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Transformational leadership

Dr. Simon Moss


Transformational leaders inspire followers to pursue collective values and aspirations--values and aspiratons that transcend their egocentric needs and goals. These transformational leaders also invoke and regulate emotions--rather than merely apply rational processes--to motivate other individuals.

Bass (1985) distinguishes transformational leaders, who elevate the goals and promote the morality of followers, from transactional leaders, who offer incentives to encourage individuals to realize their existing goals. Unlike Burns (1978), who introduced this distinction, Bass (1985) assumed that transformational and transactional leadership is not mutually exclusive.

Transformational leadership overlaps with charismatic leadership (Conger, 1999) and visionary leadership (e.g., Kouzes & Posner, 1987). Nevertheless, the various models evolved partly in parallel and are operationalized differently. For example, one of the primary measures of transformational leadership--the MLQ--conceptualizes transformational leadership as a combination of various manifestations of charisma and individualized consideration.

Multifactor leadership questionnaire (MLQ)

According to the MLQ Transformational leadership, in which followers are invited to elevate rather than merely fulfill their goals, entails four key facets (see Bass, 1985& Bass & Avolio, 1990, 1994, 1997). First, these leaders invite followers to challenge conventional practices and reflect upon issues from a novel perspective, called intellectual stimulation. Second, rather than follow these traditional customs and conventions, transformational leaders promulgate an inspiring, challenging, and shared vision of the future, called inspirational motivation. Third, to enable followers to adopt and embrace this vision, these leaders strive to understand and accommodate the unique preferences, concerns, perspective, motives, and qualities of each individual, offering coaching and support, called individualized consideration. Finally, these leaders demonstrate the vision and values they convey& they show respect towards followers, called idealized influence (attributes), and maintain exemplary conduct, called idealized influence (behavior).

The MLQ, which includes several variants, is the most common measure of transformational leadership (Judge, Woolf, Hurst, & Livingston, 2006) The MLQ Form 5X-Short (Avolio & Bass, 2004) is often utilized to assess the leadership style of supervisors or managers at various levels (for details about the MLQ, see Bass & Avolio, 1997, 2000). In particular, participants are instructed to rate the extent to which a supervisor or manager demonstrates a series of 45 behaviors, on a five-point scale. Many of the questions relate to transformational leadership, in particular intellectual stimulation (e.g., "Seeks different perspectives when solving problems"), inspirational motivation (e.g., "Talks optimistically about the future"), individualized consideration (e.g., "Treats me as an individual rather than just as a member of a group"), and idealized influence (e.g., "Goes beyond self-interest for the good of the group").

The questionnaire can also assess transactional and laissez-faire leadership. Transactional leadership refers to the extent to which the leader invokes recognition, reward, and other tangible incentives to incite desirable behavior (e.g., "Provides me with assistance in exchange for my efforts"), monitors followers closely and actively to unearth deficiencies or shortfalls (e.g., "Keeps track of all mistakes"), and interferers only when problems or errors emerge (e.g., "Fails to interfere until problems become serious"). Laissez-faire leadership represents the extent to which the leader is detached and indifferent rather than active and involved (e.g. "Is absent when needed"). Alpha reliability for the subscales range from .74 to .94 (Bass & Avolio, 2000).

Relative to more conventional styles of transactional management, in which incentives, rewards, and penalties are applied to motivate employees, transformational leadership elicits a series of benefits. First, transformational leadership improves the affective or cognitive state of followers. Job satisfaction improves (e.g., Martin & Epitropaki, 2001) and commitment to the organization also escalates (e.g., Bycio, Hackett, & Allen, 1995). Furthermore, these individuals are more likely to experience intrinsic motivation, characterized by a sense of enjoyment or challenge (Bono & Judge, 2003). In addition, when leaders are transformational, followers tends to be more creative (e.g., Jung, 2001& Shin & Zhou, 2003& Sosik, 1997). Second, transformational leadership translates into improvements in objective measures, such as sales performance (e.g. McColl-Kennedy & Anderson, 2002) as well as financial indices in general (e.g., Barling, Weber, & Kelloway, 1996).

