Herding Academic Cats: Faculty Reactions to Transformational and Contingent Reward Leadership by Department Chairs

Article excerpt

Executive Summary

A study involving 440 university faculty members in 70 different academic departments explored the relationship between transformational and contingent reward leadership behaviors by university department chairs and faculty satisfaction with supervision, willingness to expend extra effort and organizational effectiveness. Results indicated that the idealized influence (charisma) factor of transformational leadership was significantly more predictive of desired organizational outcomes than has been reported in other settings. Surprisingly, contingent reward was not predictive in this setting. The unique characteristics of the employment arrangements and psychological contract between faculty and their institutions may make charismatic, relationship-oriented leadership a key determinant of department chair effectiveness.

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An ongoing challenge facing leaders in higher education is balancing the demands between administrative control and faculty autonomy (Bennett, 1998; Birnbaum, 1992). Academic leaders must respond to the business pressures of controlling costs, maintaining enrollment, and fundraising while managing faculty who often view business interests as secondary to academic freedom and fealty to the academy (Raelin, 1995).

A growing body of research has developed to explore academic leadership behavior within the context of these demands. The majority of research in this area has drawn from various traditional leadership theories, including path-goal theory (House, 1971), the initiating structure/consideration model (Stogdill & Coons, 1957), the situational leadership model (Hersey & Blanchard, 1977), and the leader-participation model (Vroom & Yetton, 1973, Vroom & Jago, 1988) to try to explain what makes for successful leadership in higher education, especially in the area of faculty administration. However, most of this research (e.g. Groner, 1978; Knight & Holen, 1985) addresses leadership from a transactional perspective; that is, viewing leaders as individuals who guide or motivate their followers toward established goals by clarifying role and task requirements (Bass, 1985a).

More recently, leadership researchers investigating non-educational settings have focused on the concept of transformational leadership. Transformational leadership emphasizes the inspirational aspects of the relationship between leaders and followers. Among the many definitions provided by researchers and commentators, a relatively representative description is that transformational leaders are individuals who "... broaden and elevate the interests of their employees when they generate awareness and acceptance of the purposes and mission of the group, and when they stir their employees to look beyond their own self interest for the good of the group" (Bass, 1990b: 20). Transactional leadership, by contrast, emphasizes a quid-pro-quo exchange relationship between the leaders and followers. Bass suggests that a prototypical transactional leader/manager might approach followers by explaining "... what is expected of them and what compensation they will receive if they fulfill these requirements" (1990b: 19-20).

This study addresses the issue of transformational leadership in higher education by exploring the affects of both transformational and transactional behaviors by academic department chairs on desired organizational outcomes. Department chairs are a particularly important group of leaders in higher education because they are responsible for as much as 80 percent of all administrative decisions made in colleges and universities (Knight & Holen, 1985). While academic department-level leadership has received some attention in the literature (Bennett, 1998; Deetz, 1992; Gomes & Knowles, 1999), the use of a transformational perspective to explore leadership effectiveness in this context has been sparse.

Literature Review And Hypotheses

Languishing and suffering from a lack of unifying theoretical perspective, leadership research and leadership theory were revitalized when they underwent a rapid and transforming paradigm shift in the 1980s (Hunt, 1999). …