During the last three decades, researches on organizational
leadership brought a lot of notions but also some challenges to the field.
Leadership literature reveals that theories have been refined and evolved
over the years and none of the theory is completely irrelevant. Indeed, before
the 1970s, there were only three main approaches to leadership: the” trait
approach”, the “behavior approach” and “contingency approach”. In the 1970s and
1980s, new theories about leadership were introduced; these new theories of
which “Leader-Member Exchange” (LMX) and “transformational-transactional”
leadership are the two most dominant were related to power or influence. The aim
of this paper is to review and synthesize the contributions from previous
studies on transformational leadership literature, to present the development
of the concept and its weaknesses.
What is transformational leadership? How has the concept evolved over the years? And what are its weaknesses?
This literature review has got three distinct
sections. It starts with a definition and the background of Transformational Leadership.
The second part describes the evolution of the concept over the years.
Finally, the last section emphasizes on the weaknesses
and limitation of transformational leadership.
Background and Definition
of Transformational Leadership
The concept of “transforming
leadership”, which becomes later “transformational leadership”, was first originated
by James Macgregor Burns in 1978. He defined “transformational leadership” as a
concept where “leaders and their followers raise one another to higher
levels of morality and motivation” (Burns, 1978, p.164). In his research,
Burns dissociated the notion of “management” from “leadership” and claimed that
the differences between these two concepts lie in traits and behaviors. He founded
two concepts: “Transforming Leadership” and “Transactional
Leadership”. According to him, the “transforming approach” generates
important transformations not only in
the lives of people but also within organizations by redefining insights and principles
??and changing the way people within an organization are expecting thing and standards
to which they aspire. This type of leadership relies more on the
personality of the leader, on his characters and his aptitude to make things
different by having and sharing a motivating vision and setting ambitious objectives,
at the opposite of the second concept ” Transactional
Leadership” that implies relations between the leader and his collaborators
in the sense that they receive their wages or a certain level of prestige for
having complied with the wishes of the leader
“requires a shrewd eye for opportunity, a good hand at bargaining,
persuading, reciprocating” (Burns, 1978, p.169).
According to the”
transactional leadership” model, relationships between leaders and their team
members are thus conceived of as a form of exchange of “contributions” / “rewards”
or “sanctions” / “rewards” rather than a true form of evolution involving a
form of submission to the leader’s desires. On the contrary,” transformational
leadership” increases the level of motivation of employees through the
attention of their leader (Northouse, 2004).
Few years afterwards, the concept of transformational
leadership was extended and refined by Bernard M. Bass. “Bass added to the
initial concepts of Burns (1978) to help explain how transformational
leadership could be measured, as well as how it impacts follower motivation and
performance” (Leadership Qualities for Effective Leaders, page 44). He changed the
term “transforming” that has historically been used to “transformational”
and developed further the work done previously by Burns by clarifying the process
that support the two concepts of leadership established by his predecessor; “transforming”
In 1985, Bass nonetheless identified a major problem
in Burns’ work, which viewed “transactional” and “transformational” leadership
as the end point of a “continuum”. He finds that there are really two
independent dimensions and that one person can use one of them, the other one,
the two of them or none of them: “transactional leadership and transformational
leadership are two distinct dimensions rather than opposite ends of one continuum”.
The author has presented a formal
model of “transactional” and “transformational” leadership. The “transformational
leadership” model was based on four factors :”idealized influence,
inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation and individual consideration”
(Bass & Riggio page 82). The “transactional”
model was based on “contingent rewards” and “exception management” that
converged toward higher performance expectations (Northouse, 2004).
The following section
presents the development of the concept of Transformational Leadership.
Development of the Concept of Transformational
leadership” is considered to be one of the most important models of leadership.
It has been the subject of several studies and academic research.
Einstein (2003) mentioned that between 1990 and 1995, more than 100 theses and
dissertations on the concept of transformational leadership were written. Lowe
and Gardner stated in an article in 2001 that a third of the research done to
date is about “transformational leadership”.
Research on “transformational
leadership” (Bass et al., 1999, Tichy, 2002) helped to shift the focus of
research toward the staff of the firm (Gond and Mignonac, 2002). They
highlighted the fact that the leader is nothing without his collaborators
because it is his ability to influence and generate among them the will to
follow him and to excel for the good of their organization, which makes
possible better performances (Argyris, 2000).
