Nowadays, transformational leadership is considered a popular theory among the vast number of leadership theories that have evolved over the years. In the contemporary ever-changing world, situations often demand change and transformational leadership could possibly fit in that context. Its conceptual validity and relationship to effectiveness have been well established by numerous researchers (Lowe et al., 1996). Proper definition first came from James Macgregor Burns’ study (1978), which drew a distinct line between transformational and transactional leadership styles.
Burns’ view of the transformational leader was that of someone who would be willing to instil vision to others and provide change so that leader and follower would both achieve a higher moral and motivational state. On the other hand, the transactional leader would be someone who would engage subordinates through an exchange scheme. Elaborating on that, Bass (1985) developed the Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire (MLQ). A tool, which has been used in a big number of studies to measure transformational leadership in relation to a variety of different parameters and outcomes including effectiveness. He also introduced ‘the Four Is’ that constitute transformational leadership behaviours (intellectual stimulation, idealized influence, individualized consideration and inspirational motivation).
Lowe et al. (1996) conducted a meta-analysis of various studies where the MLQ was used which showed that transformational leadership behaviours correlated strongly with leadership effectiveness. Among them charisma (comprises inspirational motivation and idealized influence) was found to be the one most strongly associated with leadership effectiveness. Perhaps because of the way it is perceived and the traits that come to mind when one tries to relate it to transformational leadership. In addition, it highlighted the importance of transformational leadership not only for top level leaders but also those at lower levels of organizations.
Transformational leadership essentially means change. This includes change not only to organizational culture but also the culture of people outside the organization (Tucker and Rusell, 2004). That in fact could be one of the characteristics used to describe a successful transformational leader. An organization or a firm can often find itself amid various interest groups (i.e. customers, employees, shareholders and local community). All with different interests aims and values. An effective transformational leader could possibly influence and motivate all of these parties in such a way that individual interest becomes common interest.
Through this process, both the leader and followers can develop themselves to a higher standard and in turn benefit both the organization and the local community. Synergy and a brand new dynamic deriving from different parties working towards a common cause could possibly yield results that would otherwise be deemed unachievable. After all, it is imperative for an effective leader to be able to produce results within the given time (Goleman, 2000). In the transformational approach of leadership this means that the leader should be role modelling and providing the vision, support and empowerment among other things, to facilitate development of those around him (Dvir et al., 2002).
Nowadays, as globalisation cannot be overlooked more and more people find themselves working in a multinational environment with co-workers of different cultural and educational backgrounds. The empirical study by Kearney and Gebert (2009) showed that nationality and educational diversity are both positively associated with transformational leadership. That constitutes yet another example where transformational leadership can be applied with relative effectiveness. The concept of innovation, sharing of ideas and involvement that is characteristic of the transformational leadership approach can possibly facilitate cohesion and encourage heterogeneous teams to work towards achievement (Kearney and Gebert, 2009).
However, being a leader poses a danger of abusing the power that one has been trusted with for various reasons and purposes (Bass and Steidlmeier, 1999). There is no such thing as the perfect human so obviously it would be relatively safe to assume that no such thing as a perfect leader exists. Every leader is a mixture of good and bad traits, behaviours and reactions. Sometimes even the most noble can turn to their “bad side”.
That would probably severely hinder efficiency and produce unwanted results. Power can be corrosive to a transformational leader’s moral character, ideals and noble beliefs and cause them to shift focus on themselves rather than others. Bass and Steidlmeier (1999) described this kind of leadership as ‘pseudo-transformational leadership’ (p.184). As Tucker and Rusell (2004) recognised, there are both personal and organizational factors that could possibly lead to abusive behaviour. It should be both the leader’s and the organization’s responsibility to find ways of avoiding that by safeguarding and exercising control on one another on a constant basis. These are only some of the challenges that leaders have to face and try to overcome when striving for successful leadership.
In the modern era where more and more women find themselves in professional career roles it would be reasonable to examine how they fare both as transformational leaders and as subordinates being exposed to transformational leadership. Ayman et al., (2009) found out that male subordinates compared to females tended to be more judgmental of female transformational leaders. Nevertheless, that was not the case when the leader was male. Both genders would show consistency in their evaluation of male leaders. That could be attributed to stereotypes making their way into the modern work environment and the “old fashioned” perception of women in contemporary business hierarchical culture. In order to achieve effective transformational leadership female leaders have to find ways to overcome those cultural obstacles.
To conclude, there is strong evidence that transformational leadership is effective in many situations. Nonetheless, it may suit some contexts more than others but a good transformational leader could possibly turn a challenge into an opportunity and succeed even when facing severe adversity. Both literature and practice have been extremely interested in the transformational approach and future research should provide more evidence about its strengths and weaknesses and possible ways to associate it with effective leadership.
Ayman, R., Korabik, K., & Morris, S. (2009) ‘Is transformational leadership always perceived as effective? Male subordinates’ devaluation of female transformational leaders’, Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 39(4), pp. 852–879, DOI: 10.1111/j.1559-1816.2009.00463.x, viewed 6 November 2012.
Bass, B.M. (1985) Leadership and Performance Beyond Expectations. New York: The Free Press. Bass, B.M., & Steidlmeier, P. (1999) ‘Ethics, character, and authentic transformational leadership behaviour’, Leadership Quarterly, 10(2), pp. 181-217, Available at: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1048984399000168, viewed 6 November 2012.
Burns, J.M. (1978) Leadership. New York: Harper & Row. Dvir, T., Eden, D., Avolio, B.J. & Shamir, B. (2002) ‘Impact of transformational leadership on follower development and performance: A field experiment’, Academy of Management Journal, 45(4), pp. 735–744.