The social impact of any great leader is generally pretty evident, especially when you give it scope and retrospect. That’s just one reason why nonprofit board members should be familiar with a variety of leadership styles including the transformational leadership style. The transformational leadership style is highly valued in nonprofit organizations for a variety of reasons, mostly because it helps to create a culture that aligns employees and volunteers with donors.
Transformational leadership is a practical leadership style for large nonprofits that employ large numbers of employees and volunteers. This leadership style is also effective for smaller nonprofits that can have just as strong an impact on their communities as larger nonprofits.
Perhaps one of the most important reasons for smaller nonprofits to consider a transformational leadership style is that the leaders of small nonprofits can take the knowledge and experience they gain in small organizational leadership and put it to work in the capacity of a larger organization at a future date.
What Is Transformation Leadership?
To better understand the impact of transformational leadership on any size nonprofit, let’s take a brief look at its origin. Bernard Bass, a leadership expert, developed the theory of transformational leadership in 1985. In his work, Bass aimed to get a better understanding of the extent that leaders could influence their followers. The intent of his theory was to explore whether followers would stay closer to a leader that was honest, inspirational, and trustworthy, and consequentially, instill those values into their own leadership style.
The core of transformational leadership is the notion of leading through inspiration and integrity. A transformational leadership style creates a culture that inspires leaders to take ownership of their organizations. When we think of transformational leaders, we think of people that thought outside the box and weren’t afraid to ask questions—people like Martin Luther King, Oprah Winfrey, Steve Jobs, and Nelson Mandela.
Such leaders were transformational the world over because they nurtured the same thought-provoking kind of thinking in those who admired and followed them.
As noted by the University of Notre Dame, Bass’ Transformational Leadership Theory highlights the following 8 traits of transformational leaders:
- Raise awareness of moral standards
- Use persuasive appeals
- Create an ethical climate of shared values
- Foster high moral maturity in followers
- Provide one-on-one coaching and mentoring
- Encourage followers to look beyond self-interests
- Appeal to a set of ideals
- Allow freedom of choice
Dr. Theresa Ricke-Kiely teaches Principles of Leading Transformational Nonprofits at Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business. She explains that in other leadership styles, managers aspire to get a job done, whereas the transformational leadership style differs in that it inspires those they lead to get a job done.
Benefits of Transformational Leadership for Nonprofits
Transformational leadership is a more personal leadership style than other leadership models. For that reason, and because transformational leadership has a greater focus on ethics and doing the right thing, people can generally relate to it better than other leadership styles.
These are some of the other benefits small and large nonprofits can expect to receive when embracing a culture of transformational leadership:
- Inspires leaders to have courage
- Sparks innovation
- Helps those involved with nonprofits to have a shared vision based on the mission
- Elevates morale and performance
- Creates an environment that’s conducive to developing and coaching future leaders
- Inspires employees and volunteers to have self-efficacy
- Builds a loyal following for the nonprofit
- Drives results that have a major social impact
Next, we’ll delve into how the transformational leadership style works and how it pertains to nonprofits of any size.
How Transformational Leadership Works to Benefit Nonprofits of Any Size
As Dr. Ricke-Kiely so aptly points out, transformational leaders tap into their ability to inspire others to do what they need to do to support the nonprofit. In this capacity, transformational leaders are less authoritative in their demeanor. By contrast, they take on more of a role as a guide, mentor, or coach.
This type of approach is in keeping with the social exchange theory, which suggests that when one person provides something of value to another, the other person is likely to reciprocate the same type of behavior. Overall, the benefit of transformational leadership at the organizational level is that it helps create a greater sense of commitment to the nonprofit’s mission. That’s truly an approach that any size nonprofit can benefit from.
A transformational leader can have a great impact on the organization and the greater community when they visibly put such leadership skills into action. By definition, transformational leaders act as change agents. One of the challenges of switching to a transformational leadership style is that people don’t like change. It takes time for them to start seeing the benefits of transformational leadership.
The Future of Transformational Leadership in the Nonprofit Realm
Generally, the early theories of nonprofit leadership styles focused more on the personal characteristics of leaders such as intelligence, communication skills, motivation, and to some degree, charisma. These characteristics, along with having strong grant-writing experience and a broad network have long formed the core of a quality nonprofit leader’s resume. That’s starting to change.
As nonprofits have learned more about various leadership styles, the transformational leadership style is emerging as one that’s beneficial for nonprofits of every size. The reality is that our societies are going through a great deal of change right now and that’s likely to continue for the foreseeable future. As a result, whether nonprofits are large or small, they need visionary leaders that are capable of nurturing relationships with employees, volunteers, and donors.
Transformational Leaders Need Transformational Tools
Every leader needs the right tools for the job. That’s especially true for transformational leaders. Digital tools, such as a board management system by BoardEffect, streamline many board management activities and help them get organized so they can focus on guiding those who are directly doing the nonprofit’s work. With a board management system, nonprofit leaders can access board materials at any time, from any location. The right tools support transformational leaders by empowering them to open up to new ideas and welcome them. More importantly, the right tools give them the ability to inspire the same openness to everyone involved with the organization.