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IWU Ed.D. Organizational Leadership Study Guide/What is Leadership?

What is Leadership?Edit

Rost Leadership Perspective



Autocratic-Paternalistic-Servant (APS) Model

Summary Leadership Theories

Trait Theories

Behavioral Theories

Ohio State Studies

University of Michigan Studies

Contingency Theories

Situational Leadership

Leader-Member Exchange (LMX) Theory

Implicit Theories

Charistmatic Leadership Theory

Transactional Leadership Theory

Transformational Leadership Theory

While agreement among scholars of leadership theory is a scarce and precious commodity, scholars are in agreement that James McGregor Burns was responsible for conceptualizing leadership along an axis extending from transactional leadership to transformational leadership (Avolio, Bass, & Jung, 1999; Bass, 1990; Daft, 2005; Rost, 1993). Rost (1993), in his quintessential review of the definitions (or absence thereof) of leadership, quotes Burns’ view that transactional leadership occurs “when one or more persons engage with others in such a way that leaders and followers raise one another to higher levels of motivation and morality.”

Key Concepts of the Theory

A variety of scholars have elaborated upon this seminal definition in an effort to provide greater clarity and a clearer application of the theory. We are told that this model of leadership explicitly embraces a moral code and value structure as followers are inspired to consider such laudable motives as justice, morality and peace (Landy & Conte, 2004). Pragmatism enters the mix as others tell us that this theory of leadership includes the motivation of the followers to exceed normally expected performance levels and to contribute more than they or the leader expect (Koehler, Wallbrown, & Konnert, 1994). Landy and Conte (2004) contribute a review of more recent writings by Bass and Avolio to further elaborate on transformational theory. Of most significance is their review of the four general strategies that leaders use:

1. Idealized influence: Leaders display conviction, emphasize trust, take stands on difficult issues, emphasize the importance of commitment and purpose, and are aware of the ethical consequences of their decisions.

2. Inspirational motivation: Leaders articulate an appealing vision of the future, challenge followers with high standards, talk optimistically with enthusiasm, and provide encouragement and meaning for what needs to be done.

3. Intellectual stimulation: Leaders question old assumptions, values and beliefs; stimulate new ways of doing things and encourage expression of ideas and reasons.

4. Individualized consideration: Leaders deal with others as individuals; consider individual needs, abilities, and aspirations; listen attentively; and advise, coach and teach. (p. 462)

Relationship to Other Theories

Burns’s work seems a reaction to a series of leadership theories which preceded his efforts but which were uniformly unsatisfying in their utility. Landy and Conte’s (2004) review of the theories which preceded Burns is illustrative. They report that the great man/woman theory and its cousin, the trait approach, proved fruitless, as little agreement was reached as to what the key traits were. The Ohio State studies initiated the behavioral approach by introducing the oft used two factors of consideration and initiating structure behavior. While this was an advance, the studies suffered from, among other issues, inconsistencies and potential biases. The University of Michigan studies continued this two factor approach but added consideration of the leader’s interaction with the entire workgroup. They tell us the contingency theorists contributed two intuitively satisfying models in Hersey and Blanchard’s Situational Theory and House’s Path-Goal theory. Unfortunately, there is little convincing research evidence supporting these theories.

Landy and Conte (2004) go on to elaborate further, recounting Burns’ conceptualization of transactional and transformational leadership as occupying two ends of a spectrum in something of a zero sum game. They explain for us that Burns believed that a leader who employed a high level of transactional strategies would, necessarily, employ a low level of transformational strategies and conversely. They tell us that, in contrast, “Bass perceived transformational leadership as building upon transactional leadership in a hierarchy with respect to their effectiveness” (p. 462).

