Transformational leadership theory is accepted in academia as legitimate due to sufficient research data. Bass (1994) distinguishes four factors that characterize this theory including: idealized influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, and individualized consideration. Transformational leaders integrate creative insight, persistence and energy, intuition and sensitivity to the needs of others to “forge the strategy culture alloy” for their organizations (p. 542).
There is little mention of introspection, genuineness, or emotional maturity as part of the transformational leader’s attributes, but some tangentially associated leadership theories point to these skills (or states of being) as central to being a credible and effective transformational change agent. A few of these theories include authentic leadership theory, servant leadership theory, reflective leadership theory, and emotional intelligence theory. Landy and Conte (2007) refer to authentic leadership as being “…added to the discussion of transformational leadership” (p. 522). Authentic leadership is distinguished by relational transparency and emotional balance. Walumbwa, et al., (2008) further present research results that show that employees are more engaged at work under this style of leadership because they feel “…supported, recognized, and developed by their managers” (p. 122).
Among a list of attributes that resemble transformational leadership theory, Spears (2009) identifies the following skills as primary in servant leadership: listening, empathy, healing, and awareness (p. 20). Closely related to servant leadership theory is reflective leadership theory. This type of leader has “awareness of thoughts and feelings to gain more complete views, new paradigms of thought, and other new perspectives leading to more effective action”(Welch, 1998, p. 3).
Another important theory is emotional intelligence. Landy and Conte (2007) grudgingly mentions the concept referring to the minimal amount of empirical data and dismissing the concept as “…occupying a minor role in predicting work success” (p. 110). Alternatively, Goleman (1995) describes emotional intelligence (or EQ as opposed to IQ) as highly correlated to performance, and presents the following data:
- Research on 181 jobs at 121 companies worldwide showed that two out of three abilities vital for success were emotional competencies such as trustworthiness, adaptability and a talent for collaboration.
- According to a study of what corporations seek when they hire MBAs, the three most desired capabilities are the EQ elements of communication skills, interpersonal skills and initiative.
- Emotional intelligence matters in surprising places such as computer programming, where the top 10% of performers exceeded average performers in producing effective programs by 320%, and the superstars at the 1% level produced an amazing 1,272% more than average. Assessments of these top performers revealed that they were better at such things as teamwork, staying late to finish a project and sharing shortcuts with coworkers. In short, the best performers didn’t compete — they collaborated.
- Studies of close to 500 organizations worldwide indicate that people who score highest on EQ measures rise to the top of corporations. Among other things, these “star employees” possess more interpersonal skills and confidence than “regular employees” who receive less favorable performance reviews.
The absence of acceptance of theories that value emotion and authenticity is understandable both in academia and in organizations. Acceptance of our emotions involves sometimes painful awareness that the intellectual academic environment avoids like a plague, and the achievement-oriented business world views as a time-wasting annoyance. Transformational leadership theory, however, points to the high success of leaders who are able to model congruent behavior therefore engendering trust. But the absence of an explanation related to how these leaders developed “transformational” abilities is conspicuous and may be contained in these associated theories.
Carl Jung (1966) offers a glimpse into the true root of transformational leadership, writing, “We do not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by calling the darkness into consciousness” (p. 129). In this unique time in history when a cascade of prominent business leaders have been toppled by their lack of consciousness, there may be a small crack in academic and organizational rigidity allowing the exploration of the inner path to enlightenment toward true mature leadership.
Bass, B. M. (2008). The Bass handbook of leadership: Theory, research, and managerial applications (4th ed.). New York: Free Press.
Bass, B. M., Avolio, B. J. (1994). Transformational leadership and organizational culture. International Journal of Public Administration, 17, 541-554.
Jung, C. (1966) Two Essays in Analytical Psychology. Princeton University Press.
Landy, F. J., & Conte, J. M. (2007). Work in the 21st century: An introduction to industrial and organizational psychology (2nd ed.). Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.
Spears, L.. (2009). Servant leadership. Leadership Excellence, 26(5), 20-31). Retrieved October 22, 2009, from ABI/INFORM Global.
Walumbwa, F. O., Avolio, B. J., Gardner, W. L., Wernsing, T. S., & Peterson, S. J. (2008). Authentic leadership: Development and validation of a theory-based measure. Journal of Management, 34, 89-126.\
Welch, D. V. (1998). Reflective leadership: The stories of five leaders successfully building generative organizational culture. Ph.D. dissertation, The Union Institute, United States, Ohio.