Research has also exposed the link between performance
and the” transformational leadership” model:
“transformational and transactional leadership positively predicts a
wide variety of performance outcomes including individual, group and
organizational level variables” (Bass & Bass 2008, page 44).
Researchers in the field like Den Hartog and Belschak
argue that “transformational leaders” are expecting a lot in terms of
contribution, performance and involvement of their employees through the
creation and sharing a vision for a better future and intellectual stimulation
and encouragement for creativity.
The notion of “team” that occupies an important place
in modern organizations is nearly aligned with that style of leadership. Reich advocates
focusing more on teamwork than on leaders seeking their own interests. In 2004,
KK and Kumar defined the contemporary organizational structure as being focused
more on group of people collaborating together as a team rather than being
centered on the leader.
According to them, societies with “transformational
leaders” give a lot of consideration to people and pay more attention to interactions
between individuals, as they are the heart of organizations. This type of leadership
is dedicated to offering employees everything they need to enable them not only
to excel in their work but also to thrive at the professional level.
In 2009, Hackmann and Johnson considered
“transformational leaders” to be totally different from other leaders because
of their qualities, their talent and their skills to create and implement a “vision”
and stimulate “followers” to work together to achieve that “vision”. These
types of leaders are also “master communicators able to articulate and
define ideas and concepts that are escaped from others” (Hackman & Johnson,
2009, p. 111).
This last section
presents some weaknesses regarding the Transformational Leadership identified
in the literature.
Weaknesses of the
concept of Transformational Leadership
The theory of “transformational leadership” is one of the most popular and widely used and studied theories. Many authors have identified the strengths and benefits of “transformational leadership” theory, but few have studied the weaknesses of the concept.
Northouse has criticized the clarity of the concept. He mentioned that “it is difficult to define exactly the parameters of transformational leadership” (Northouse, 2010 page 188).Tracey and Hinkin’s (1998) research uncovers an “overlap between the four components of transformational leadership”: “idealized influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation and individual consideration”, demonstrating the lack of definition of dimensions: “The results from the item-level confirmatory factor correlation analyzes did not support the Four’ Is notion (Tracey and Hinkin, 1998). In addition, the four components are generally highly “correlated” and it is very difficult to identify individually the impacts of each of them. The studies conducted to date have failed to study individually the impact of each component, which has led researchers to use a “composite score”. “The component behaviors for transformational leadership are so highly intercorrelated that most studies use only a composite score for transformational leadership” (Yukl, 2010 page 324). Furthermore, the theory offers little management given the situational context. Lowy and Hood (2004) argue that leadership is determined by “circumstances” and not by “personal preferences”. According to the authors, a context and a specific situation define the leaders and not their personality traits. Leaders must manage the context in which they evolve and be able to adopt different behaviors. According to the authors: “These are the given, the context that must be managed. Leadership consists of facing these in the most constructive, creative and courageous ways, shaping and exploiting at the same time” (Lowy and Hood, 2004).
Besides, there is still ambiguity concerning the “influence
processes” for “transformational leadership”. “The underlying influence processes for transactional and
transformational leadership are not clearly explained, but they can be inferred
from the description of the behaviors and effects on follower motivation” (Yukl,
2010 page 323).
Moreover, some researchers have expressed worries about the possible “dark side” of that type of leaders, particularly regarding the possibility of misleading or manipulating followers as a means to their own interests (Price, 2003). Studies conducted by Maner & Mead (2009) revealed in many trials that influential leaders with control over others very often extracted sensitive data and sensitive restricted information or even confidential from their collaborators and did not hesitate to reject key members of the team when their positions were at stake.These studies have demonstrated motivations of leaders to misuse their power and seek to achieve their own interests even if these experiments did not directly address the theory of “transformational leadership”.
The concept of “transformational leadership” as
introduced by Burns in the early 1980s and developed by Bass a few years later
is still an interesting alternative to traditional leadership.
The four factors that characterize it have a direct impact on performance allowing even the “transformational leader” to exceed the levels initially defined and at the same time make radical transformations at the level of employees and companies.
This model is recognized and practiced by the leaders
of the modern organization, however, there are still some risks associated with
this form of leadership, particularly with respect to the influence and the
possible “dark side” of “transformational leaders”.