Psychometric properties of the MLQ

Dumdum, Lowe, and Avolio (2003) conducted a meta-analysis to ascertain whether the various facets of the MLQ are related to follower satisfaction with the leader. All the other facets of transformational leadership, as well as contingent rewards, generated high positive relationships with follower satisfaction, ranging from r = .73 to r = .90. Management by exception passive and laissez-faire leadership were negatively related to follower satisfaction, ranging from r = -.46 to r = -.53. Management by exception active was negligibly related to satisfaction with the leader.

This meta-analysis also ascertained whether or not these facets of the MLQ correlate with measures of perceived leadership effectiveness. In this instance, the facets of transformational leadership together with contingent reward correlated highly with leadership effectiveness& correlations ranged from .55 to .68. Again, management by exception passive and laissez-faire leadership were negatively related to leadership effectiveness, with correlations approaching -.40. Finally, management by exception active seemed to be unrelated to leadership effectiveness. These correlations were higher when subjective measures, rather than objective indices, were utilized to gauge leadership effectiveness.

Other measures of transformational leadership

Podsakoff, MacKenzie, Moorman, and Fetter (1990) together with Podsakoff, MacKenzie, and Bommer (1996) developed a measure of transformational leadership that comprises 22 items. These items encompass six key facets of behavior: articulating a vision, providing a role model, communicating high performance expectations, providing individualized support, fostering acceptance of group goals, and intellectual stimulation. Unlike some other measures, such as the MLQ, this scale is confined to overt behaviors instead of attributions like charisma. Cronbach's alpha ranges from .82 to .90.

The Rafferty and Griffin measure of transformational leadership

Rafferty and Griffin (2004) also developed a questionnaire to assess five clusters of behaviors that transformational leaders often demonstrate. This scale comprises 15 items, primarily derived from House (1998) and Podsakoff, MacKenzie, Moorman, and Fetter (1990).

Confirmatory factor analysis confirmed these five facets--which include vision (e.g., "Has no idea where the organization is going"), inspirational communication (e.g., Says things that make employees proud to be part of this organization), intellectual stimulation (e.g., "Challenges me to think about old problems in new ways"), supportive leadership (e.g., "Considers my personal feelings before acting"), and personal recognition (e.g., "Acknowledges improvement in my quality of work"). These subscales all load on the same global factor. Cronbach's alpha for the subscales ranges from .82 to .96 (Rafferty & Griffin, 2004).

Hence, according to this conceptualization, transformational leadership comprises five distinct clusters of behavior. First, these leaders strive to inculcate a sense of pride, highlighting the attributes, achievements, and strengths of their employees, called inspirational communication. Second, these leaders demonstrate an appreciation and understanding of the preferences, values, needs, and concerns of followers, which the authors designate as supportive leadership. Third, these leaders praise and rewards the contributions and efforts of their employees, referred to as personal recognition. Fourth, transformational leaders encourage employees to question traditional practices as well as propose creative, novel solutions to resolve problems, called intellectual stimulation. Finally, these leaders communicate a clear, inspiring, and unifying strategy and direction of the future, called vision.

The Leadership Practices Inventory

The Leadership Practices Inventory (LPI) was developed and refined by Kouzes and Posner (Kouzes & Posner, 1995& Posner & Kouzes, 1988& Posner & Kouzes, 1994). Huber, Maas, McCloskey, Scherb, Goode, and Watson (2000), in an evaluation of 18 leadership tools, maintained the LPI is perhaps the most effective inventory.

The LPI purportedly assesses five leadership behaviors that correspond to a transformational style. In particular, this inventory assesses the extent to which leaders challenge traditional practices, promulgate a shared vision of the future, grant individuals with the autonomy to initiate actions, models the behaviors they champion, and encouraging the heart.

