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June 8, 2020

The Five Dimensions of Transformational Leadership

By IT Revolution

Excerpted from the DevOps Enterprise Forum guidance paper Transformational Leadership: A Quick Start Guide by John Esser, Sr., Dr. Nicole Forsgren, Chivas Nambiar, Julia Wester, and Dan Zentgraf.

1. Vision

Vision is the expression of a desired picture of the future based around organizational values and should answer this basic question: What do we want to become? In addition to knowing and understanding direction, transformational leaders must be able to clearly communicate the vision and validate that it was understood as intended.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]. . . the CEO needs to become “the storyteller in chief,” says Aetna’s Mark Bertolini. “That means telling different aspects of the same transformation narrative to all the constituencies and stakeholders in the company.”[/perfectpullquote]

2. Inspirational Communication

Inspirational communication is the expression of positive and encouraging messages about the organization, and statements that build motivation and confidence. Transformational leaders continually seek to understand changing factors that motivate people to do their best work.

Inspirational communication seems to be particularly important when expressing a vision for the future. In the absence of encouragement and confidence building efforts, articulating a vision may have a neutral or even negative influence on employees.

3. Supportive Leadership

Supportive leaders expresses concern for their followers and take into account their individual needs. Gallup’s State of the American Manager Report (2017) states that employees are more engaged when their managers are open and approachable and not focused solely on work-related items.12 This recognizes that we bring our whole selves to work and that it is difficult, if not impossible, to leave our personal concerns at the door.

While transformational leaders don’t have to be managers, they will be more successful when they adopt these attributes.

4. Intellectual Stimulation

Intellectual stimulation enhances employees’ interest in and awareness of problems, and it helps to increase creative problem-solving skills, encouraging them to think about problems in new ways.

In order to spur employee interest in problems and problem-solving, one must accept the fact that problems do and will continue to exist. Despite the proverb stating an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, believing that you can prevent all problems often leads to being caught without the skills to solve a problem when one does arise. As with all things, balance is key. By embracing the opportunity to involve employees in a problem’s life cycle, a transformational leader can be a key catalyst for turning a company into a learning organization.

Learning organizations are skilled at five main activities: systematic problem solving, experimentation with new approaches, learning from their own experience and past history, learning from the experiences and best practices of others, and transferring knowledge quickly and efficiently throughout the organization. Each is accompanied by a distinctive mind-set, tool kit, and pattern of behavior. Many companies practice these activities to some degree. But few are consistently successful because they rely largely on happenstance and isolated examples. By creating systems and processes that support these activities and integrate them into the fabric of daily operations, companies can manage their learning more effectively.

5. Personal Recognition

Giving employees personal recognition through the use of such incentives as praise and acknowledgement of effort upon the achievement of specified goals can be a minefield, but traversing it is a necessary act. The key is to understand how incentives can affect employees’ motivation and engagement, and to find out which behaviors drive them so that you encourage the right behaviors and keep employees inspired and wanting to pursue the vision. Transformational leaders use incentives that align with their employees’ self-interest to encourage a culture of learning and collaboration.

Today, the old ways of running a workplace—annual reviews, forced rankings, outdated competencies—don’t get the intended results. Leaders must gain scientific insight into employees’ evolving wants and needs and learn how to build an exceptional workplace.

Also according to Gallup, 21% of employees strongly agree that their performance is managed in a way that motivates them to do outstanding work.


Transformational leadership is something that all of us can do, and teams with transformational leaders have better outcomes, helping to amplify the work of those they work with and direct. It can be described along five dimensions (vision, inspirational communication, intellectual stimulation, supportive leadership, and personal recognition) and can be measured.

To download the full DevOps Enterprise Forum guidance paper, please follow this link.

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IT Revolution

Trusted by technology leaders worldwide. Since publishing The Phoenix Project in 2013, and launching DevOps Enterprise Summit in 2014, we’ve been assembling guidance from industry experts and top practitioners.

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  • Anonymous May 25, 2023 4:38 pm

    So helpful to young people who are looking forward to be leaders

  • Kate Keaney Nov 24, 2020 10:25 am

    You’ve highlighted some factors here that are most definitely fundamentals in transformational leadership. These five dimensions can certainly help to achieve better outcomes.

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