After beginning a two year research to propose some leadership theories which focus on a particular characteristic of a leader, leaving out the followers and situations from the equation, I’ve been able to break down leadership into the following four categories: Charismatic Leadership, Attribution Leadership, Transactional Leadership, and Transformational Leadership.
The theory behind Charismatic Leadership emphasizes the ability of a leader to communicate new visions of an organization to its followers and to raise follower awareness of the importance and core value of goals, often getting people to exceed their own interests.
Charismatic Leaders are dominant, able to express their vision, are exceptionally self-confident, have a high need for power, and have a strong conviction in the moral “righteousness” of their beliefs. They strive to project a magnetic personality which emanates success and competence, and they convey high expectation for and confidence in followers. Leader who possess and exhibit these characteristics inspire trust, confidence, affection, admiration, emotional involvement, obedience, and high performance in their followers. The Charismatic Leader often appears under conditions of uncertainty or in times of crisis which are stressful and make more cognitively and emotionally receptive to the ideas and actions of someone perceived as a so-called savior.
Attribution Theory deals with trying to make sense out of Cause and Effect Relationships. When an event takes place, people want to attribute it with a specific cause. This theory states that leadership is simply an attribution that people make about other individuals. The fundamental flaw is a bias in the perception process because people tend to attribute the behavior of other people to their own motivation and ability rather that the situation. Research has found that people tend to characterize leaders as having traits such as personality, understanding, intelligence, strong verbal skills, aggressiveness, and often at time display industriousness.
At the organizational level, attribution theory explains why people are prone to attribute either the extremely negative or the extremely positive performance of an organization to its leadership. This theory fails to take in consideration influences or forces from the external environment. Therefore, people have a “built-in” tendency to give too much credit to other people or to place too much blame on them.
Transactional Leadership takes place when leaders and their followers are in some type of exchange relationship which satisfies needs for one or both parties. The exchange can be economic, psychological, or political in nature; and examples might include exchanging money for work, loyalty for consideration, and political favors. Transactional Leaders help organizations reach their current goals and objectives more efficiently by connecting job performance to valued rewards or by ensuring that employees have the needed resources to get the job done. Transactional Leadership is very common but tends to be transitory, in that there may be no lasting purpose to hold parties together once a transaction takes place.
James MacGregor Burns noted that while this type of leadership could be quite effective, it did not result in organizational or even societal change and, instead tended to perpetuate and legitimize the status quo. In conclusion, Transactional Leaders view management as a series of transactions in which they use their legitimate, reward, and coercive powers to give commands and exchange rewards for services rendered.
The Transformational Leadership process is currently the most popular leadership perspective, and it moves way beyond the more “traditional” transactional approach to leadership. Transformational Leadership is related to charisma in that these leaders motivate people to exceed their personal interests for the sake of the larger community. It also produces levels of dependent efforts and performance that go beyond what would occur with a Transactional Leadership approach alone. In addition, Transformational Leadership is much more than just charisma. While the purely charismatic leader may want followers to adopt his or her “world view” and go no further, the Transactional Leader will attempt to instill in followers the ability to question not only the established views but eventually those established by the leader.
Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus have defined four skills of leadership, which are required for the Transformational Leader to be successful: First, is a strategic vision or goal that evokes people’s attention. Second, is the ability to successfully communicate that vision through words, manners, or symbolism. The third skill set is to have the capacity to build trust by being consistent, dependable, and persistent. And lastly, the fourth skill required for a Transformational Leader to be successful is the capability of positive self-regard–by striving for success. The use of these four skills builds follower commitment and pumps them up to adopt the leader’s vision as their own. They also perform their jobs better, engage in more organizational citizenship behaviors, and make better or more creative decisions.
To close, Transformational Leadership is closer to the prototype of leadership that people have in mind when the describe their ideal leader and is more likely to provide a role model in which dependents want to identify.
This wraps up an 24 month long journey down the leadership road. One in which I’m very grateful to have traveled and will continue to do so. Thank you to everybody who supported me along the way. If you have any insight or wish to share your experiences – please consider leaving a comment to my closing questions.
Of the four categories of leadership I described above, which one do you feel fits best into your daily life? Is there anything that you disagree with? If so, what is it and why?