To develop the LPI, a content analysis was applied to descriptions of managers when they felt they perform optimally in leadership contexts (Kouzes & Posner, 1995). Five principal leadership practices emerged, each correspond to two main strategies. Challenge traditional practices, for example, corresponded to search for opportunities and experimenting with risks. Promulgating a shared vision of the future involved both envisioning the future and seeking the support of other stakeholders. Enabling other individuals to act independently entailed both fostering collaboration and strengthening these followers. Models the behaviors they champion comprised both setting a positive example as well as ensuring they fulfill some immediate goals successfully--called small wins. Finally, encouraging the heart involved recognizing contributions and celebrating accomplishments.

After many reiterations, an inventory emerged, which comprised 30 items. Two versions, a self and other report, were constructed (Posner & Kouzes, 1988). Alpha reliabilities ranged from 0.70 and 0.84 for the self report variant.

Individual and group focused behaviors

Wang and Howell (2010) developed a scale that differentiates two facets of transformational leadership: leadership behaviors that are directed towards facilitating individuals and leadership behaviors that are directed towards facilitating the team. Behaviors directed at individuals are intended to empower employees as well as to enhance their skills, abilities, and confidence. These leaders attempt to understand individuals and offer personal advice, mentoring, and coaching. Behaviors directed at teams are intended to emphasize the importance of unified objectives, to foster shared beliefs, and to inspire a united effort.

The individual-focused transformational leadership scale comprises 18 items and 4 subscales. The four subscales include communicating high expectations (e.g., "shows confidence in my ability to meet performance expectations"), follower development (e.g., "Provides feedback to help me develop my abilities"), intellectual stimulation (e.g. "Encourages me to be an independent thinker"), and personal recognition (e.g., "Commends me when I achieve my goals"). The group-focused transformational leadership scale comprises 16 items and 3 subscales. The three subscales include emphasizing group identity (e.g., "Emphasizes the uniqueness of the team" or "Encourages team members to take pride in our team"), communicating a group vision (e.g., "communicates a clear direction of where our team is going"), and team building (e.g., "Develops a team attitude and spirit among team members").

Wang and Howell (2010) showed that individual-focused transformational leadership was positively associated with task performance in followers and personal initiative. In addition, group-focused transformational leadership was positively related to team performance and helping behavior. Thus, leaders must somehow accommodate the needs of individuals while integrating and unifying the team.

Benefits of transformational leadership


As Berson and Avolio (2004) showed, transformational leaders might be able to implement strategies more effectively. These leaders seem to communicate effectively: The subordinates of these individuals are more cognizant of the goals and objectives of the organization.

In this study, the sample comprised 207 senior and middle managers, together with 1744 subordinates. Interviews were also conducted with 37 managers and 64 subordinates. All of the individuals were employed at a large telecommunications company, experiencing key changes in the aftermath of deregulation in the industry. Subordinates rated managers on leadership style, communication style, and awareness of strategy. To assess communication style, subordinates evaluated the extent to which managers listen carefully, communicates with precision, and seeks contributions.

Transformational leadership was positively associated with perceptions of effective communication. This relationship applied to all three facets of communication: listening carefully, speaking precisely, and seeking contributions (Berson & Avolio, 2004). This effective communication, in turn, was related to more awareness in subordinates of the workplace goals and objectives (Berson & Avolio, 2004). Interviews confirmed these patterns of observations.

Experimental evidence

Although many studies have substantiated the benefits of transformational leadership, almost all of this research have been correlational in design. Conceivably, positive states, such as work engagement or wellbeing could bias evaluations of transformational leadership. Consistent with this possibility, Schyns and Sanders (2004) showed that priming positive mood states in participants did indeed elicit more favorable perceptions of leaders. Favorable work outcomes, therefore, might then translate to perceptions the leader is transformational rather than vice versa.

Lyons and Schneider (2009) attempted to redress this shortfall. Participants completed a mathematics task, in which they were instructed to count backwards from 7, beginning with a four digit number.

Before completing this task, they received instructions. A video of a man, purportedly the laboratory director, was presented. The precise instructions depended on whether transformational leadership, contingent reward, or management by exception was primed. To prime transformational leadership, the script alluded to:

Furthermore, the person was animated in voice and gestures. In contrast, to simulate contingent reward, this research director alluded to the course credit that participants would receive if they performed effectively and did not demonstrate any emotion in his voice or manner. Finally, to simulate management by exception, the research director emphasized that participants should avoid errors.

