Leadership – Transactional & Transformational

Section 1:  Introduction

The following is a short, critical review of 2 theories of leadership namely; Situational and Transformational.  There are 2 primary objectives in this review:

  1. understand the main ideas of these 2 leadership models, and evaluate their applicability to real world leadership;
  2. understand how the major ideas forwarded by the 2 theories can improve my personal leadership development and understanding.

By relating the 2 theories back to personal development it is hoped that important lessons learned can be utilized to improve real-world performance.

Section 2: Discussion of the 2 Models
2.1 Situational Leadership Theory [SLT]:

SLT is a life cycle theory of management [Graeff, 1983], which comes out of the research conducted by Hersey and Blanchard in the 1970s, especially their LEAD model [leadership effectiveness and development], which is the basis of SLT [Hersey, 2009].  Hersey-Blanchard’s model rests on 2 concepts namely; leadership style and the maturity of the followers measured in skill and motivation.  Based on these 2 concepts, Hersey-Blanchard came up with 4 leadership styles which are linked to behavior [Hersey-Blanchard, 1977].

Leadership styles:

“S-1 Telling, S-2 Selling, S-3 Participating, S-4 Delegating” [Hersey-Blanchard 2005]

Followers’ behavioural categories:

“M-1 Incompetence, M-2 Inability to do the task but willing, M-3 Competent but don’t believe they can, M-4 Group is able and willing to do the task” [Hersey, 2009].

Followers’ ability level and the motivation or “willingness” to do tasks, can be developed by a good manger/leader, through situational intervention, depending on where the person or group in question, is situated within the M categories [Thompson, 2015].  In this model there are 4 different levels of competency, which can be layered onto the S and M categories, which describe the followers’ motivation [Hersey-Blanchard, 2005].

The competency categories are:

“D-1 low competence/commitment, D-2 low competence/high commitment, D-3 high competence / low commitment, D-4 both are high” [Hersey, 2009].

For example, a different management style would be used for D1, which could include telling, directional, and transactional management, which would not be used in D4, where a leader should delegate, empower and mentor [Thompson, 2015].  In D4 or delegation, SLT advocates that the manager delegates tasks and instructions to subordinates, entrusting enough freedom and resources to the subordinates in order to accomplish the objectives [Hersey, 2009].  This form of management is appropriate when the subordinates are experienced and respond to motivation stimuli and perhaps lack some confidence in task attainment [Hersey-Blanchard, 2005].  An example could be a Sales Director, giving counsel and advice to a Junior Sales Manager who has been assigned a new account.


2.2 Critique of SLT:

SLT is a task oriented leadership theory [Yukl, 2012], with an important insight that leadership and management intervention with followers, will be situational, depending on the commitment, maturity and capability of the subordinate or the group at large [Hersey-Blanchard, 1977].  A good leader and manager should exhibit flexibility in behavior when managing or leading followers [Hart & Quinn, 1993, Yukl & Mahsud, 2010].

SLT is appropriate if leadership is conceptually defined as an interpersonal phenomenon [Sirkwoo J. et al 2016, Graeff 1983].  In this definition, leadership or management, would involve formal and informal influence, a group effort, and fulfilling goal attainment [Barrow, 1977].  If this is valid then recognizing the followers as a vital situational element which demands varying styles of appropriate leadership or managerial behavior, is a perspective that seems justified and practical [Graeff, 1983].

Empirical evidence is mixed. In one study of SLT the results seemed to support the theory [Hambleton, Gumpert, 1982], and the gain in follower performance was significant.  Other studies find no empirical evidence at all for SLT [Blank et al 1990, Johansen 1990].  These results match other research which has tried to test contingency theories and the effects of behavioral models in settings using task-centered work, but which did not uncover positive correlations [in Yukl 2012 citing Podsakoff et al., 1995].

