Transformational Leadership (Behind the Essay)

We recently published an essay: “Transformational Leadership Theory: A Great Place to Begin.” This blog post shares the story behind the essay, to include how you can use the essay as a catalyst for your further development as a leader.

As the title conveys, we believe this theory is a great place to begin for people who are taking steps to get serious about leadership. That goes for the new practitioner as well as the person who has been leading for years. We believe leaders develop and become more effective to the degree that they thoughtfully weave together practice and theory, experience and new knowledge. With that in mind, we recommend you read the article with the intention of weaving the concepts of the theory into your ongoing leadership practice.


The impetus for writing the essay was a week-long leadership class that we helped design and teach. Transformational Leadership Theory was central to the course, and we needed a succinct reading assignment that conveyed the essence of the theory.

Students in the course–most of whom are seasoned leaders already–read the essay and write their own “transformational leadership philosophy” paper.  In this paper, students describe their three most important leadership tenets, a story from their life that shows how that belief was forged, and then make connections to Transformational Leadership Theory. The paper builds over the week-long course and includes a series of storytelling exercises and a short verbal presentation.


The process of reading the essay and writing the papers was an incredibly positive learning experience for the professionals in the course. But you don’t need to be in a course to achieve this development. Here is one way to leverage this process on your own (or with others):

  1. Read the Transformational Leadership essay.
  2. Reflect on your life and your practice of leadership. What are the three leadership tenets (or principles) that best describe how you lead and/or what you believe about leadership?  These three tenets, together, describe your personal philosophy of leadership.  State them and briefly define them.
  3. Using a personal story, convey how each tenet was forged in your life experiences. In other words, ground the tenets in real stories from your life. The more real, the more personal, the better. If you don’t feel emotion and a sense of conviction, keep digging.
  4. Finally, connect each tenet to Transformational Leadership Theory. Where does it fit on the Full Range Leadership model? What specific component of the theory supports your thinking?

Finish by asking yourself two questions:

  1. How am I currently doing with living out my tenets?
  2. How can I be more intentional about practicing my tenets in the future?

You can make this even more impactful by doing it in a small group–with other people who are equally committed to growing and becoming all that they can be as leaders.


The process of writing the essay was really rewarding to me. I learned a great deal and emerged more inspired about leadership than when I started. The closing paragraph of the essay, which summarizes the essence of Transformational Leadership Theory, also conveys the essence of what I believe about leadership. You will also find those ideas woven into the DNA of the Cornwall Leadership Institute.

In closing, I want to express gratitude to a number of people.  First, to the students in the inaugural leadership course using this essay. Second, to several people who gave me feedback along the way and helped make the final product much better than it otherwise would have been: Lisa Maria Noudehou, Pete Kilner, and Everett Spain. Finally, to Bruce Avolio who bent over backwards to help me better understand the theory that he co-created. Thank you all. Your generosity is inspiring and much appreciated.

Click here to Read the Essay