Transformational leaders have been written about for thousands of years and have been both praised (Christ and Buddha) and cursed (Attila the Hun and Genghis Khan). Some of the most famous individuals in history are transformational in one form or another.
Being a transformational leader is a choice. It’s one among many leadership styles. It must be said, however, that few managers or CEOs are transformational. Most like the status quo and want to keep it that way.
Transformational leaders are seen on all continents and practiced in many contexts. For example, entrepreneurs must function as transformational leaders to grow a small business into a large one.
- Learn To Be a Transformational Leader
- The Importance of Transformational Leaders
- The Master List of Transformational Leaders
- Three Great Transformational Leaders
- Categories of Transformational Leaders
- Geographical Transformational Leaders
- On Site Resources
Learn To Be a Transformational Leader
“He who stops being better — stops being good.” — Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658), Lord Protector of the Commonwealth.
The Importance of Transformational Leaders
One characteristic of great transformational leaders is the ability to inspire. They just don’t know how to bore and snore. Perhaps it’s because they know how to appeal to your why.
Compiled by Murray Johannsen
The Master List of Transformational Leaders
Alexander The Great
Attila the Hun
Catherine the Great
Charles I (King of England)
Chulalongkornm, King Rama V
Cyrus the Great
De Rothschild, Baron
Frederick the Great
Gates, Bill and Melinda
Giannini, A. P.
Giap, Vo Nguen
Ho, Chi Min
Ivan the Terrible
Jackson, Thomas (Stonewall)
Joan of Arc
Jones, John Paul
Jung, Joo Young
King, Martin Luther
Lee, Gun Hee
Lee, Robert E.
Louis XIV (Sun King)
Marshall, George C.
Morgan, J. Pierpoint
Park, Chung Hee
Park, Guen Hye
Penny, J. C.
Peter the Great
Queen Elizabeth II
Ramses II, Pharaoh
Rockefeller, John D.
Sejong the Great
Tuthmose III, Pharaoh
Villa, Francisco (Poncho)
Von Bismark, Otto
Von Clausewitz, Carl
Von Moltke, Helmuth
von Schlieffen, Alfred
Watson, Thomas, Jr.
Watson, Thomas, Sr.
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Three Great Transformational Leaders
Case 1: Queen Elizabeth I of England
There are similarities between managing a corporation and running a country. The most apparent difference—countries are much harder to run.
When Elizabeth began her reign, England was, to put it mildly, a mess. Ascending to the throne at a particularly chaotic time in British history, she was beset by enemies from without and within. Nevertheless, a betting man would have put good odds on her getting through the first two years alive.
However, at the end of her 45-year reign, England had become the wealthiest and most powerful nation in Europe and was well on its way to becoming one of the great powers of the modern age.
Bottom line: No Elizabeth—No British Commonwealth.
- Images. A page of portraits of Elizabeth at various points of her reign.
- Quick Overview. The Britannia one-page overview.
- Elizabeth I: Life and Times. An entire site is dedicated to the life and times of one of the daughters of Henry the VIII.
- Speeches and Writings. These are a few choice words from a long career of writing.
Case #2: Alexander The Great: King of Macedonia, Greece, Egypt, Turkey, Israel, Lebanon, Persia, and Afghanistan
How can one so young accomplish so much? By the time Alexander died in 323 BC, he had not yet reached his 33rd birthday. Yet, in that short time, he had created an empire that stretched from Greece to India.
In an age where tyrants ruled by brute force and fear, he defied the conventional political wisdom of the time. Rather than cleaning out the treasury of a conquered nation and then taxing them to the max, he built new cities (often called Alexandria’s), libraries, established mechanisms for communication and commerce, had engineers build new roads, and had scientists capture new knowledge.
Known as much for his sound strategy and tactical innovation in the military arena as his wise statesmanship in the political sphere, he was a student of Aristotle. He went on to become even greater than his teacher.
- Alexander the Great. The History Channel.
- Alexandros from Plutarch’s Lives. A chapter from one of the great classic works of all time.
Case #3: The Evolution Of A Great Transformational Founder: Bill Gates, Former CEO Of Microsoft
Many try to be a particular type of transformational leader, but few succeed. This type of person, the Great Founder, also requires a set of skills not taught in the university. For example, one of the most successful entrepreneurs ever, Bill Gates, decided to drop out of Harvard and start a business called Microsoft. One can almost imagine how that conversation went. The future entrepreneur said, “Mom, I want to drop out of school so I can work on an entrepreneurial venture for 80 hours a week, for no pay — one with a high probability of failure.”
But unlike most entrepreneurs, he never failed, and Microsoft was never unprofitable. For example, It was said that he took on a 5% equity investment from a venture capitalist, not because the money was needed, but because they wanted more expertise on the board. Below are three short videos from Bill Gates’s recent interview at Harvard.
Below are lists of famous transformational leaders, some military, many political, and more than a few who have achieved greatness in business.
Categories of Transformational Leaders
You can put these types of leaders into different categories. These include:
Entrepreneurial Transformational Leaders
By definition, entrepreneurs must be transformational leaders. And while the American business schools are great believers that they have to be managers, they neglect entirely how to lead.
While there are exceptions, such as Lou Gerstner, most CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are not transformational. Instead, decades spent obeying corporate rules to get to the top typically create hesitation when changing those rules.
However, most CEOs are not transformational. Why? Well, most transformational projects in large corporations fail. Also, they:
Are not founders of the corporation. These individuals could be considered successful entrepreneurs.
You can’t heal an unhealthy culture. So, for example, Steve Jobs makes our list of successful entrepreneurs. When he returned to Apple, it was a dysfunctional organization headed toward bankruptcy. He transformed it completely.
Rely on growth through acquisition. Many CEOs, being men and women of action like to buy things. However, different sources have said that as many as 2/3 of corporate acquisitions are not good deals from the standpoint of the acquiring organization’s stockholders.
Have good PR firms that present the illusion of growth and transformation. Some CEOS put on a pretty good facade as enlightened, successful leaders, but the reality is much different. A classic example was “Chainsaw” — Al Dunlap.
Geographical Transformational Leaders
European history is full of transformational leaders. Some used their power to build; some used their power to destroy. Some established a new order; others destroyed the old, leaving nothing new in its place. Many were successful; others tried and ultimately failed. But however they lived, they exerted a strong influence on their followers.
Many Asian leaders have been lost to history. Those that remain are fascinating—great men and women who created nations where there were none.
Genghis Khan is undergoing something of leadership revival in Mongolia today. This site presents background information on the life of a transformational leader few of us would want to face, let alone oppose. On the other hand, while some leaders accomplish things through the sword, Gandhi chose the method of nonviolence.
American Transformational Leaders
Business only forms one arena for the transformational leader. Another is government. You might argue that government is a stricter test for the transformational leader than is business. For one thing, the scale is much different. A CEO influences thousands, a head of state, millions. And military leaders often function as heads of state.
Douglas McArthur, as a general, had a long and illustrious history. Transformational to a great degree, he set up a new and completely different Japan compared to what had existed before World War II. This article also lists a series of leadership questions one can ask about your treatment of others.
On Site Resources
Last Update: June 18, 2023