Some criticisms of SLT state that subordinate task-relevant maturity, which consists of work and psychological maturity, are difficult to measure [Graeff, 1983].  If time is a limitation [for instance in a crisis or transformational event], then accurately assessing the competence or maturity of a group could be problematic [Goodson et al., 1999].  If tasks are urgent, and the situation is dynamic or changing, this adds another level of complexity that SLT might not satisfy [Thompson and Vecchio, 2009; Vroom and Jago, 2007].  It also has little to say about the ethical-moral-trust dimension often cited in the literature, as being the basis for leadership [Bass 1985, Shamir et al, 1993].

The research also seems to suggest that measuring SLT is not easy being dependent on many factors including leader and follower ratings, agreement on terms and outcomes, measurement of behavioral patterns used; and methodologies of measurement [Graeff, 1983].  For example, calibrating the amount of agreement on terms and outcomes, between the manager or leader and their followers, seems to be a key factor in determining the development of the followers [Thompson, 2015].  This makes correlation of outcomes with SLT difficult to measure [Yukl, 2012].

2.3 Transformational Leadership Model:

Since the 1980s, the leadership literature has focused on transformational and charismatic leadership [Yukl 2012].  The Bass Transformational Leadership Theory, has been very influential [Bass, 1985, Yukl 1999] extending other similar models and focusing on how a leader can influence subordinates.  Bass cited trust, honesty, and ethics as being traits of the transformational leader, concluding that the more prevalent these characteristics are, the greater the loyalty the followers have for the leader [Bass, 1985].  In this model, the transformation of followers, occurs due to the exhibited qualities of the leader summarized in the following 4 categories:

  1. Individual consideration, where the leader is a mentor and role model, who teaches and motivates followers.
  2. Intellectual stimulation, where the leader challenges a prevailing order, and also elicits ideas from the followers.
  3. Inspiration by providing a potent vision. This could include charismatic appeal.
  4. Idealized influenced where the leader becomes the main role model, acting out the ideal traits using ethics, trust, honesty, and enthusiasm. [ibid]

Bass also presents a “Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire” or MLQ, which can be considered as a metric to assess leadership factors and how followers are transformed.


Shamir et al 1993 and 2005, built on this model emphasizing ideology, exemplary behavior, a collective identity, and supporting behaviors.  There is similarity between the Bass and Shamir et al. models and overlap in the “individualized consideration”, supportive behaviors, and “idealized influence” areas [Knippenberg & Sim, 2013].

2.4 Critique of the Transformational Model:

Bass’ framework and 4 main ideals, provide a guide to understand aspects of positive-transformational experiences.  From my personal experience and viewpoint, we can make a summary of their utility, which can help my own personal development:

  • Inspirational motivation“, A transformative vision, appears to be necessary for transformational leadership [Benson, 2002].
  • Idealized influence“, relates to character and ethics and are the basis of best practices which permeate culture [Bass, 1985]. These are aligned to business processes, supported by the leader’s own actions [Benson 2002, Shamir & Eilam, 2005].
  • Inspiration” could be considered ‘creative thinking’ along with challenging norms. [Plucknette, 2014; Yukl, 2001]. This would be connected through learning and feedback loops with stakeholders, which refines the undertaking, while creating new ideas [Brockbank, 2002].
  • Individualized consideration“, would indicate a culture of ‘pleasantness’ and having a true concern for the development of the follower [Bass, 1985; Sirkwoo J. et al, 2016].

Some of the research and analysis has indicated a positive correlation in leadership effectiveness in a number of studies [Yukl, 1999]. A strength of the transformational model is that it encourages ‘followers’ to be emotionally invested in the organization and its aspirational objectives, with a strong commitment to success [Graeff, 1983].  Feedback loops and the ability by followers to give positive input are also key concepts within this model [Bass 1985].

