The success or failure of any organization depends on the leadership in place. John C. Maxwell, a reputable author on leadership issues once said, “everything rises or falls on leadership” (Maxwell, 2007, p. 267). This assertion underscores the importance of understanding how various leadership styles affect employees and ultimately organizational performance for leaders to make informed decisions when choosing how to run their organizations. Leaders can choose from the various leadership styles including autocratic, transformational, democratic, transactional, and laissez-faire among others. However, transformational leadership has been touted as the most desirable leadership style primarily due to its underlying principle of engaging followers in decision-making and all other major aspects involved in running an organization (laissez-faire, 2018). In most cases, transformational leaders are praised and respected role models inspiring followers to pursue self-development, innovate, and solve problems toward achieving the set organizational goals. However, like any other form of leadership style, transformational leadership has its weakness and it could have negative outcomes. This paper discusses both the positive and negative effects of transformational leadership on subordinates.
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The concept of transformational leadership was introduced by Burns in 1978 in descriptive research presented in one of the widely referenced books, Leadership. According to Burns (1978, p. 4),
The transforming leader recognizes and exploits an existing need or demand of a potential follower. But, beyond that, the transforming leader looks for potential motives in followers, seeks to satisfy higher needs, and engages the full person of the follower. The result of transforming leadership is a relationship of mutual stimulation and elevation that converts followers into leaders and may convert leaders into moral agents.
Therefore, transformational leaders are intellectuals who have a clear vision of what needs to be achieved and they create a concrete plan to achieve the same before sharing it with those that need it. However, to achieve this vision, followers have to be convinced to own it and become part of the journey. As such, “would-be followers will respond only if the new frame articulated by creative leadership speaks directly to them, to their underlying wants, discontents, and hopes” (Burns, 2003, p. 168). Consequently, it suffices to argue that having a vision is the starting point of any transformational leader. Such leaders thus have to address the authentic and higher needs, values, and aspirations of their subordinates.
In other words, transformational leadership involves the process of attracting, motivating, and satisfying followers by helping them to achieve common goals. Subordinates are motivated to achieve organizational goals through the pursuit of group interests and self-development. Therefore, transformational leaders should be charismatic, inspirational, motivational, and intellectually stimulated to set a good example to followers, nurture strong beliefs, and achieve high moral standards, which are the main shapers of subordinates’ sense of mission and direction. This form of leadership offers the requisite guidance and support when confronting difficulties and challenges in the workplace. Additionally, transformational leadership allows followers to play an active role in the decision-making process, which confers a sense of ownership thus cultivating responsibility for the ultimate achievement of the set organizational goals.
Why It Matters
The current globalized world has introduced stiff competition across all industries irrespective of place of operation. Therefore, given that the failure or success of any organization depends largely on the nature of leadership in place, it is important to understand how various styles impact the constituents of organizational performance. Transformational leadership is one of the most effective leadership styles that helps to achieve optimal organizational performance, which explains why it matters to study its effects on subordinates. From this knowledge, leaders would have the relevant information to make appropriate decisions by identifying areas that could be optimized for improved performance. Similarly, this research highlights the negative effects of transformational leadership on followers, thus allowing leaders to avoid the common pitfalls along the way. Ultimately, understanding the effects of transformation on subordinates from an objective perspective facilitates the decision-making process in the workplace for the attainment of optimal organizational results.
Impacts on Subordinates
The influence of transformational leadership on subordinates are multifaceted. Organizations are complex entities with various moving parts, and thus leadership should be approached from a holistic perspective to take care of every aspect. Employees are some of the most important assets in an organization and thus their commitment and level of motivation play and central role in their performance. This section discusses the influence of transformational leadership on employees’ commitment, motivation, and performance together with how such style influences the creation of empowering cultural norms in a company.
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Effects on Employees’ Commitment
Employees’ commitment to an organization refers to the psychological identification and acceptance to be part of and pursue the set organizational goals and values. The theory of planned behavior as presented by Ajzen (1991) holds that the willingness to engage in a particular behavior is significantly dependent on one’s behavioral intentions. To this end, three factors may be used to predict behavioral intentions including perceived and subjective control, and attitudes towards the behavior. As such, transformational leaders could influence employees’ work attitudes, which in turn contribute to commitment levels. According to Su et al. (2019), transformational leadership could influence commitment to an organization because such leaders “can motivate employees to pursue goals and values congruent with those of the organization” (p. 3). This form of leadership is focused on the personal development of the employees within the broad context of organizational advancement. As such, when employees feel that their needs are taken care of and they are involved in the decision-making process, they have increased responsibility due to the underlying sense of ownership; hence, high commitment levels.
