Leaders operate in many different capacities. Bass (2008) describes the evolution of identifying leadership functions from early simplifications such as “planners”, “organizers” and “controllers” to descriptions that include over 66 leadership roles. Tom Peters (2003) concludes his bold writing on leadership excellence with 50 functions that leaders fulfill. Leadership styles are equally diverse. Bass (2008) refers to leadership styles as “ways that leaders and managers pattern their interactive behavior with those they influence” (p. 41). This writing will first examine manager vs. leader roles and then transformational leadership vs. transactional leadership styles.
One way to view the topic of leadership roles is to distinguish between the functions of managers and leaders. The management role is focused on the present and making sure things get done efficiently and properly whereas leadership can be described as being more concerned with vision, growth, inspiration, and planning what is to come. Addis (2008) writes, “Managing is about stewardship, control, planning, organizing, resource allocation and problem solving. Leading is the process of influencing others to achieve mutually agreed upon goals for the good of the organization” (p. 230).
Both of these roles are concerned with the ultimate achievement of shared goals and are required in functional organizations. As an artist with some well-developed abilities to imagine possibilities and inspire creativity, this writer has failed miserably in organizational settings when not partnered with a true manager who revels in the day-to-day details. Conversely, a former colleague and co-director (or manager) of a non-profit could be heard whistling merrily as she juggled the numbers (her favorite activity) for our successful community service project.
The transactional leadership style is different from the transformational leadership style in much the same way. Transactional leaders focus on the material outcomes and transformational leaders are more interested in inspiration, vision, idealism, and challenge to the status quo (Bass, 2008, p, 42). Transactional leaders sometimes operate on a reward and punishment model to accomplish tasks. An example might be the politician who is a master at making deals. On the other hand, an example of a transformational leader is Lou Gerstner – retired Chairman and CEO of IBM. He turned IBM around from an $8.1 billion loss in 1993 after identifying part of the company’s problem as ‘success syndrome’. That is, having been one of the greatest commercial institutions on earth from the 1960s-1980s, IBM had become insular and rigid. Gerstner completely transformed the culture of the organization through, for example, modeling desired behavior and abolishing IBM’s notorious dress code to reflect better the attire of their customers (Sheppard, 2002). This style relies on a different set of motivational techniques than the more Pavlovian transactional style.
Most leader’s roles and styles operate on a continuum depending on the situation, and the full range of abilities is required for long-term success. Whether as an internal personality function or through partnering, the visionary leader needs the task-focused manager—practical transactional leadership needs the skills of inspirational transformational leadership.
Addis, S. (2008). Leading vs. managing. Rough Notes, 151(9), 230-233. Retrieved October 13, 2009, from ABI/INFORM Global.
Bass, B. M. (2008). The Bass handbook of leadership: Theory, research, and managerial applications (4th ed.). New York: Free Press.
Peters, T. (2003). Re-imagine! Business excellence in a disruptive age. London: Dorling Kindersley.
Sheppard, P. (2002). Leading the turnaround: Lou Gerstner of IBM. Wharton Leadership Digest 7(5).