This model should generate a positive atmosphere and orientation toward change, adaptability, including demonstrated courage by leader and followers, to achieve transformational goals [Shamir & Eilam, 2005].  In essence this form of leadership is inspirational, and the leader understands the strengths and weaknesses of the followers and assigns them to the right tasks and jobs, whilst challenging them to be the best, and to achieve transformational goals [Yukl, 1999].

There are some problems however, with the Transformational model.  Issues include definitional problems and clarification of what exactly is meant by “transformational leadership”.  Some research embeds charisma inside transformational leadership, whilst other research will not [Graeff, 1983].  Certain dimensions within transformational leadership might also be emphasized over others, leading to difficulties in comparing tests and results [Knippenberg & Sim, 2013].  Bass’ MLQ has also been criticized in its failure to capture empirical uniqueness from other aspects of leadership, and the ‘test effect’ is also a concern, where valid results are denied with subsequent testing, or the test and its categories are known in advance biasing the sampled data [ibid, Yukl, 1999].

As well, Collins in his 5-year research program on transformational leadership cited luck, humility and not being boastful, as characteristics of high performing and transformative leaders [Collins, 2005].  These seem to be somewhat at odds with the Bass model especially as it may relate to charismatic and visionary leadership styles.

Section 3: How the models relate to my personal experience
3.1 Models and their utility:

These two models, in spite of their limitations and lack of consensus-empirical support, are in my view quite useful, and are certainly valuable to understand for my own development.  They both help to clarify aspects of leadership and how a manager or leader can behave in certain situations, in both a task oriented environment [SLT], or a more dynamic, changing environment [Transformational].  In IT there is a long history of literature which has outlined the need for the usage of both models since much in the way of IT development is contingent, but it can also be transformative [Franz, 1985; Nevo et al., 2016].

In personal experiences it appears that leadership at times, can use both situational and transformational ideas [Yukl, 2012].  In my own experience leadership needs to be specific, reacting or adapting to, a certain circumstance, using specific styles and attributes [Benson and Thomas, 2002].  Circumstances and leadership are thereby mutable, and therefore my own leadership must be adaptable [Margolis & Stolz, 2010].

IT and personal development:

In leading IT groups or enterprises, recent studies have indicated that both transformational and situational skills are important [Franz, 1985; Nevo et al., 2016].  However, though interpersonal, technical, and organizational skills have been important for the success of IT professionals in their careers, the relative mix of skills will change, the further up the management hierarchy you go [Kappelman, 2016].

In recent studies CIOs have stated that important leadership skills include: managing human resources, strategic goal setting, collaboration and decision making [mixture of transformational and transactional].  Functional knowledge is of course still vital in IT, but there is a decided shift and emphasis on non-technical skills, the further removed from code development you are, especially for management and directors [Kappelman, 2016].  These study results need to be kept in mind when assessing my personal gaps [reflection journal], and leadership-skills improvement plan.

This seems to be consistent with some views on leadership, which emphasize influencing processes and followers, which could entail transactional-inspirational management techniques:

“Leadership is largely about exerting influence in a manner that encourages others to follow to a desired outcome.“ [Pochron, 2009:1]

Section 4:  Conclusion

Both SLT and Transformational leadership theories have merit, if used in the right situation and circumstances.  Both theories suffer from deficiencies as outlined above. However, both do offer valuable insights.

In my view, SLT can be useful in task oriented processes, within a well understood and slowly changing environment.  Changing leadership patterns to suit follower capability and maturity, to accomplish goals, is thus a sensible approach [Wolper, 2016].

In times of flux and crises, transformational styles can be used.  A coherent vision, creative thinking, aligning resources to resolve issues or take advantage of opportunities seems to be a sensible approach in this use case [Benson, 2015].  Transactional management can still be used with individualized consideration, but the emphasis is on inspiration and motivation.

Combining both models into an integrative framework, including the use of ethics and behavioral traits such as integrity, pleasantness, courage, honesty and listening; seems to be a sensible approach and provides a reasonable guide and template for myself, and my personal development.


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