In his 1978 book titled “Leadership”, James Burns introduced the concept of transformational leader. He stated that transformational leadership “occurs when leaders and followers are in some type of exchange relationship in order to get needs met”, (PSU, 2018). Transformational leaders can be rare and hard to find amongst the rest of us. They will not ultimately stand out in the crowd because of their tranquil voice, nor their personal attributes; but by their sense of self-confidence, strong set of internal values and ideals, and overall ability to provide motivation to all around them.
This type of leader will possess the ‘four “I’s” described by Vilas (2015) and Penn State World Campus (2016): individual influence – ability to spread integrity, are charismatic and authentic, and have the knack for setting real life examples; inspiration – inspire emotionally, give the meaning of achieving goals while explaining the personal reasons to achieve them, and capable of communicating an attractive vision; intellectual stimulation – challenge their followers, impart new perspectives of doing things, and have the ability to induce followers to trust in themselves; and lastly, individual treatment – develop each follower individually, demonstrate interest in others’ well-being, and develop strong relationships with their followers.
In contrast to transformational leadership, there is transactional leadership. Transactional leadership is a style in which there are results based upon expected outcomes. The leader exchanges things in return for the followers work. For instance, if the leader wants to see an increase in sales goals within the organization, they will reward the followers with a pizza party if the monthly sales goals are met. Or if a child does not put their toys away at the end of the day, the teacher will not reward them with a sticker. A transactional leader makes it known what needs to be done, what the reward or punishment will be, and that it will be beneficial to the follower to perform the desired task because it is in their own best interest to do so. As indicated by Northouse (2016), this type of leader does not individualize with the followers needs, nor do they focus on personal development.
In 1985, Bass expanded on the transformational and transactional models by noting they were more of a continuum, rather than two separate entities (Clark, 2015). When looking at the continuum of leadership, you will find that transformational is on the far left (improving the followers to their fullest potential), transactional is in the middle (does not individualize the needs of the followers), and laissez-faire is on the far right (absence of leadership unless requested).
Northouse (2015) describes the approach to transformational leadership as a process which includes: setting out to empower followers and nurture them in change; listening to their followers and are not intolerant to opposing viewpoints; providing a vision or conceptual map for everyone to understand where the organization to going; and finally, become a part of the culture of the organization. Once these steps are taken, the progress of engaging more effectively between leaders and followers will flow smoothly, which will allow for a real transformation to take place within the organization.
If I were to have to look for the qualities or behaviors in an individual that would make them the genuine article or a skillful manipulator, I would first look at their own set of morals and ethics. Moral analysis can be applied to leaders, to their actions, and to their values. If I noticed that morals were not evident, especially outside of their work atmosphere, I would start to question their authenticity. I would also have to keep in mind that this type of leader could be considered a pseudo-transformational leader since they are lacking morality and may be self-consumed. Next I would look at their motives. If they are displaying self-serving motives in their actions, I would have to believe they were a manipulator. Negative consequences for employees would also be another sign of an individual who isn’t genuinely a transformational leader. With authentic transformational leaders, their followers are highly satisfied with their job and performance; and this would be evidence of the leader’s effectiveness. If there wasn’t true satisfaction, this would be another moment I would question the authenticity of the leadership that is being provided. How about ‘change’? As quoted by Pamela Rucker (Hein, 2013), “Changes don’t really happen at a company; it happens with people, so in order to lead change you have to know how to lead people.” If no change is being made within the organization or within the follower’s morals, the individual may be a fake. And lastly, another indication of a true transformational leader is trust. Leaders of high character instill trust and trust is a willingness to take a risk. This goes for the leader and the followers. If the leader isn’t willing to task risks or allow their followers to take risks, they may not be a true transformational leader. There are many behaviors and traits that a true transformational leader may possess, but I have only mentioned a few examples of what to look out for in regards to authenticity.
With having the knowledge and understanding of transformational leadership, transactional leadership, and laissez-faire, I believe that I can improve my own behaviors and apply a more positive approach as a leader in the future. Given my career experience, I have been able to experience each of these types of leaders and I accept that each type has its own benefits in the right circumstances. I hope that one day I too can create team spirit, be creative and innovative, and act as a coach or mentor to a follower within a transformational leadership approach.
Clark, D.R. (2015). Transformational Leadership. Retrieved from http://www.nwlink.com/~donclark/leader/transformational_leadership.html
Hein, R. (2013). How to apply transformational leadership at your company. Retrieved from http://www.cio.com/article/2384791/careers-staffing/how-to-apply-transformational-leadership-at-your-company.html
Northouse, P. G. (2016). Leadership Theory and Practice (Seventh Edition ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA, USA: SAGE Publications.
Penn State World Campus. (2018). PSYCH 485: Leadership in Work Settings. Lesson 10: Transformational Leadership
Vilas, F. (2015). The four I’s of every transformational leader. Retrieved from https://www.pickthebrain.com/blog/the-four-key-traits-of-every-transformational-leader/