Moving From Transactional to Transformational Engineering Leadership

This is a guest post by Jeff Perry, MBA

As leaders, we have a responsibility, duty, and stewardship to take care of those we lead so they can grow and become the best they can be for themselves and the organization. In order to do this, we don’t simply want to be interacting with them in a transactional way, but want to be building something that is transformational.

In this article, I will give you an overview of four areas that constitute transformational leadership and how you can improve in each area.

“In real life, the most practical advice for leaders is not to treat pawns like pawns, nor princes like princes, but all persons like persons.”

~ James MacGregor Burns

What does it feel like to be treated like an individual by those who lead us? When they see that we have different skills, passions, and talents than others and they want to grow that in us?

It typically feels wonderful and is one part of building a transformational leadership relationship.

When we treat each person as an individual, they feel seen, heard, and cared about. We’re driving success through the team and their strengths, and working hard to put each person in a position to succeed. We understand and spend time learning about each person’s goals, dreams, and aspirations, and we work to help them accomplish those goals.

As such, they desire to do their best for the good of the team and are more likely to heed guidance, feedback, and correction from you because they know you have their interests at heart.

Consider this: How can you connect and influence those on your team more as individuals in the way that is most optimal for them?

“Management is about persuading people to do things they do not want to do, while leadership is about inspiring people to do things they never thought they could.”

~ Steve Jobs

Transformational leaders inspire those they lead with a clear vision of what needs to be done to succeed and set an example for how to make it happen. They clarify the “what” and the “why” of the organization, and truly “walk the talk” as a role model in the work that they do.

Transformational leaders exhibit idealized influence.

To influence people is to help them accept change. Great leaders do this by instilling pride, gaining trust, and providing a clear vision and sense of purpose for the work that people do.

transformational leadership

But talking a big talk isn’t enough. For others to believe in a great leader, the leaders must adhere to high levels of ethical and moral conduct. They must truly embody the lessons, principles, and values they want to be part of the culture.

Steve Jobs is a well-known example. While not a perfect leader by any means, no one can doubt that he created a vision of perfection, high standards, and innovation that became the hallmark of Apple and drove it to success. He was a model of hard work and determination to improve, which was instilled in every employee. I’m not even an Apple product user, but I still admire and respect what Jobs did.

He became somewhat of an icon. A role model. An ideal to aspire to. And through his work, he transformed many of the people who worked with him.

Consider this: How can you better embody the type of leader you aspire to be so that others aren’t compelled — but want — to follow?

“Leaders become great not because of their power but because of their ability to empower others.”

~ John Maxwell

How do you create an environment and culture that truly inspires those around you? Is it possible to instill belief and motivation in those you lead so they believe in themselves?

Yes, and this is what inspirational motivation is all about — the third pillar of transformational leadership.

Contrast an inspiring leader who focuses on casting a purpose and vision for the organization that motivates others to a leader that is simply reactive to outside forces. The leaders who focus solely on efficiency and goals are transactional, not transformational. They care more about meeting a goal than what that goal means to employees, customers, and the world.

This may sound a lot like the idealized influence that we talked about previously, and that’s because they are related. Inspirational motivation is about creating the vision of what is possible, and idealized influence is setting the example and embodying that as a leader.

Are your goals inspiring? Do you know how you and your team truly impact customers and stakeholders?

If not, think about how you can reach for and clarify a higher purpose for your work. Connect that purpose and vision at every level of the organization, division, team, and even down to the individual. When people see that their work has meaning, they feel more inspired and motivated to do their best.

Consider this: How can you inspire others more effectively?

“I need a challenge. I need the intellectual stimulation. I’m a member of a community on each film, working in concert to try to bring an idea to life. It’s a great job.”

~ Harrison Ford

The fourth and final element of transformational leadership is intellectual stimulation.

Leaders have a responsibility to challenge others to learn, grow, and stretch beyond their current capacities. This expectation increases innovation, creativity, and adaptability to change. This is what helps people grow.


Great leaders promote rational and careful problem-solving, and never settle with sticking with the status quo.

In doing this, leaders help people think for themselves and make great decisions. This decentralizes decision-making and allows teams to act independently and without unnecessary oversight.

To grow an organization or a team, the individuals inside of it must grow too. Building a culture of learning, improvement, and innovation through intellectual stimulation is one way to do that.

Consider this: How can you help your team accept and rise to the next challenge in a way that is intellectually stimulating for them?

As a review, the four elements of transformational leadership are:

  • Individualized Consideration
  • Idealized Influence
  • Inspirational Motivation
  • Intellectual Stimulation

When you put these together, you have four strong elements of a leader who can help a team move beyond what needs to get done and transform to become something great together.

About Jeff Perry, MBA

The Gap and The GainJeff Perry is a leadership/career coach for engineers, building mindsets, leadership, and career intentions to unlock hidden potential and remove self-imposed roadblocks for career and life. For years, he has had the pleasure of supporting engineers and software pros, from new grads to director level. Having been on the front lines in the technical world, he has been able to map out the necessary skills for becoming a quality leader in the field.

You can connect with Jeff on LinkedIn at or visit his website, Jeff also has a new, FREE, on-demand training course for engineers who are job searching or in job transitions. You can see it at

New To Technical Leadership?

The transition from individual contributor to technical leader is a difficult one. Jeff put together a FREE, 90-day guide for those moving through this transition to help them be as successful as possible. You can get it here:

Please leave your comments, feedback or questions in the section below on moving from transactional to transformational engineering leadership.

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To your success,

Anthony Fasano, PE, LEED AP
Engineering Management Institute
Author of Engineer Your Own Success

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