a Leader by Warren Bennis (New York: Basic Books, 2009). 



1. M. Weber, “The Theory of Social and Economic Organization,” trans. A. Henderson and T. Parsons, ed. T. Parsons (New York: Oxford University Press, 1947), 358. 

2. R.  House, “A Theory of Charismatic Leadership,” in J. Hunt and L. Larson, eds. Leadership (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1976), pp.189-207; and D. Mason, “Secrets of the Charismatic Leader,” Nonprofit World 22, no. 4 (July-August 2004), pp. 19-20. 

3. I. Bogo and N. Ensari, “The Role of Transformational Leadership and Organizational Change on Perceived Organizational Success,” The Psychologist-Manager Journal 12, no.4 (2009), pp. 235-51. 

4. Kramer, J., ed. Lombardi (New York: Crowell, 1976), pp.158, 160, 162.  

5. J. Burns, Leadership (New York: Harper, 2010), p.9; and S. Campbell et al., “Relational Ties That Bind,” Leadership Quarterly 19, no.5 (2008), pp.556-68. 

 6. J. Downton, Rebel Leadership (New York: Free Press, 1973); J. Burns, Leadership; and J. Antonakis and R. House, “On Instrumental Leadership,” presentation delivered at UNL Gallup Leadership Summit, June 2004, Lincoln, Nebraska. 

7. B. Bass and R. Riggio, Transformational Leadership (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2006); B. Bass, Leadership and Performance Beyond Expectations (New York: Free Press, 1985); T. Judge and R. Piccolo, “Transformational and Transactional Leadership,” Journal of Applied Psychology 89 (2004), pp.755-68; B. Avolio et al., “Transformational Leadership Behavior and Organizational Commitment,” Journal of Organizational Behavior 25 (2004), pp.951-68; and F. Walumba et al., “How Transformational Leadership Weaves Its Influence on Individual Job Performance,” Personnel Psychology 61(2008), pp. 793-825. 

8. B. Aviolo, Full Leadership Development (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2010). 

9. K. Spink, Mother Teresa (New York: Harper One, 2011). 

10. W. Isaacson, “The Real Leadership Lessons of Steve Jobs,” Harvard Business Review (April, 2012). 

11. B. Schlender and R. Tetzeli, Becoming Steve Jobs (New York: Crown, 2015).