Academic journal article IUP Journal of Business Strategy

Transformational Leaders in Action: Theory Has Been There, but What about Practice? †

Academic journal article IUP Journal of Business Strategy

Transformational Leaders in Action: Theory Has Been There, but What about Practice? †

Article excerpt


Leadership literature has evolved around four main domains, namely the trait approach, behavioral approach, contingency theories and inspirational theories. The trait approach studied leaders as people who had special traits making them different from others. Accordingly, someone can be born as a leader if he/she possesses those special leadership traits. Trait theorists focused on leadership traits, whereas the behavioral perspective considered specific leadership behaviors. Accordingly, leaders can perform task-oriented and/or people - oriented behaviors. According to this point of view, leadership can be learned and therefore leaders can be trained. Contingency school criticizes the behavioral perspective by highlighting the idea that leadership effectiveness depends on the correct match between the situational characteristics and leadership style. According to this view, ideal leadership behaviors are the ones that match with the situational inputs. And finally, inspirational school, which is an updated version of the trait approach, focuses on the ability of the leaders to influence a group of followers in the direction of a future vision, by highlighting the importance of the leaders' abilities, characteristics and behaviors to satisfy the followers' needs, increase followers' potential and foster their contribution in creating a futuristic state. In this respect, we believe that the trait theories are still alive, however, in the form of inspiration and charisma.

Leadership in organizations has multiple facets; as such the leader uses management functions to establish order and transform for continuous improvement. One of the most popular theories of the inspirational school is "Transformational Leadership", developed by Bernard Bass in 1990. According to him, transformation has four dimensions. "Charisma" refers to providing a vision and mission with pride and gaining followers' respect and trust. For "inspiration", leader communicates high expectations and with "intellectual stimulation" leader promotes the intelligence of followers. The fourth dimension, "individualized consideration" refers to giving personal attention, coaching and advising (Bass, 1990). As is evident, transformational leaders have the role of a "change agent" and this role requires establishing a future vision, gaining followers' trust with the influence of charisma, promoting followers' potential and giving special attention to each one as to facilitate their efforts in the direction of the desired change.

Theoretical framework seems promising. However, the practical use of transformational leadership is debatable. For instance, what are the specific leadership behaviors that define intellectual stimulation and individualized consideration? How can a leader gain followers' trust? Are there any specific course of action to create "inspiration"? In this respect, this study aims to identify the leadership behaviors that define each facet of the transformational leadership construct. Thereby, it would be possible to increase the practical usage of transformational leadership construct.

Literature Review

Managers used to depend on their legitimate or coercive power in traditional times. Today, managers mostly engage in transactions with their employees. However, one must consider that the promise of rewards or the avoidance of penalties mostly depend on organizational policies, resources and politics (Bass, 1990). As such, transactional leadership could be highly questionable when organizational regulations tie managers' hands. However, still there is a transactional side in management. For instance, managers give contingent reward or promising rewards for employee effort, engage in active management by exception which refers to taking corrective action if standards are not met, engage in passive management by exception refers to taking corrective action when problems arise, it is passive because the leader waits for actual deviances, or laissez-faire, avoiding to take any action (Bass, 1999). …

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