Transformational leaders create something new from something old by changing the basic political and cultural systems (Tichy, Ulrich, 1984). This differs from transactional managers who make adjustments to the organizational mission, structure, and human resources.
Transformational leadership accomplishes this by changeling and transforming individuals' emotions, values, ethics, standards, and long-term goals through the process of of charismatic and visionary leadership (Northouse, 2007). The term Transformational Leadership was first coined by Downton (1973), however, its emergence did not really come about until James Burn's classic, Leadership (1978) was published. Burn noted that the majority of leadership models and practices were based on transactional processes that focused on exchanges between the leader and follow, such as promotions for excellent work or punishment for being late.
On the other hand, transactional leaders engage with their followers to create a connection that raises the level of motivation and morality in not only the followers, but also the leaders themselves.
In 1985, Bass expanded on the Transformational model by noting it was more of a continuum rather than two separate entities:
Bass wrote how transformational Leadership inspired the followers to do more by:
- Raising their levels of consciousness of the organizational goals
- Rise above their own self-interest for the sake of the organization
- Address higher level needs
While charisma of the leader is necessary for the followers to achieve the above needs, other conditions are also necessary, such as other motivational forces, intellectual stimulation, and individualized consideration. This chart shows some of the factors of the continuum that have been identified by researchers (Northouse, 2007, p.175):
Since this is a continuum, the degree of separation between transformational and transactional leadership often falls in the gray, in addition, leaders will often operate out of all three modes (transformational, transactional, and laissez-faire) rather than sticking with one.
For example, House (1976) identified these characteristics of a charismatic leader (charisma is one of the main identifiers of a transformational leader):
- Strong role model
- Shows competence
- Articulates goals
- Communicates high expect ions
- Expresses confidence
- Arouses motives
One leader that comes to mind that has all the high marks of these characteristics is the late Steve Jobs of Apple computers. Thus, while he sits on one part of the continuum as a transformational leader, he would use the corrective transactions of a transactional leader, such as severe criticism (punishment) when a designer did not meet his expectation.
Another example is a transactional leader who places certain followers in a laissez-faire style environment because they know more than him and are able to do a better job without his direct involvement.
The Leadership Continuum is similar to Leadership Styles in that most good leaders use a variety of techniques to fit the situation, rather than sticking with one mode.
Productivity and Social outcomes
Ames & Flynn (2007) tested groups of MBA students to determine how much people like their leaders and how many things the leaders actually got done. They discovered:
- Productivity: Higher levels of assertiveness produced diminishing returns, thus it's not much better to be highly assertive than moderately assertive. However, it is definitely better to be moderately assertive than not assertive.
- Social outcomes: Higher levels of assertiveness lead to increasingly poor social outcomes. It is definitely better to be moderately assertive than highly assertive.
By putting both of the outcomes together we get an inverted U-shape in that leaders who are low in assertiveness get less things done, but people very high in assertiveness are socially insufferable. In the middle of the U are leaders who get the most things done in addition to to providing good social outcomes. The goal is to operate out of the sweet spot that is in the middle of the inverted U:
Ames & Flynn also discovered that assertiveness is how we most often evaluate leaders and co-workers in that assertiveness was complained about more than other important leadership qualities, such as charisma, conscientiousness, and intelligence. However, when leaders are moderately assertive, we don't tend to notice.
The belief that you get the best results in business by being roughshod with people is wrong, as is using too much of a soft approach. Just as with the Leadership Continuum and Leadership Styles, leaders need to discover their comfortable sweet spot that allows them to accomplish their goals while at the same time producing a social environment that achieves the best from people.
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Ames, D. R.; Flynn, F. J. (2007). What breaks a leader: The curvilinear relation between assertiveness and leadership. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 92(2), Feb 2007, 307-324.
Bass (1985). Leadership and Performance Beyond Expect ions. New York: Free Press.
Burns, J. M, (1978). Leadership. New York: Harper and Row.
Downton, J. V. (1973). Rebel Leadership: Commitment and Charisma in the Revolutionary Process. New York: The Free Press.
House, R. J. (1976). A 1976 Theory of Charismatic Leadership. In Leadership: The Cutting Edge. Eds: Hunt, J. G. & Larson, L. L. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, pp.189-207.
Northouse, G. (2007). Leadership Theory and Practice. (3rd ed.) Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.
Tichy, N. M., & Ulrich, D. O. (1984). The Leadership Challenge— A Call for the Transformational Leader. In Classical Readings of Organizational Behavior. Eds: Ott, Parkes, Simpson. Belmont, CA: Thomson-Wadsworth (2008) .