Why Aren’t All Leaders Transformational?

Today, I am going to delve into a bit of theory around a particularly effective leadership style – The Transformational Leader.  Many studies have been carried out to prove the relationship between organisational performance and Transformational Leadership Behaviour (TLB) with some highlighting the positive effect on employees as a result.   Closely related to charismatic leadership, which describes a self-confident and enthusiastic leader, TLB manifests as inspiration and trust in followers which inspires them to perform well towards the understood organisational goals.  Given the desirable outcomes from TLB, the question is why are not all leaders using TLB to their own self-interest of success and to their organisations advantage?

In a significant study Bommer, Rubin and Baldwin (2004) proposed that manager cynicism towards change and peer leadership behaviour were two contributing factors in determining the amount of TLB that a manager would display.  Building on previous studies and definitions, their hypothesis tested three aspects of behaviour, namely:

  1. Leader cynicism about organisational change (CAOC) will negatively related to leader TLB;
  2. The level of TLB show by a leader’s peers will be positively related to the level of TLB shown by the leader; and
  3. The level of leader behaviour show by a leader’s peers will moderate the relationship between the leader’s CAOC and the leader’s TLB.

The results of the study portrayed a compelling correlation between managers with higher levels of CAOC and their decreasing likelihood to engage in TLB. This finding alone, provides critical insight for leadership teams and Chief Executive Officers about the importance of ensuring that all organisational leaders are aligned with the organisational change being pursued.  Interestingly, the second hypothesis tested demonstrated that a leader’s behaviour would be positively influenced by their peer’s behaviours which may somewhat offset the findings of the first hypothesis if the group behaviour was largely positive towards TLB.  This was also further confirmed by the results of third hypothesis which showed that the more TLB exhibited across an organisation would have the benefit of cancelling out some of the negative behaviours of the more cynical managers.

Interestingly, the results of this study confirm what organisational change advocates have been saying for years, the leadership team must be aligned and committed to lead organisational change and display TLB. A key disruptor to this will be the level of management cynicism towards change which needs leadership focus and resolution.

Of particularly interest, women exhibit more Transformational versus Transactional leadership styles, specifically:

  • Meta-analysis of 45 studies of leadership styles showed that in general female leaders were slightly more transformational in style than male leaders and used rewarding behaviours more often. Men were slightly more transactional and laissez faire in their approach.
  • Transformational leadership behaviours are perceived to be more stereotypically feminine.

Although Transformational style is an effective leadership style women remain underrepresented as leaders of organisations – Ladies, time to step up and show off that natural style.



Articles reviewed and areas of further interest:

Bommer, W. H., Rubin, R. S., & Baldwin, T. T. (2004). Setting the stage for effective leadership: Antecedents of transformational leadership behavior. The Leadership Quarterly, 15195-210. doi:10.1016/j.leaqua.2004.02.012

Eagly, A. H. & Johannesen-Schmidt, M. C. (2003). Transformational, transactional, and laissez-faire leadership styles : a meta-analysis comparing women and men. American Psychological Association. Washington, D.C.

Howell, J. M., & Avolio, B. J. (1993). Transformational Leadership, Transactional Leadership, Locus of Control, and Support for Innovation: Key Predictors of Consolidated-Business-Unit Performance. Journal Of Applied Psychology, 78(6), 891-902.

Podsakoff, P. M., MacKenzie, S. B., Moorman, R. H., & Fetter, R. (1990). Transformational leader behaviors and their effects on followers’ trust in leader, satisfaction, and organizational citizenship behaviors. The Leadership Quarterly, 1, 107–142.

Stempel, C.R., Rigotti, T., Mohr, G., (2015). Think transformational leadership – Think female?, Leadership 2015. Vol. 11 (3) 259-280

Van der Voet, J. (2014). The effectiveness and specificity of change management in a public organization: Transformational leadership and a bureaucratic organizational structure. European Management Journal, 32373-382. doi:10.1016/j.emj.2013.10.001

Woods, S. A., & West, M. A. (2010). The psychology of work and organizations. Andover, UK: South-Western Cengage Learning.

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