Transformational leadership is defined as the style of leadership which “changes the status quo by appealing to followers’ values and their sense of higher purpose” (Hughes, Ginnett, & Curphy, 2012, p.577). These aforementioned values are otherwise known as ethics. Curiously, according to Turner et al. (2002), there is a notable lack of research relating to a “sociomoral dimension to leadership in organizations” (p.304). Because of that, in their study, Transformational Leadership and Moral Reasoning (2002), Turner et al. set out to examine the hypothesis that “leaders with higher moral reasoning are perceived by their subordinates as more transformational” (p.306).
Turner et al. (2002) state that transformational leadership is directly related to ethics through the concept of moral reasoning, and they believe that a highly developed sense of moral reasoning is one of the characteristics of a transformational leader amongst “charisma, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, and individualized consideration” (p.305). Tying this into Kohlberg’s stages of moral development — preconventional, conventional, and postconventional — a transformational leader would be in the postconventional stage. This stage is characterized by behavior representative of a commitment to adhering to a code of “abstract principles” (Hughes, Ginnett, & Curphy, 2012, p.158).
The study ultimately finds that individuals in the preconventional level are less likely to exhibit transformational leadership behavior than individuals in the postconventional level. These results are indicative of the importance of a highly-developed sense of moral reasoning in successful transformational leaders. Given the rarity of individuals in the postconventional level, it is then reasonable to assume that transformational leaders are also relatively sparse (Hughes, Ginnett & Curphy, 2012).
Hughes, R. L., Ginnett, R. C., & Curphy, G. J. (2012). Leadership: enhancing the lessons of experience (7th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill Irwin.
Turner, N., Barling, J., Epitropaki, O., Butcher V., & Milner, C. (2002). Transformational leadership and moral reasoning. Journal of Applied Psychology, 87(2), 304-311. doi:10.1037/0021-9010.87.2.304