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Transformational Leadership in Behavioral Health

7/17/2013 8:00:00 AM
Written By:
Lee Phillips, MSW, LCSW, CSAC

The transformational model of leadership has gained considerable traction among leadership theorists and researchers over the past few decades. The leadership model appears to be a fairly reliable and unitary construct referring to a set of leadership behaviors which are associated with a variety of positive organizational outcomes. Under the transformational model, the leader focuses on creating positive change in followers through behaviors which help them "transform" into more motivated, satisfied, and harmonious members of the organization. According to Fisher (2009), transformational leadership is generally characterized by the four types of leadership behaviors, often referred to the four "I"s

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

Idealized Influence

The concept of idealized influence is similar to what can generally be thought of as charisma. Although the vast majority of literature on charismatic leadership focuses on the potential for negative social consequences, there is also an argument to be made that the charisma is a component of highly effective transformational leadership (Aaltio-Marjosola & Takla, 2000). In a sense, idealized influence refers to a "leader's ability to generate enthusiasm and draw people together around a vision through self-confidence and emotional appeal" (Fisher, 2009, p. 362). At a more tangible level, a leader can become a more idealized leader by modeling desirable role behaviors within the organization and culture. By positioning him or herself as a positive role model, a leader can thereby engender trust, respect, and even admiration of subordinates. In mental health terms, this has similarity to what clinicians refer to as "fostering transference" with their clients. By exhibiting the types of behaviors that one would expect from a leader in a given situation, one can generally assume that they will be automatically afforded greater deference within that situation.

Intellectual Stimulation

Transformational leaders help to provide intellectual stimulation for their subordinates. In practice this means that transformational leaders foster more democratic working environments than other types of leaders, because they are frequently engaging in their team members in creative and innovative problem solving (Fisher, 2009).

Individual Consideration

Individual consideration occurs when the leader gets to know their team members and show them individual respect and concern. If team members are being recruited as intellectual collaborators in organizational problem solving, their personal needs and preferences will naturally emerge. Leaders can further the sense that individual consideration is occurring by regularly assessing their followers' personal goals and working to create new opportunities which match their goals (Fisher, 2009).

Inspirational Motivation

The transformational leader moves team members toward action by building their confidence levels and generating a belief in a cause (Fisher, 2009). This concept is highly compatible with the previously discussed aspects of transformational leadership. Through individualized consideration and mentoring, individuals are led to work toward improving themselves and their status within the organization. By providing a positive model, individuals are given direction and momentum for guiding their own role behaviors.

Benefits of Transformational Leadership

  • Employee effectiveness is positively affected with extra perceived effort (Jung, Yammarino, & Lee, 2009).
  • Organizational citizenship behaviors and job satisfaction all are all being linked to transformational leadership. 
  • Increase in group cohesiveness among group members; each member is propelled by the group to accomplish more than could be done. Group cohesiveness among work teams results in more and better group interaction, stronger group influence, and greater individual involvement in the group (Wang & Huang, 2009). Particularly in service agencies where turnover rates are high because of provider burnout, higher levels of group cohesiveness may serve as a protective factor by increasing the level of support that workers receive from one another.

Psychological Well-Being & Transformational Leadership

Psychological well-being is the subjective experience of being in a positive state of mental health. Several studies have found that a leader's behavior can affect the mental health of his followers, but there has been little research examining the possible mechanisms for this interaction. Arnold, Turner, Barling, Kelloway, & McKee (2007) noted that there is an established connection between transformational leadership and the sense of one's work being meaningful. It is not uncommon to hear workers in mental health service organizations describe their work experience in terms of a progressive loss of meaning. High case loads, inadequate funding, and arduous paperwork all contribute to the type of crisis that leads to burnout. It is the sense that one is simply making no difference in the world by continuing on with his or her work. By directly enhancing the sense that there is meaning in the work that mental health care providers are doing, transformational leadership has a potential to strongly affect worker satisfaction and reduce burnout. And because this effect improves psychological well-being, it may also help clinicians to exercise a higher level of clinical judgment than they would otherwise be capable of. This improves the quality of services that are provided and so circularly enhances the sense that meaningful work is done.


Aaltio-Marjosola, I. & Takala, T. (2000). Charismatic leadership, manipulation and the complexity of organizational life. Journal of Workplace Learning, 12(4), 146-164.

Arnold, K. A., Turner, N., Barling, J., Kelloway, E.K., & McKee, M.C. (2007). Transformational leadership psychological well-being: The mediating role of meaningful work. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 12(3), 193-203.

Fisher, E. (2009). Motivation and leadership in social work management: A review of theories and related studies. Administration in Social Work, 33, 347-367.

Jung, D., Yammarino, F.J. & Lee, J.K. (2009). Moderating role of subordinates' attitudes on transformational leadership and effectiveness: A multi-cultural and multi-level perspective. The Leadership Quarterly, 20, 586-603.

Wang, Y. & Huang, T. (2009). The relationship of transformational leadership with group cohesiveness and emotional intelligence. Social Behavior and Personality, 37(3), 379-392.

Lee Phillips holds a Master of Social Work degree from Norfolk State University and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication with a minor in Theatre Arts from Old Dominion University. Lee is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and a Certified Substance Abuse Counselor in the state of Virginia. Lee is currently pursuing his Doctor of Education degree in Organizational Leadership with an emphasis in Behavioral Health at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, AZ. He is currently pursuing a doctoral dissertation study titled, "What Matters in Social Work Management: A Qualitative Study of Leadership Styles". Lee has worked in several mental health and substance abuse treatment settings including outpatient and inpatient settings for the past six years.

Lee is employed full time as a licensed intake psychotherapist with Central Access at Colonial Behavioral Health in Williamsburg, VA. Lee is employed part time in the private practice sector where he provides psychotherapy services to adolescents, adults, couples, and families. His research and academic interests include: Adolescent Risk Behavior, Adolescent Mental Health Services, Gay and Lesbian Issues with Adolescents & Adults, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in Clinical Social Work Practice, Group Treatment for Substance Abuse, Progressions in Organizational Leadership, Macro Level Social Work Practice, Servant Leadership and Transformational Leadership in Behavioral Health, and Treatment of Adolescents and Adults with Substance Use Disorders.

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