Transformational leadership did indeed improve performance and confidence in the task, at least relative to management by exception. The transformational leader was also perceived as more supportive than were the other leaders. In addition, if exposed to a transformational rather than transactional leader--either contingent reward or management by exception--participants were less inclined to perceive the task as a threat and instead felt they could manage the demands& nevertheless, positive affect did not differ significantly across the conditions.

Transformational leadership is assumed to elevate the self efficacy of employees. That is, employees are more inclined to feel their efforts will translate into improvements or changes in performance (e.g., Shamir, House, & Arthur, 1993). Lyons and Schneider (2009) showed that self efficacy to complete a task did increase if the experimenter demonstrated a transformational style. Nevertheless, no evidence was accrued to show that changes in self efficacy mediated the improvements in performance that transformational leaders elicited.

Meta-analyses of manipulation studies

A variety of procedures have been undertaken to manipulate leadership style. Actors might depict a specific style (Howell & Frost, 1989)& participants might engage in a role-play exercise& vignettes of various styles might be presented& or a training and development program might be implemented (e.g., Towler, 2003).

Avolio, Reichard, Hannah, Walumbrwa, and Chan (2009) conducted a meta-analysis to examine the effect of interventions to promote transformational leadership--or other styles such as charismatic leadership, self sacrificial leadership, traditional leadership, or Pygmalian models--on a gamut of outcomes. These outcomes comprised affective measures, such as job satisfaction, behavioral indices, such as leader emergence, cognitive variables, such as idea generation, and workplace performance, including profit.

Overall, interventions that encourage transformational leadership as well as other inspirational and modern styles generated an effect size of .53. Traditional interventions, in which tangible incentives are emphasized, generated an effect size that was similar in magnitude and, indeed, slightly higher. Nevertheless, these modern styles enhanced affective and cognitive measures to a greater extent than did traditional styles& in contrast, traditional styles enhanced behavioral measures to a greater extent than modern styles.

Avolio, Reichard, Hannah, Walumbrwa, and Chan (2009) also calculated the return on development investment. First, they estimated the costs of 1.5 days of training. If the training was not on site, the approximate cost would be $5000 for facilitators, $500 for technology, $250 for materials, $5000 for travel of facilitators and participants, $3600 for meals, $1000 for room hire, and $15000 for hotel bookings. In addition, lost hours of work can equate to approximately $100 000 and opportunity costs are even steeper.

To compute the return, the effect sizes were subjected to formulas, representing standard human resources cost accounting methods (see Cascio, 1991). For programs that were average in effect size or return, the net return was $31 934 for senior leaders and $127 632 for mid level managers. Specifically, the return on development investment wass 44.19% and 22.17% respectively (Avolio, Reichard, Hannah, Walumbrwa, & Chan, 2009).

Receptivity to diversity

When leaders are transformational, diverse teams tend to operate more effectively. For example, diverse perspectives in workgroups tend to promote creativity rather than provoke tension.

To illustrate, in one study, conducted by Shin, Kim, Lee, and Bian (2012), participants evaluated the extent to which the supervisors of their teams were transformational, using the MLQ. They also evaluated the degree to which they felt that members of their team express a diversity of perspectives, beliefs, and thoughts as well as have developed a variety of skills and expertise. In addition, they indicated the extent to which they feel confident in their creative skills, called creative self-efficacy. Finally, the supervisors rated the extent to which these employees express creative, original, and useful solutions.

If the diversity of teams increased, the creativity of individuals improved--but only if the supervisors were transformational or the employees were confident in their creativity. Transformational leadership and creative self-efficacy, presumably, increase the motivation of individuals to utilize and to integrate the diverse perspectives of people in their team. These individuals embrace rather than reject novel opinions.