Employees’ affective commitment is reflected in their emotional attachment to the organizational goals. Subordinates with high levels of commitment and satisfaction assume greater responsibilities due to the positive attitudes instilled by their leaders. In other words, when employees perceive their leaders as transformational, they commit to serving the passionately as they endeavor to achieve organizational objectives. As such, transformational leaders are impactful and they thus contribute to the psychological empowerment of their followers to work hard, become creative, and solve problems, which ultimately works for the benefit of the company (Allameh et al., 2012). Additionally, as Su et al. (2019) argue, “Transformational leadership involves sharing common goals with employees, supporting employees, setting high service standards and expectations for employees, and fostering positive service attitudes and actions among employees” (p. 4). When taken together, these activities form the basis of a conducive work environment whereby employees are committed to their work. Employee turnover rates under such workplace environments are low, which contributes to organizational success.
Effects on Employees’ Motivation
One of the hallmarks of transformational leadership is inspirational motivation. According to Orabi (2016), inspirational motivation involves encouraging subordinates to align their personal goals with organizational goals. Transformational leaders are charismatic and thus they exude the needed confidence to convince employees to work towards a shared vision. Rawung et al. (2015) state that this form of leadership forms the basis of building confidence and contentment for followers through knowledge sharing, which ultimately leads to a company’s success. Charismatic leaders are likely to motivate their followers who in turn exhibit the positive energy needed when executing their day-to-day duties. Through idealized influence, transformational leaders provide the vision and support subordinates by inspiring them to achieve the set objectives. In other words, such leaders become role models to their followers and they (followers) are proud to be associated with their leaders, and this form of relationship enhances productivity.
Transformation leaders focus on inspiring individuals at a personal level through coaching and training. Ahmad et al. (2014) refer to this approach as individualized consideration whereby a leader pays attention to an employee at a personal level. Within this context, when employees receive personalized attention, they are happy and comfortable working in an environment where their contribution matters. According to Ahmad et al. (2014), when leaders give workers the freedom to execute their duties based on what has been laid out, employees “dedicate time for work due to feelings of discretion and test their capabilities in the working environment” (p. 15). In the end, such subordinates are highly motivated knowing that the responsibility to achieve their goals rests primarily on their discretion to make the right decisions. Transformational leaders also motivate employees through intellectual stimulation, whereby followers are encouraged to become creative and good decision-makers. The most creative workers are recognized and awarded when appropriate, which challenges and motivates other individuals to think uniquely when solving problems.
Transformational Leadership and Employees’ Performance
Committed and motivated employees are likely to have high levels of productivity. As Trmal et al. (2015) posit, transformational leadership drives performance and employees’ productivity by influencing individual behavior for the overall wellbeing of an organization. Such leaders are willing to nurture and support each employee and when all employees experience this outcome, Snell et al. (2013) argue that organizational performance should ultimately improve significantly. Specifically, transformational leaders improve ensure employees’ work engagement by allowing them to express their thoughts, which in turn promotes connection to work and others and the resulting confidence and teamwork spirit leads to improved organizational performance. Andreani and Petrik (2016) observe that transformational leaders “will make employees feel secure, trusted and become loyal because the employees are also motivated to do their very best which is sometimes beyond their expectations” (p. 28). The driving force behind this improved performance is hinged on the leaders’ capacity to motivate their followers to become the best version of themselves.
Transformational leaders believe in participatory management practices, such as open communication and consultative decision-making process. Effective communication allows employees to know their job roles clearly and they have the freedom to seek clarification where they are unsure of what is expected of them. Buil et al. (2019) indicate that under transformational leadership, followers are key decision-makers, and this collective approach gives them a heightened sense of ownership and responsibility. Consequently, the employees’ productivity improves significantly because they are intrinsically motivated to achieve the collective goals. Dwivedi et al. (2020) add that transformational leadership improves workers’ efficiency through knowledge sharing. In this case, employees are fully equipped with the requisite skills and knowledge to execute their day-to-day work efficiently, which ultimately leads to improved performance.
Empowering Cultural Norms
The style of leadership plays a central role in shaping the organizational culture in any given institution. Leadership can produce both “cultural innovation and maintenance by producing new or reinforcing established sets of shared values, beliefs, norms, and practices within organizations” (Masi & Cooke, 2000, p. 23). For instance, on the one hand, an autocratic leader could create an environment that hinders participative engagements with employees, and when practiced for long, it becomes the prevalent culture in the affected organization. On the other hand, transformational leaders come up with a vision and share it with their followers by allowing a participative climate for all involved parties to contribute meaningfully towards the achievement of the set goals. In other words, this form of leadership creates a set of cultural norms that allow subordinates to respond quickly and flexibly to the ever-changing organizational and marketplace demands. As such, transformational leaders empower and convince their followers to share a collective vision and create ways of achieving the same.
