Transformational Leadership in the Church
Updated: Jul 8
I can't count the number of times I've seen job advertisements for church leadership positions or been sitting around a board table discussing the type of leader a church is looking to attract and have seen or heard the term "Transformational Leader." It's about as frequent as the term "Servant Leader" (see my other blog about that term). Those seem to be required buzz words when discussing the type of leader a church wants. However, when I press the group on exactly what they mean by "transformational," they rarely can define it or even describe it in a coherent way. Let me help.
Transformational Leadership is not just a catch phrase. It is not some ethereal concept that lacks a real definition or is open to interpretation. Transformational Leadership is a unique, identifiable, highly-researched skill set in the field of Leadership Studies. First made popular by James MacGregor Burns following the publication of his seminal 1978 work, Leadership, Transformational Leadership describes a leader who works with others in the organization to pursue "higher" goals, to achieve some significant change for the pooled interests of everyone in the organization, and who elevates and motivates her or his followers.
Then, in the late-1980s and early-1990s, Bernard Bass and Bruce Avolio further nuanced Burns' Transformational Leadership as one of the three components of their Full Range Model of Leadership (1991). In this version, Transformational Leadership was one of three first-order components of the new model (along with Transactional and Passive-Avoidant). Each of these three first-order components were further broken down into second-order traits. The five second-order traits for Transformational Leadership became known as the "5 I's."
Under the Full Range Model of Leadership, the "5 I's" of Transformational Leadership are:
-Idealized Influence - Attributed
-Idealized Influence - Behavioral
Idealized Influence - Attributed is the idea that someone is a role model simply because of their credentials or reputation. In the church world, the pastor, staff, and lay members of the leadership team should have Idealized Influence - Attributed just because of their roles. If your church does not have a culture where the pastor and the leadership team are respected individuals, you've got a problem from the very beginning.
Idealized Influence - Behavioral. Think of this as "walking the walk." You are a pastor or church staff member...you'd better act like you are worthy of the responsibility and respect placed upon someone in such an important position. Here, you should be actively modeling behaviors fitting of a leader. Engaging in public squabbling over petty matters, carrying a grudge, advancing a personal agenda, and unprofessional demeanor are examples of a leader failing to exhibit Idealized Influence - Behavioral.
Inspirational Motivation refers to a leader providing meaning and challenge for members of the organization. Here, the leader creates a sense of purpose in the organization and paints an optimistic future for the organization. An inspirationally motivating leader is NOT a cynic or a defeatist. Nor, are they unrealistic. They are optimistic, set goals for the organization, and inspire others to help attain those goals.
Intellectual Stimulation describes a leader who provides encouragement and opportunity for creativity and innovation in the organization by allowing people the freedom to question assumptions and approach old problems in new ways. This is the opposite of "we've always done it that way." Encourage innovation. Dare to dream.
Individual Consideration refers to a leader who knows, acknowledges, and actively pursues each member's need for achievement and growth by working WITH them as a coach or mentor. Leaders exhibiting this quality create new learning opportunities and a supportive environment for each member to thrive and live into their fullest potential. This is all about relationship building, empathy, and support.
The next time your church is discussing the type of leader they are looking for, don't slip by with a simple platitude to "transformational leadership." Understand EXACTLY what makes one a transformational leader and actively seek to develop those qualities in your church leadership.