The emotional intelligence of followers

When leaders are transformational, their employees are more likely to develop emotional intelligence in the future. In particular, transformational leaders epitomize emotional intelligence. For example, they generate trust, enthusiasm, and confidence in other people. They excite people about shared, communal goals, and so forth. The followers of these leaders both observe these behaviors as well as recognize these behaviors are effective. According to social learning theory, people are more likely to adopt behaviors they observe, especially if these acts are rewarded. Followers should thus be inclined to adopt the emotional intelligence these leaders demonstrate.

This possibility was substantiated by Yuan and Hsu (2012). In their study, participants rated the degree to which their supervisors epitomize transformational leadership. Both at this time and three months later, employees completed a self-report measure of emotional intelligence that gauges self-emotional appraisal (e.g., "I really understand what I feel"), others' emotional appraisal (e.g., "I am a good observer of others' emotions"), regulation of emotions (e.g., "I have good control of my emotions"), and use of emotions (e.g., "I always try my best"). Transformational leadership at one time was associated with subsequent improvement in emotional intelligence.

Factors that mediate the association between the MLQ and outcomes

A variety of studies has been undertaken to ascertain the factors that mediate the association between the MLQ and outcomes, such as follower satisfaction with leaders or leader effectiveness. This research is undertaken primarily to establish the mechanisms that underpin the benefits of transformational leadership.

Several studies indicate that a sense of meaning or values mediates these relationships between transformational leadership and leadership outcomes. Arnold, Turner, Barling, Kelloway, and McKee (2007), for example, showed that transformational leadership is related to a sense that work is meaningful& this sense of meaning in followers was also related to positive affective states (see also Meaning in life). Furthermore, transformational leadership is associated with the assumption that work activities and roles are congruent with personal values--and this sense of congruence is positively related to the performance of followers (Jung & Avolio, 2000). In short, transformational leaders can underscore the importance and significance of work tasks, ultimately enhancing motivation and performance.

Other studies reveal that a sense of support and predictability, manifested as trust and justice, could underpin the association between transformational leadership and leadership outcomes. In an experimental study, trust towards leaders mediated the relationship between transformational leadership and the performance of followers (Jung & Avolio, 2000). Similarly, Pillai, Schriesheim, and Williams (1999) showed that trust and procedural justice mediate the association between transformational leadership and organizational citizenship behavior. Conceivably, transformational leadership also represents a sensitivity to values and emotions& this sensitivity could manifest as an index of trust. Followers who trust leaders can become more absorbed in their work, applying their intuition and values rather than vigilantly monitoring the responses of leaders.

Further studies indicate that transformational leadership can also instill a sense of agency and control, translating into various benefits. For example, when leaders are transformational, followers experience a sense of collective efficacy: They perceive their workgroup as powerful and effective (Walumbwa, Wang, Lawler, & Shi, 2004). This sense of efficacy curbed withdrawal and instead promoted positive work attitudes. Similarly, transformational leadership was positively associated with a sense of empowerment, and this empowerment was related to commitment (Avolio, Zhu, Koh, & Puja, 2004). Transformational leaders present inspiring and vivid opportunities. Because these opportunities are vivid, and thus processed fluently, they are perceived as more plausible (see Process fluency), increasing confidence.

Finally, the benefits of transformational leadership can partly be ascribed to improvements in human resource management. As Zhu, Chew, and Spangler (2005) showed, human resource initiatives mediated the association between transformational leadership and measures of workplace performance. These human resource practices revolved around performance appraisal, staffing, training, and compensation. For example, when transformational leadership was elevated, initiatives such as documentation of plans as well as coordination of recruitment criteria or training programs with workplace strategies were more prevalent. In particular, human resource practices were more aligned to strategic objectives.

Antecedents to transformational leadership

Cognitive ability

Some research indicates that intellectual ability is positively related to transformational leadership (Atwater & Yammarino, 1993). Presumably, intelligence and working memory enable individuals to reflect upon remote opportunities, ensuring they can formulate an inspiring vision of the future.

Leadership personality

Many studies have identified the personality traits that often coincide with transformational leadership (for a review of antecendents, see Walter & Bruch, 2009). First, traits that correspond to emotional stability and resilience, rather than neuroticism, are prevalent in transformational leaders (see Bono & Judge, 2004, for a meta-analysis). More specifically, transformational and charismatic leaders tend to report an internal locus of control (Howell & Avolio, 1993) as well as positive psychological capital, including optimism, hope, and resilience (Peterson, Walumbra, Byron, & Myrowitz, 2009).

