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Karina Nielsen

University of East Anglia

Professor of Work and Organizational Psychology

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The role of transformational leaders in wellbeing


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Organisations are increasingly becoming aware of the importance of employees in gaining competitive advantage. The happy-productive worker thesis states that employees high in wellbeing also perform better and there is good scientific evidence that line and middle managers play an important role in ensuring and promoting their employees’ wellbeing.

The role of managers in promoting wellbeing

The first question is: What can these managers do to promote employees’ wellbeing and performance. The answer? They can become transformational leaders.

What is a modern transformational leader?

Transformational leaders:

  • Inspire and motivate their employees. They do this by formulating a clear vision for their group and together with their groups formulate goals for how the vision can be achieved.
  • Stimulate their employees.
  • Encourage employees to think outside the box, challenge existing mindsets and supports employees in independent decision-making. They express high expectations of employees performing above and beyond the call of duty.
  • Function as role models and they model desirable behaviours in the workplace
  • Show individualised consideration: transformational leaders recognise that employees have different and are at different development levels and they take these differences into account in their approach to their employees. They also act as coaches and mentors developing their employees’ skills and competencies.

How do transformational leaders promote employee wellbeing?

First, by showing care and consideration for their employees, these employees come to trust that their leader has their best interest at heart.

By acting as role models, walking the walk and talking the talk, employees come to trust their leader’s good intentions.

Second, transformational leaders create a positive working environment.

Leaders who formulate a clear vision and function as the communication link between the group and the wider organisation providing the necessary information for the group to achieve its goals provide their employees with role clarity.

Employees come to understand what their role is within the organisation and what is expected of them. Formulating a clear vision also helps the creation of a sense of meaningfulness. Employees perceive their jobs as meaningful when they see how their individual jobs and tasks fit in with the goals of the group and what they can achieve through doing “their bit”.

Transformational leaders also provide employees with autonomy and opportunities for development in the job when such leaders encourage employees to critically review existing working procedures and seek out new challenges at work. Transformational leaders also increase employees’ involvement in the job because they encourage them to perform above and beyond the call of duty.

Third, transformational leaders also increases employees’ belief in themselves and that they can cope with the challenges they are faced with at work. When leaders hold and express high expectations that their employees can successfully tackle the challenges they meet at work and leaders function as role models demonstrating how new and unforeseen events can be successfully managed, employees’ self-efficacy increases and they come to belief in a successful outcome when they take on new challenges at work.

How do leaders become transformational leaders?

They get trained in transformational leadership behaviours.

There is evidence that transformational leadership behaviours can be learned during training and that the employees of leaders who have been trained in transformational leadership behaviours become more satisfied with their leaders, exert greater effort at work, and experience higher levels of commitment to the organisation.


Nielsen, K., Yarker, J., Brenner, S.-O., Randall, R & Borg, V. (2008) Leadership style, work characteristics and well-being. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 63, 465-475.

Nielsen K, Randall R, Yarker, J, Brenner S-O. (2008). The effects of transformational leadership on followers’ working conditions and well-being. Work & Stress, 22, 1, 16-32.

Nielsen, K., & Munir, F. (2009). How do transformational leaders influence followers’ affective well-being? Exploring the mediating role of self-efficacy. Work & Stress, 23, 4, 313-329.

Nielsen, K. (2014). Leadership and Climate in a Psychologically Healthy Workplace. In: A. Day, E. K. Kelloway, & J. J. Hurrell Jr.. Workplace Well-Being Building Positive & Psychologically Healthy Workplaces. Wiley Publications, pp. 226-244.

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Karina Nielsen

Professor of Work and Organizational Psychology

Read more from Karina Nielsen

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