Magazine article Industrial Management

Transactional vs. Transformational Leadership

Magazine article Industrial Management

Transactional vs. Transformational Leadership

Article excerpt

A popular Hyundai commercial provides insight into the question of leadership styles. It begins with a young man leaving the office at day's end, followed by the resentful - and, in some cases, envious - stares of his co-workers, who have no intention of leaving their desks at the stroke of 5 p.m.

The narrator asks, "Since when has leaving work on time become an act of courage?" The scene then switches to this same adventurous young man with the wind in his hair, putting miles between him and the cares of the workplace.

Now, why does this commercial, undoubtedly the result of intense focus group research, resonate with the target audience of upwardly mobile young people? It resonates because it ridicules, and even defies, the unspoken expectations of the modern manager.

But it wasn't all that long ago (30 to 40 years or so) when working "9 to 5" was a national convention. There was no such term as work-life balance because the issue didn't exist: Everybody had enough time to keep the competing obligations of the job and the family in perspective. Indeed, the appellation back then for those who couldn't maintain that balance was workaholic.

The predominant leadership style of that time was transactional. The transactional leader set the performance metrics for his or her subordinates and rewarded or reprimanded according to the degree to which those metrics were met. Goals were clear. Management may have been "hands on," but it pretty much honored the traditional hours of the workday, loath to pay "overtime."

Then something happened to the American workplace. In the 1990s, the transformational leadership model became all the rage. Leaders were sought who could "transform" the employee from a "9 to 5'er" into a true believer, willing to go the extra mile for the organization. Transformational leaders had vision and inspired others to rise above their personal concerns. Their mantra was a variant on President John F. Kennedy's famous exhortation: "Ask not what your company can do for you. Ask what you can do for your company."

Transformational leaders, staying late at the office themselves, were not at all displeased to see their people consistently working late, on their own initiative and even showing up, in casual dress, for a few hours on Saturday. …

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