Leadership that inspires and motivates followers to achieve outcomes beyond expectations and helps followers grow and develop by responding to their individual needs.
The introduction of transformational leadership generally is credited to James MacGregor Burns (1978) who used the term to distinguish between those who led through the exchange of performance for rewards (i.e., transactional leaders) and those who led by inspiring followers to aim for and achieve ambitious goals (i.e., transformational leaders). This development in leadership thinking signaled the beginning of a shift to what has become known as new-genre perspectives that focus on more interpersonal, inspirational, and visionary leadership. Burns (1978) argued that transformational leaders develop followers as individuals and as future leaders by empowering them and responding to their needs. As a result, transformational leadership results in high levels of follower commitment and job satisfaction and promotes performance that exceeds expectations by aligning followers’ goals with those of the leader, the group, and the larger organization (Bass 1985; Bass and Riggio 2006).
Transformational leadership is defined as leadership that inspires and motivates followers to achieve outcomes beyond expectations and helps followers grow and develop by responding to their individual needs. Since its introduction, transformational leadership has become, and has remained, the most-researched leadership theory (Barling 2013). Its argued effects have been tested and supported across medical, military, educational, governmental, professional, and industrial contexts, as well as across international cultures (Bass and Riggio 2006). Although there is some debate about the exact number of dimensions that underlie the concept, scholars generally agree that transformational leadership is a multifaceted construct. The most commonly accepted structure of transformational leadership suggests it is comprised of four subdimensions: idealized influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, and individualized consideration (Bass 1985).
Idealized influence captures transformational leaders’ tendency to behave in ways that generate admiration, trust, and respect from followers. Because of idealized influence, transformational leaders establish themselves as role models to followers and cause followers to want to identify with and emulate leaders. Further, this facet of transformational leadership often results in followers attributing extraordinary capabilities to leaders.
The inspirational motivation facet of transformational leadership refers to leader speech and behaviors that provide meaning and challenge to followers’ work. Through inspirational motivation, transformational leaders communicate enthusiasm and optimism for a compelling vision of the future. As a result, followers are motivated to achieve high expectations and realize the desired future state.
Intellectual stimulation refers to transformational leaders’ behavior that encourages followers to be creative and innovative by challenging assumptions and attempting to view problems through new and different perspectives. In this way, transformational leaders encourage followers to take risks and establish an environment where it is safe to make mistakes as a result of trying something new. Further, intellectual stimulation captures leaders’ encouragement of followers’ ideas that might differ from those of the leader. Thus, innovative solutions to problems are more likely because follower creativity is not stifled.
Developing followers as future leaders is one of the hallmarks of transformational leadership (Bass and Riggio 2006), and individualized consideration captures transformational leaders’ attention to followers as individuals with differing needs and desires. More specifically, transformational leaders are cognizant of followers’ need for growth and development and act as a mentor or coach, working with followers to develop them further based on their individual differences in needs and desires. Thus, transformational leaders’ individualized consideration for followers results in a supportive and developmental climate.
Similar Leadership Perspectives
Often, transformational leadership is considered synonymous with, or at least heavily related to, other new-genre leadership theories that capture leaders’ inspirational and motivational tendencies. In fact, charismatic and transformational leadership often are used interchangeably. In some ways, this is understandable, as there are notable similarities between the two styles of leadership. This largely is due to the idealized influence and inspirational motivation dimensions of transformational leadership, which, in combination, capture admirable behavior that causes followers to identify with the leader, similar to the effects of charisma (Bass and Riggio 2006; Bono and Judge 2004). However, charismatic and transformational leadership are distinct concepts, as charismatic leadership does not account for intellectual stimulation and individualized consideration.
Decades of research on transformational leadership has established its effects on a number of important individual, group, and organizational outcomes. More specifically, transformational leadership has demonstrated beneficial effects on followers’ attitudes, behaviors, and performance (Judge and Piccolo 2004). Because of its focus on followers as individuals, transformational leadership has been positively related to follower self-efficacy, satisfaction, commitment, perceived fairness, trust, and identification with the leader and negatively related to follower turnover. Additionally, transformational leadership has been shown to positively affect group-level constructs such as potency (i.e., the belief that the team can be effective across a range of tasks and domains) and cohesion (i.e., the positive emotional bond between team members).