Second, traits that represent agreeableness or moral virtue also predict transformational leadership (Bono & Judge, 2004, for a meta-analysis). To illustrate, transformational and charismatic leaders tend to be warm (Hetland & Sandal, 2003) and engage in postconventional moral reasoning (Turner, Barling, Epitropaki, Butcher, & Milner, 2002).

Third, traits that correspond to extraversion and initiative are also prevalent in transformational leaders (Bono & Judge, 2004). These leaders are willing to embrace risks (Howell & Higgins, 1990) and self confidence (Ross & Offermann, 1997).

Furthermore, emotional intelligence seems to be integral to transformational leadership. Mixed model indices of emotional intelligence, representing both ability and personality, are positively associated with transformational leadership (e.g., Barling, Slater, & Kelloway, 2000). Ability measures of personality are also positively related to transformational leadership (Groves, 2005& Middleton, 2005).

Emotional recognition

Rubin, Munz, and Bommer (2005) argued that emotional recognition may be a key determinant of transformational leadership. That is, some leaders can decipher the emotional state of followers. Consequently, they can readily determine which of their behaviors are appreciated by these individuals. They can detect excitement or disappointment in their followers and, therefore, can adjust their behavior suitably in the future. They can identify the most productive courses of action.

Nevertheless, some leaders recognize emotions in their followers but do not respond appropriately. They might realize a follower is upset, angry, or disappointed but, nevertheless, feel uneasy or uncomfortable with addressing these emotions. They might not feel confident or bold enough to resolve these unpleasant feelings. Only extraverted people might feel confident or bold enough to respond appropriately.

Therefore, according to Rubin, Munz, and Bommer (2005), emotional recognition, when combined with extraversion, might foster suitable behavior in leaders. That is, these leaders might be especially able to accommodate followers and promulgate a suitable and appealing vision of the future, the cornerstone of transformational leadership.

These possibilities were, indeed, substantiated by Rubin, Munz, and Bommer (2005). Subordinates rated the degree to which leaders engaged in transformational leadership, as represented by six dimensions: articulating a vision, providing a role model, communicating high performance expectations, providing individualized support, fostering acceptance of group goals, and intellectual stimulation. Contingent reward behavior was also assessed. Finally, leaders evaluated their own personality and completed a measure of emotional recognition: That is, they had to identify the emotions of people in photographs.

As predicted, if leaders were extraverted, emotional recognition was positively associated with transformational leadership behavior. However, if leaders were introverted, emotional recognition was not positively associated, and even seemed to be negatively associated, with transformational leadership.

Work attitudes

The work attitudes of leaders can also affect the likelihood they will demonstrate transformational behavior. Organizational commitment, for example, seems to foster transformational leadership (Seo, Jin, & Shapiro, 2008& cited by Walter & Bruch, 2009).

Work environment

The work environment can also affect the prevalence of transformational and charismatic leadership. These styles, for example, are more prevalent in collectivist, than in individualist, work cultures (e.g., Pillai & Meindl, 1998).

Conditions in which transformational leadership is most effective


Several factors determine the utility and suitability of transformational leadership (for related insights, see Charismatic leadership). To illustrate, transformational leadership might be especially effective when teams are diverse (Kearney & Gebert, 2009).

To clarify, diversity in teams, such as variations in age, nationality, and education, can present both benefits and complications. Specifically, when teams are diverse, a broader range of perspectives and insights are presented, facilitating creativity and problem solving. Nevertheless, diversity can also provoke conflict, compromising cohesion (see also Deep level diversity).

Conceivably, transformational leaders can instill in individuals a shared moral code and vision, overriding any division. Transformational leadership, therefore, might inhibit the drawbacks of diversity and instead enable the benefits to surface.

