A global look at transformational and transactional leadership styles
Business today is global as so is leadership.
No one can escape it; what happens on the global stage affects us all. This raises an interesting question: Are the principal dimensions of successful leadership universally applicable, or do different regions or countries display alternative approaches?
In their work “Transformational leadership: an examination of cross-national differences and similarities,” authors Karen Boehnke, Nick Bontis, Joseph J. DiStefano and Andrea C. DiStefano.
They reveal two major leadership styles:
- Transactional leadership: defned as “a series of exchanges and bargains between leaders and followers”
- Transformational leadership: “goes beyond exchanging inducements for desired performance by developing, intellectually stimulating and inspiring followers to transcend their own self-interests for a higher collective purpose.”
This refects the work of James MacGregor Burns, who in his book Leadership described these two styles and concluded that the simple essence of leadership is a relationship between two or more people. How these relationships play out makes a great deal of difference; and while both leadership styles are needed, they are needed in different situations and with different people.
There are distinct differences between transactional leaders, who view relationships as a series of exchanges (“I’ll give you this, if you give me that”), and transformational leaders, who seek to change the playing ?eld by moving beyond the usual approach, appreciating the subtleties involved (the inherent untapped potential) to generate new ways of working and new incentives.
Rousers instinctively deploy each approach as appropriate. Yet there is no denying that transformational leadership has the potential to raise everyone’s game. The simple reason for this is that it taps directly into our instinctive need for fair play and social cohesion.
When we feel we belong and are valued, and when we feel we can trust the person leading us, we will be motivated and energized, and we will follow.
This is no small achievement: We only follow whom we trust, and trust is not easy to gain. For a leader, no matter at what level within an organization, to gain the trust and loyalty of those around them matters. The long-term success of the organization depends on it.
Next- Types of transformational leaders identified and respective clusters
Ben Bryant, professor at IMD Business School, believes there are certain core features (behaviors and personal characteristics) that defne transformational leadership.
He groups these of transformational leaders into the following clusters:
|Opportunity seeker||Solves problems, has insights, finds the right idea or right solution|
|Intellectual||Takes sensible risks (both personal and organizational), recognizes constraints|
|Creative||Goes against status quo, doesnt always do the expected and can behave unconventionally|
|Moral||Behaves based on values, beliefs and sense of moral purpose; acts trustworthy|
|Confident||Displays assuredness, optimism, self-efficacy and internal control|
|Inspirational and/or visionary||Articulates new ideas or goals; uses artful communication, dramatic metaphors and exciting presentations to control followers’ attention and to inspire them|
|Empathetic||Shows sensitivity to followers’ needs and desires, cares for others, encourages emotions and expression, doesn’t abuse power|
Returning to the question of whether there is a pattern of leadership styles across geographies, transformational leadership is widely recognized as a trigger for exceptional operational performance on a global basis. According to the research team led by Boehnke, despite needing to adapt to national differences, transformational leadership greatly improves performance.
At this point it is useful to highlight several points:
- Leadership is not just for formal leaders. It applies to leadership in its broadest sense. As already mentioned, leadership happens at every level within an organization.
- Transactional and transformational leadership styles are not mutually exclusive. It is not a case of one and only one; good leaders are a hybrid, possibly with one side more dominant than the other. Such leaders are adept at knowing which style to apply and when.
- Interestingly, transactional and transformational styles can be leveraged. Leaders can transition in and out of one or the other, as required.
So no more excuses. Let’s go and lead!