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Bass Transformational Leadership Theory

Technical Details

Name(s): Bass Transformational Leadership Theory
Author: Bernard M. Bass
Classification: Transformational Leadership Theories
Year: 1985


  • A leader can make a positive difference in a person's life and Bass Transformational Leadership Theory may be a solution in various cases.
  • The "Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire" (MLQ) presents itself as more of a precise or measured way of assessing leadership factors and how an audience is transformed.


  • In any test, such as the "Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire" (MLQ), there is a problem of "test effect", where you cannot get valid results with subsequent testing. A different test version may help in some cases, but this type of test would be difficult to overcome. Also, if one knows the scoring method, it is rather easy to see in what factor categories the questions fall, and one taking the test could "test out" according to a predetermined classification.
  • How "transformational" is transformational? When does that transformation occur and to what degree? How is it assessed? How does one know if there has been a transformation and, if so, how long lasting is it? Is it just an ephemeral feeling?


As the word "transformation" suggests, Bass Transformational Leadership Theory is one of a set of various Transformational Leadership Theories. More information of a general nature about these can be found in the article Transformational Theories. Burns originally said that leaders can transform the life of followers by altering their perceptions, aspirations, expectations, values, and so forth. Qualities within the leader her or himself are behind the changes. The leader demonstrates, communicates, and does whatever it takes to get the audience see a vision and exhort them to do things. Bass main contribution in 1985 to Burns' original theory was describing psychological mechanisms and setting forth ways of measuring the efficacy of the Bass Transformational Leadership Theory.


The Bass Transformational Leadership Theory, Bass in other words, was interested in the extent to which a leader influences followers. Followers go after a leader because of trust, honesty, and other qualities and the stronger these are, the greater loyalty they have for the leader. The leader transforms the followers because of her or his having these qualities. Not only is the leader a role model but she or he exhorts the following to challenging the existing order, the revolutionary being a stark example of this. While the leader may have democratic motives in mind, s/he can assume a Transaction Leadership style at the same time, directing the followers to do things. Bass saw these aspects of transformational leadership:

  1. Individual consideration, where there is an emphasis on what a group member needs. The leader acts as a role model, mentor, facilitator, or teacher to bring a follower into the group and be motivated to do tasks.
  2. Intellectual stimulation is provided by a leader in terms of challenge to the prevailing order, task, and individual. S/he seeks ideas from the group and encourages them to contribute. learn, and be independent. The leader often becomes a teacher.
  3. Inspiration by a leader means giving meaning to the follows of a task. This usually involves providing a vision or goal. The group is given a reason or purpose to do a task or even be in the organization. The leader will resort to charismatic approaches in exhorting the group to go forward.
  4. Idealized influenced refers to the leader becoming a full-fledged role model, acting out and displaying ideal traits of honesty, trust, enthusiasm, pride, and so forth.

The "Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire" (MLQ) has been created to survey leadership factors. The current (2011) version, MLQ5x [1] measures characteristics of passive as well as leaders who actively attempt to make their followers leaders.

According to the National Institutes of Health, there were reports of inconsistent results concerning the accuracy of the "Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire" (MLQ) Subsequent research on Finnish nurses in 2002 incicated that the test seemed to be internally consistent with respect to the leadership subscales (factors) and the "Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire is a highly suitable instrument to measure multidimensional nursing leadership [2]. "


As with any test, there are problems with test effects. Even though tests may be spaced apart in time and with different versions, the form of the test remains the same, and anyone aware of the factor analysis can easily see what questions correspond to what factor. One could predict what factor should apply to her or him and test accordingly. Tests are only snapshots, and often they are deficient in the scope of description as well as facing dynamic considerations. How complete are they; do they cover all the essential situations? Assuming that the snapshot is valid for a particular time, how valid is it at another and in what circumstances?

The Bass Transformational Leadership Theory assumes that the leader has decent set of ethics, but if the theory is applied in a situation where a leader does not, the results could be disastrous. Cults, such as the Branch Davidians, are prime examples of where the process of transformation of a group by a deluded leader can result in terrible consequences. One should not need to say anything about Hitler. Bass states that Transactional Leadership can be mixed with Transformational Leadership, but one has to monitor the Transactional part and devise ways of not only setting limits to its use but build into the theory check mechanisms for when it gets out of control.

Future of theory

The world is getting more complex, and people are being brought into situations in which they may not be able to cope. Case in point are the number of Middle Eastern countries that have been under the thumbs of despots and are in turmoil. Transformational leaders can be of great benefit if they can prepare the people who have never experienced democracy for a participatory situation. On the other hand, the danger lurks of incipient leaders becoming just as despotic as the ones being overthrown. Such a situation always has existed, especially in revolutionary situations, but the technology heightens the intensity of the environment. The emerging leaders must be educated, intelligent, empathetic with the ones being led, have a noble ethos, and, perhaps most important, have a noble code of ethics. Across international and cultural boundaries, different versions of the MLQ might be tried. For example, it seems that a Spanish version, "Results show that the model that produces the better results with the data consists of four factors: transformational leadership, developmental/transactional leadership, corrective leadership and avoidant/passive leadership. This model is parsimonious and consistent with the MLQ literature [3]."

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