Kearney and Gebert (2009) uncovered findings that substantiate this proposition. Specifically, in this study, diversity in age, nationality, and educational background was assessed, together with team performance. Furthermore, the leadership style of managers was evaluated. Finally, the degree to which members felt connected to the team and elaborated information about tasks was examined.

Consistent with hypotheses, when leaders engaged in transformational behaviors, diversity was increasingly likely to enhance, rather than impede, team performance. Specifically, diversity was related to a sense of identity with the team and elaboration of information, but only when levels of transformational leadership were elevated (Kearney & Gebert, 2009).

Exposure to beneficiaries of work

As Grant (2012) showed, when employees converse with the beneficiaries of their work activities, transformational leadership is more likely to be positively associated with performance. In one study, the sample comprised workers at a call center. The performance of these workers affected the salary and job stability of individuals in another department. Yet, the workers at the call center never met the individuals in the other department.

During a training session, however, some of these workers listened to an individual in this other department describe the benefits of their work. This person highlighted how the call center enabled this department to flourish& otherwise, individuals would not be able to maintain their jobs. Furthermore, in another training session, the director of this company exhibited the hallmarks of transformational leadership, by demonstrating confidence that employees could achieve a meaningful vision.

This demonstration of transformational leadership enhanced the performance of employees, as gauged by sales and revenue, but only if these individuals had heard the person from the other department. Presumably, when individuals are exposed to the beneficiaries of their work, the vision that transformational leaders promulgate seems more vivid and therefore compelling.

Related styles

Authentic leadership

The concept of authentic leadership partly emanated from the work on transformational leadership. The impetus for authentic leadership was the recognition that transformational leaders are not always authentic: Their behavior can be motivated by more selfish needs. Since the mid 2000s, a variety of studies have explored and discussed the benefits of authentic leadership (e.g., Avolio & Gardner, 2005& Avolio, Gardner, Walumbwa, Luthans, & May, 2004& Ilies, Morgeson, & Nahrgang, 2005& Yammarino, Dionne, Schriesheim, & Dansereau, 2008).

According to recent conceptualizations of this style, authentic leaders exhibit four main clusters of behavior: balanced processing, internalized moral perspective, relational transparency, and self awareness (e.g., Gardner, Avolio, Luthans, May, & Walumbwa, 2005& Walumbwa, Wang, Wang, Schaubroeck, & Avolio, 2010). Balanced processing refers to the capacity of some leaders to integrate all information, rather than merely sources that confirm their preferences or assumptions, to reach a decision. Internalized moral perspective relates to the extent to which the choices and behaviors of leaders are governed by their own values and preferences instead of other pressures or tangible rewards. Relational transparency concerns the tendency of leaders to disclose and share information, thoughts, and feelings candidly (see also self concealment). Finally, self awareness reflects the degree to which leaders rate their strengths, limitations, motives, and reputation accurately (see also optimal self esteem).

Kernis and Goldman (2005) argued the four facets, all related to optimal self esteem, could be regarded as a single construct. Similarly, Walumbwa, Avolio, Gardner, Wernsing, and Peterson (2008) showed the correlations between these four subscales ranges from .61 to .69 in Chinese, Kenyan, and American samples. Furthermore, as these authors showed, after overall authentic leadership is controlled, none of the four facets are related to various measures of work attitudes or performance in employees.

Typically, the scale that was constructed and validated by Walumbwa, Avolio, Gardner, Wernsing, and Peterson (2008), comprising 16 items, is administered to gauge authentic leadership. The scale measures the four facets of authentic leadership: balanced processing (e.g., "Solicits views that challenge his or her deeply held positions"), internalized moral perspective (e.g., "Makes decisions based on his/her core beliefs"), relational transparency (e.g., "Is willing to admit mistakes when they are made"), and self-awareness (e.g., "Is eager to receive feedback to improve interactions with others"). The Cronbach's alpha of the composite scale is approximately .91.