Therefore, followers assume the authority to “take actions to enhance the vision, knowing that such actions will be highly valued and considered legitimate by all those who share the vision” (Masi & Cooke, 2000, p. 23). This pull style of leadership works by attracting people to follow a certain path toward the achievement of the shared vision as opposed to being driven by rewards and punishments. Consequently, this form of empowering approach, when employed consistently, becomes the underlying modus operandi in the workplace hence the organizational culture. As such, transformational styles inherently convey high-performance expectations, which in return establish norms, albeit implicitly, that, in the long-term, become the defining culture in the workplace.
Despite the many benefits associated with transformational leadership, it has various shortcomings that should be studied comprehensively for a balanced application of the underlying principles. For instance, Enron was one of the largest companies in the US characterized by charismatic and extremely powerful leaders guided by transformational leadership, but it collapsed due to deep-running fraud (Tourish, 2013). Therefore, transformational leaders are not exempted from failure and poor working practices. First, Chen et al. (2018) state that transformational leadership, “as a typically beneficial antecedent, reaches an inflection point where the relationship with the favorable outcomes ceases to be linear and positive” (p. 4). Motivation has its limits and various mediating factors could contribute to a scenario whereby followers are no longer convinced about the validity of the leaders’ vision.
The highly admired charisma surrounding transformational leaders could lead to hubris, greed for power and success, and boastfulness, which could be a major problem in leadership. Such leaders have an element of authoritativeness, as they might not accept criticism in their quest to maintain the perceived perfect image by their followers. Chen et al. (2018) argue that this aspect “may also shift the focus of transformational leader from supporting followers to enhancing their own public image regardless of employees’ and organizations’ benefits” (p. 16). The widespread financial malpractices at Enron were partly motivated by the need to hoodwink the public that the company was performing well in the market. The leaders were unwilling to confront the fact that the company was losing its market share to competitors and instead of adopting a strategic approach, they resorted to fraud, mainly to maintain the hitherto held status of high performance.
Comparison with Other Leadership Styles
The authoritarian leadership style is the opposite of transformational leadership. Authoritarian leaders impose expectations and define outcomes for followers without any form of consultation. This form of leadership is akin to a one-person show whereby the leader makes all the important decisions. As such, creativity is not allowed since team input is limited. Therefore, authoritative leadership differs from transformational leadership in almost all aspects. However, despite its many shortcomings, authoritarian leadership could be useful in cases where team members simply need clear directions of what needs to be done. Decision-making is quick and the chain of command is clear to all the involved parties.
Democratic leadership is closely related to transformational leadership. Both styles are rooted in the principles of participation whereby followers are allowed to give their views concerning various issues in the workplace. Therefore, just like in transformational leadership, followers are given the space to contribute, but the leader has the final say. It thus increases employees’ motivation and performance. However, in case followers are inexperienced, bad decisions could be made with leaders being apologetic and trying to please all the involved stakeholders.
On its part, laissez-faire leadership focuses on delegating duties and initiatives to team members. Both laissez-faire and transformational leadership skills share some attributes hinged on the approach of giving people the freedom to execute certain tasks based on their discretion. This form of leadership could be highly effective in cases where team members have the requisite experience to handle their tasks through creativity and innovativeness. However, laissez-faire leadership might not work effectively in the ideal work environment where employees need proper guidance on how to accomplish their duties.
Another form of leadership is the transactional style whereby leaders and followers engage in transactions through rewards, punishments, and other related activities to ensure that the work at hand is done. After receiving clear goals from their leaders, followers comply because they are assured of rewards or punishment based on how they perform. In this “give-and-take” engagement, protocols and procedures define how tasks are executed. This leadership style shares some aspects with transformational leadership, such as increased employees’ motivation. However, under this leadership, creativity and innovation are discouraged and in the end, it creates more followers than leaders in any given workplace setting.
This paper has shown that transformational leadership plays a central role in promoting employees’ motivation, commitment, and performance. Additionally, transformational leaders help in creating an organizational culture characterized by empowered followers seeking to achieve collective goals and shared vision. Understanding transformational leadership is important, as it is one of the widely used leadership styles in modern times. However, as argued in this paper, transformational leadership has some weaknesses that should be addressed during its application. Nevertheless, the benefits accrued from the positive impacts of transformational leadership on subordinates are more than the perceived negative effects. Therefore, leaders could create ways of addressing the shortcomings of transformational style to improve its efficiency in leading organizations successfully to remain competitive in the contemporary globalized world.
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