Further, because of the inspirational vision of the future provided, and encouragement to think differently, transformational leadership has been positively related to a number of follower performance outcomes, including motivation, task performance, extra-role behavior (i.e., performance beyond expectations noted in the job description), creativity/innovation, and group/organization performance (Judge and Piccolo 2004). In addition to effects for followers, transformational leadership also has beneficial consequences for leaders. More specifically, transformational leadership has been positively related to ratings of leader’s job performance and ratings of leadership effectiveness.
Full Range Model of Leadership
As a result of the decades of research supporting transformational leadership’s effects on such a wide range of outcomes, it is considered one of the most active and effective forms of leadership. In fact, it has been positioned at the top of a hierarchy of leadership styles in the full-range model of leadership (Bass and Riggio 2006). In this perspective, styles of leadership are positioned from least to most active and effective. The low end of this leadership spectrum is occupied by laissez-faire leadership. Following this are three styles of transactional leadership: passive and active management by exception and contingent reward behavior. Finally, transformational leadership represents active and effective leadership beyond those styles previously listed.
Laissez-faire leadership captures the avoidance of leadership altogether, where those in leadership ignore responsibilities, fail to make decisions, and put off necessary actions. Management by exception is considered a transactional form of leadership because it involves an action undertaken as a response to an error or mistake. With passive management by exception, leaders wait for an error to occur before stepping in to provide guidance and direction. Conversely, active management by exception involves leaders actively monitoring follower effort to identify potential need for corrective action. Contingent reward captures the most common conceptualization of exchange, where leaders provide rewards or punishment based on follower performance.
Upon its initial introduction to the literature, transactional and transformational leadership were considered to be somewhat conflicting styles. To some degree, scholars argued that the exchange-based form of transactional leadership should be eschewed in favor of the more motivational style of transformational leadership. However, the full range model of leadership recognizes that transactional styles also can be effective approaches for follower motivation. Thus, the full range model suggests that leaders attempt to employ a profile of leadership behaviors that is more heavily weighted to the active and effective styles (i.e., contingent reward and the transformational dimensions) and includes less frequent use of laissez-faire and management by exception (Bass and Riggio 2006).
Further, although research consistently has supported claims that transformational leadership is more effective (Judge and Piccolo 2004), many scholars have found support for an augmentation argument (Bass 1985). In this view, transactional leadership is considered the base of effective leader behavior, upon which transformational leadership builds and extends leader effectiveness. Thus, leadership scholars have argued that the incremental effectiveness of transformational leadership not be interpreted in a manner that ignores the efficacy of other leadership styles.
Given the effectiveness of transformational leadership, a natural question is whether there are identified predictors of the behaviors associated with this leadership style. Despite expectations that personality factors (i.e., the Big Five taxonomy of openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism) would predict individual dimensions of transformational leadership, as well as the overall construct, aggregate results across 20 studies were relatively weak. More specifically, only extraversion (i.e., the tendency to be outgoing and emotionally expressive) and neuroticism (i.e., the tendency to be anxious and moody) were consistently related to the individual transformational leadership dimensions (i.e., extraversion was positively related and neuroticism negatively related). Further, only extraversion was associated with the overall transformational leadership construct. These results, combined with research demonstrating the effectiveness of transformational leadership training interventions (Barling 2013), indicate that transformational leaders are more “made” than “born.”
In conclusion, transformational leadership is one of the most widely researched and accepted theories of leadership. Its impact is further evident by the increasing research attention it receives each year. Through countless studies across varying cultural and employment contexts, it has been positively related to a number of important follower, leader, group, and organizational outcomes. Although this approach to leadership is not without criticism (e.g., van Knippenberg and Sitkin 2013), it clearly is important to our understanding of leadership. Further, because research has indicated that it is a style of leadership more likely to be developed than genetically driven, it remains an attractive area of both research and practical inquiry.
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