Strength, Weaknesses and Key Contributions of the Theory

Arguably, the most important strength of the transformational theory and its greatest contribution to the study of leadership is its demonstrated ability to explain and predict follower behaviors based on leader actions. Bass’s contribution of the Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire instrument, which reliably measures transformational and transactional behavior, has enabled researchers to measure the impact of these behaviors on followers (Avolio, Bass, & Jung, 1999). As a result, there is a significant amount of empirical data supporting the efficacy of the theory. One study of 3,204 members of the U.S. Army throughout the United States investigated the effects of officers’ transformational leadership behavior (Kane & Tremble, 2000). The investigators studied the transformational behavior of three levels of officers, Platoon Leaders (1st and 2nd Lieutenants), Company Commanders (Captains), and Battalion Commanders (Lieutenant Colonels) as they interacted with enlisted platoon members. The researchers report two significant findings. First, in support of Bass’s concept of a transactional – transformational hierarchy, transformational behavior augmented the effects of transactional behaviors on the platoon members’ job motivation and moral commitment. In addition, they reported an increase in the effectiveness of transformational leadership with an increase in the rank of the leader. Ethical issues, while always important, have become the focus of intense scrutiny and discussion as a result of the recent spate of corporate and political scandals. Research is beginning to emerge which indicates that an additional, potential strength of the transformational theory is the contribution it can make toward improving the ethical climate of organizations. One recently published study, for example, demonstrated that altruism positively influences transformational leadership and, in turn, transformational leadership has a demonstrably positive effect on the ethical climate of an organization (Engelbrecht, Aswegan, & Theron, 2005). The investigators concluded: “Transformational leaders can make a significant impact on the ethical performance of organisations [sic]” (p. 25). Finally, empowerment of followers is essential to highly effective organizations. Transactional leadership has been shown to have a positive impact on the empowerment of followers as a result of increased social identification, that is, identification with the organizational unit (Kark, Shamir, & Chen, 2003).

Two significant weaknesses of this theory, both related to the strong personality possessed by many transactional leaders, are most apparent to this writer. First, Kark et al. (2003) demonstrated not only the effect on empowerment of transformational leadership, but also demonstrated an increased level of follower dependency upon the leader. This dependency is due to the increased identification with the leader caused by the leaders’ often charismatic behavior. The researchers refer to Howell (1998) and assert that the personal identification with the leader may result in submission and unquestioning loyalty. It seems clear that there is a risk that followers whose personal identification with the leader outweighs other factors may undertake actions they would find repellant without the impact of the leader. “Consequently, if the leaders’ motives or ethical standards are poor, they can manipulate their loyal constituency” (Stone, Russell, & Patterson, 2003 p.6).

Secondly, there is some evidence that transformational leaders lack staying power. Collins (2001) makes a compelling case that organizations led by transformational leaders blossom and then wilt as the leaders move on or the external environment changes. This view is congruent with the view held by several researchers that transformational leadership is more at home and, indeed, more appropriate in an environment that is dynamic and challenging if not threatening. In this situation, the leader is highly motivated to emphasize the intellectual stimulation and inspiration of every member in order to preserve the organization (Smith, Montagno, & Kuzmenko, 2004). These researchers postulate that, as the organization moves to an environment and state that are more stable, the true transformational leader becomes less relevant. Servant leadership, reminiscent of Collins’ Level 5 Leadership, then becomes more effective.

Applying Transformational Leadership within the Framework of the A-P-S Model

Transformational leadership is most closely aligned with the servant leader paradigm contained within the A-P-S model (Laub, 2003). Smith, Montagno, and Kuzmenko’s (2004) study indicated that “three of the four dimensions of transformational leadership exhibit a substantial match with the components of servant leadership” (p. 84). They go on to indicate that servant leadership does not address the intellectual stimulation dimension of transformational leadership while transformational leadership is less concerned with valuing others. Expanding on this comparison, Stone, et al. (2003) tell us quite definitively “The principal difference between transformational leadership and servant leadership is the focus of the leader” (p. 4). Transformational leaders focus primarily on the goals of the organization while servant leaders focus first on their service to the followers. This distinction, in combination with the contextual differences examined by Smith, et al. (2004) paints a picture of an effective leader modulating his behavior between transformational and servant leadership as the situation warrants. As the organization faces urgent challenges and must move from a position of stability, transformational leadership, with its greater emphasis on organizational goals and intellectual stimulus would be used. As the organization arrives at a new condition of stability, the behaviors would shift to those of the servant leader as the organization consolidates its gains and concentrates on operating most efficiently in the new state.

Putting It Into Practice

Given the realities of the current business climate, in which a short term perspective is all pervasive and codified standards of fiduciary duty require corporate officers, executives, and board members to put the interests of shareholders above all else, including employees, the application of servant leadership will be difficult in this type of organization. Clearly, given the luxury of a long term view, the interests of the shareholders and employees will converge as they have at organizations such as Southwest Airlines. Working in this environment, I can envision that the most practical route to success will involve using the precepts of transformational leadership to initiate change and begin an improvement process. Once momentum is gained and, frankly, enough results are achieved to buy time, a shift to a more employee focused servant leadership mode will permit the gains to be consolidated and the organization to remain highly effective in a more stable environment.

Servant Leadership Theory