the shape of leadership

Transformational Leadership

Qualities that bring out the best in others

Kayla Pierce on June 5, 2024

Good leaders manage teams that get the job done, but transformational leaders inspire people to maximize their potential.

Whether a youth pastor motivating students to exceed their Speed the Light giving record or food bank organizer guiding volunteers toward greater effectiveness, some leaders have a way of bringing out the best in people.

What do transformational leaders have in common? Social scientists have been asking that question for decades.

In Transformational Leadership, Bernard Bass and Ronald Riggio sifted through research to identify four distinguishing traits. According to Bass and Riggio, leaders who motivate team members to become the best versions of themselves are people of character, vision, innovation, and flexibility.



Transformational leaders model high ethical standards. They don’t compromise character by disparaging others or cutting corners. They talk about their values, practice what they preach, and garner respect.

People can trust such leaders to do the right thing even when no one is watching. This encourages team members to give their best effort.

You don’t have to look far to find examples of moral failure in ministry. However, the absence of scandal does not necessarily indicate the presence of integrity.

Even small lapses in character — like telling people what they want to hear and then doing something else — erode confidence. When a leader’s character is in question, team members will be hesitant to follow, and ministry will stall.

The apostle Paul was a transformational leader who consistently demonstrated Christlike character (1 Corinthians 11:1). He also encouraged those he led to do the same. Consider Paul’s words to Timothy: “Set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12).

Paul cultivated accountability and trust through transparency. For example, in addressing his ministry team’s handling of funds, Paul wrote, “We are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of man” (2 Corinthians 8:21).

Make integrity a daily priority. Find a trusted spiritual mentor who is willing to tell you when a course correction is in order. And look for ways to provide greater transparency in your ministry.



Transformational leaders articulate a clear, compelling vision of what the future could be, and then motivate people to move toward it.

These leaders cultivate an atmosphere of collaboration, spur others to rally around the mission, and instill confidence.

When enthusiasm within the group starts to wane, transformational leaders offer team members encouragement and remind them why their contributions matter.

Be intentional about communicating your vision and optimism, while checking the emotional pulse of your team often for early signals of discouragement. Even a brief email or impromptu pep talk can give staff members and volunteers a second wind.

As a teen, I picked up students who needed a ride to youth group. On one occasion, a girl who had been coming to church with me suddenly stopped responding to my texts.

I felt discouraged and frustrated, but a mentor reminded me my effort was not in vain. This leader explained that even if the girl never returned, every night I had driven her to church was a night she had heard God’s Word.

Transformational leaders cultivate
an atmosphere of collaboration, spur others to rally around the mission, and
instill confidence.

That bit of encouragement reoriented me toward my ministry calling and inspired me not to give up on my outreach efforts.

The apostle Paul took a similar approach when Timothy was dealing with church strife. Paul wrote, “No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer” (2 Timothy 2:4).

This empowering metaphor drew Timothy’s attention away from his momentary challenges and toward the long-term mission.

Paul also expressed confidence in Timothy’s ability to navigate these difficulties with God’s help: “Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this” (verse 7).

Follow Paul’s example by rallying behind team members needing support. Share stories and testimonies to boost their faith. Let them know you are in their corner, cheering them on and praying for them every step of the way.



Transformational leaders practice and promote critical thinking and innovation. They invite team members to challenge assumptions and try new things. Such leaders encourage creativity and continual progress.

Maintaining the status quo is easier. Innovation takes time and energy. Nevertheless, transformational leaders are always looking for ways to improve and helping others imagine, invent and excel.

When I was a children’s leader, my pastor often challenged me to think bigger. I tended to be frugal. While appreciating my prudence, my pastor tried to ensure a desire for cost savings didn’t impede vision.

I was working from the template of how things had always been done, but my pastor challenged me to suspend that framework and imagine what could be. His leadership, and the innovative environment he encouraged, inspired some of our coolest stage sets and most creative games.

Even if you are not especially creative, you can nurture an atmosphere of innovation. Debrief with your team after events, asking for suggestions on how to improve.

Create a judgment-free environment in which people feel comfortable brainstorming and articulating ideas.



There is a temptation in leadership to interact with everyone in the same way. However, transformational leaders are versatile. Their leadership style is flexible enough to adapt and respond to individual team members.

People require different levels of coaching, collaboration, structure, and oversight, and those needs evolve over time.

Transformational leaders reject a one-size-fits-all approach. They value diversity, take time to identify each person’s strengths, and offer personalized training and mentoring.

As ministry leaders, we should go a step further and interact with team members prophetically — envisioning who they could become and how God might use them in the future.

Again, the apostle Paul provides a great example. Paul’s relationship with Timothy was personal. Paul reminded Timothy of his family and spiritual heritage, encouraging him to “fan into flame the gift of God” (2 Timothy 1:5–6).

Having experienced firsthand the life-changing power of the Holy Spirit, Paul recognized God’s anointing on this young man and called out Timothy’s ministry potential.

Reflect on the unique qualities of your team members. Are you maximizing their strengths? Identify the gifts they may not yet see in themselves. And provide opportunities for each person to grow.

In 2017, Frontiers in Psychology published an analysis of 761 studies on transformational leadership. The researchers discovered that people with transformational leaders demonstrate greater commitment to their organizations, trust in their leaders, and willingness to exceed expectations.

Every pastor wants that kind of buy-in from their team members.

Take intentional steps toward becoming a leader who brings out the best in others. And trust God to transform hearts and lives through your ministry.


This article appears in the Spring 2024 issue of Influence magazine.

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