Consequences of authentic leadership

Walumbwa, Wang, Wang, Schaubroeck, and Avolio (2010) confirmed that authentic leadership enhances work attitudes and performance in followers. Specifically, when leaders were authentic, followers reported elevated levels of engagement. They also tended to show more organizational citizenship behavior, including activities like helping colleagues, behaving courteously, and accepting difficult changes. The extent to which employees experienced a sense of identity with the supervisor as well as feelings of empowerment, representing a sense of choice, meaning, competence, and impact, mediated these associations. Thus, authentic leadership seems to foster closeness and enables self determination.

Furthermore, Clapp-Smith, Vogelgesang, and Avey (2009) showed that authentic leadership can also enhance the performance of groups as well and not merely individuals. That is, when members of retail staff felt the leadership was authentic, performance of the store was more desirable, as measured by sales growth. Trust in management partly mediated this relationship.

Authentic leadership, coupled with feelings of hope, optimism, self-efficacy, and resilience, have been shown to foster a workplace climate in which safety is embraced. When leaders are authentic, they are more sensitive to the needs and concerns of employees. They are, therefore, more inclined to value the health and safety of other people. Furthermore, because of their integrity, their behavior and attitudes are more likely to be adopted by other people in the organization as well.

This effect of authentic leadership was demonstrated by Hystada, Bartone, and Eid (2013). In this study, 220 offshore workers of an international petroleum company completed two questionnaires. First, they indicated the degree to which their immediate leader exhibits four features of authentic leadership such as conceding mistakes and limitations, consistency between beliefs and actions, a balanced consideration of diverse opinions, and awareness of the impact of their behavior on other people. Second, the safety climate of this organization was gauged. Participants indicated the extent to which safety is prioritized over productivity, managers are involved with safety, employees proactively report or prevent incidents, and responsibilities are clear. Finally, participants completed a measure of psychological capital--a broader concept that entails hope, optimism, self-efficacy, and resilience. As predicted, authentic leadership was positively associated with safety climate. Psychological capital partly, but not completely, mediated this association.

Antecedents of authentic leadership: Storytelling

Some tentative evidence indicates the stories that leaders communicate may affect the likelihood they are perceived as authentic. That is, provided their gestures and facial expressions match their words and thus seem natural, leaders who convey two adverse events that changed the course of their life are perceived as more authentic than leaders who do not refer to adverse events that changed their life.

This possibility was explored by Weischer, Weibler, and Petersen (2013). In this study, participants watched a video of a leader, actually an actor, presenting a speech. Sometimes, the leaders conveyed two adverse events that changed the course of their life. On other occasions, the leaders described personal features of their life but without reference to these adversities. Finally, some leaders described the demands of their role but without reference to personal details. The actors varied the degree to which their gestures and facial expressions matched their statements or emotions. After watching the speech, participants rated the degree to which the actor exhibited four features of authentic leadership: conceding mistakes and limitations, consistency between beliefs and actions, a balanced consideration of diverse opinions, and awareness of the impact of their behavior on other people.

Leaders were perceived as more authentic if they referred to two adversities that shifted the course of their life, relative to the other two conditions. This pattern of findings, however, was observed only if the leaders had matched their gestures and facial expressions with their statements or emotions and, therefore, appeared natural.

Pseudo-transformational leadership

As Christie, Barling, and Turner (2011) highlighted, many leaders engage in behaviors that resemble transformational leadership but are motivated by selfish interests, called pseudo-transformational. Consequently, their leadership style is often unhelpful and ineffective.

Specifically, the vision and direction they promulgate are governed by selfish interests instead of the needs and preferences of their followers. They inspire followers to embrace and to pursue future goals, but often by applying deceptive tactics. Unlike transformational leaders, they do not encourage diverse perspectives because they do not want to be challenged, compromising intellectual stimulation. Furthermore, they do not attempt to support individuals, undermining individualized consideration.

In one study, participants imagined the hallmarks of a transformational, pseudo-transformational, or laissez-faire leader. Next, they answered questions about their attitudes towards these leaders. Pseudo-transformational leaders were perceived less favorably than transformational leaders. In a subsequent study, the different characters of 12 Angry men were conceptualized to exemplify the various leadership styles. The ratings of a pseudo-transformational leader, Juror 3, were not as positive as the ratings of a transformational leader, Juror 8.


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