Burns Transformational Leadership Theory

What happens when you hone a dull knife? The dull edge of the blade becomes sharp again because one metal is rubbing against another metal. This is the concept of the Burns transformational leadership theory. It is a process where the leader of a team and their direct reports are able to engage in a process of mutual discussion that has one purpose in mind: to achieve a higher level of motivation through higher levels of morality.

Why is achieving a higher level of morality so important? It is because under this leadership theory, the assumption is that people will follow leaders who have the highest levels of motivation for them to achieve higher morality. By working together as a team, more knives can be sharpened together than on one’s own.

This Leadership Theory Invokes the Spiritual Being

Throughout the whole of human history, many people have felt like there has been something missing from their lives. The ways that we try to fill these gaps tends to be the definition of who we are as a spiritual being. Many people attempt to fill these gaps with some sort of religion. Christianity, Judaism, Islam, or any other religion have value because people feel like they become a complete person. Others science, logic, and reason to fill these gaps as well. Just because it is not religion doesn’t mean that it isn’t a spiritual experience.

What the Burns leadership theory does is engage each individual on the spiritual level. This spiritual motivator is extremely difficult to ignore because at its core, the goal is to connect each person and each leader with a higher purpose. The promise is simple. When someone feels like they have filled a missing gap and achieved a higher purpose, they have a greater sense of identity. When their individuality has been defined, they have the ability to be more productive thanks to their higher moral awakening.

How Does a Leader Motivate Under This Theory?

The Burns transformational theory of leadership is incredibly idealistic. It will not work when someone is happy with the status quo. If they feel like they have achieved a higher level of morality already, the implementation of the aspects of this theory can actually demotivate more than it will motivate. That’s why it is so important for a leader who is using this theory to focus on developing values and purpose as the morally right thing to do.

Because higher levels of morality are at play, people will be motivated to make the right choice. This is the one weakness of this leadership theory. The right choice for one person may not be the right choice for another person. That’s why people will choose different religions. That’s why people may choose not to follow a religion at all. It’s also why a team that is focused on one aspect of morality can end up failing.

When the conditions are right, this leadership theory can bring about a lot of success. What the leader must do is recognize when it should be implemented and when it should not be.

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