Home / Discovery / Article 3: ‘Transformative’ vs ‘Transformational’ – What difference does it make?

‘Transformative’ v ‘Transformational’

 What difference does it make?

Let’s start by quickly clarifying what we’re looking at here in terms of leaderships styles; these two are not the same thing, although there are thousands out there that think they are!  Perhaps the quickest, most succinct way to ‘spot the difference’ is to look at the definitions of these two words courtesy of the OED1.


Transformational:  Adjective: Relating to or involving transformation or transformations

Transformative: Adjective: Causing a marked change in someone or something

Put simply then; Transformational Leaders are involved in changing things whereas Transformative Leaders make change happen.

Another illustration of the conceptual difference might be to quote Martina Navratilova2; “The difference between involvement and commitment is like ham and eggs; the chicken is involved; the pig is committed!”.

Transformational Leadership Has It’s Place

That’s not to say that Transformational Leadership isn’t good – it’s a model adopted successfully by many headteachers to involve, motivate and encourage others to identify weaknesses, find and implement solutions.  It works particularly well to improve tangible problems like poor processes and operating procedures.

But what if the thing that needs fixing is more abstract?  It’s hard to see how a Transformational Leadership model can evoke major change when the problem is cultural such as the growing mental health crisis in schools across the UK.

How do you motivate colleagues to find the right way to support to the 1 in 10 children3 with diagnosable mental health issues (each one different and often unique to the individual) when 67% of teachers4 (and 80% of senior leaders) describe themselves as stressed resulting in over one million teaching days a year5 being lost due to mental health related sickness absence in the sector!

Indeed, many teachers attribute their own mental health issues directly to the results focussed managerial methods6 adopted by headteachers and senior teams as part of their transformational leadership vision.

A More Comprehensive Approach

In this context of mental health in schools, what is needed is a more comprehensive approach that understands that a one size fits all solution is just not possible. Instead we need to consider the ever more diverse and challenging environment in which our teachers work and the equally diverse needs, experiences, backgrounds and capabilities of the children they are teaching.

This is where Transformative Leadership (TL) and its combined focus on academic excellence and social transformation comes into its own.  TL takes a more holistic and genuinely ‘whole school’ approach to tackling the wide-ranging inequalities that exist in any collective environment, not least within a school.  It accepts that the conditions, influences and realities of life outside of school, directly affects the ability of pupils and staff to function effectively within school.

Fundamentally; in a school context, Transformative Leadership promotes a values-based approach focussed on creating equal and inclusive learning opportunities for all students to prepare them for life. The successful implementation of such an approach offers huge potential to universally improve wellbeing and create truly mentally healthy schools where everyone can achieve.

The challenge is how we implement Transformative Leadership in a way that is compatible with current curriculum based, results oriented education policies

1 Oxford English Dictionary

2 Courtesy of brainyquote.com

3 The Centre for Mental Health

4 Education Support Partnership; Teacher Wellbeing Index 2018

5HSE Labour Force Survey

6 Study conducted by The Bamford Centre for Mental Health & Wellbeing at Ulster University


You might like:

Transformative Leadership: Article 1: Well-being: A Nice to Have or Essential to your School’s Success?

Transformative Leadership: Article 2: Are ‘Transformative’ rather than merely ‘Transformational’ Leaders the key to a mentally healthy school?

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