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Management & Leadership

Redefining leadership styles in a fast-changing world

eye 262 Published on 27 Jun. 2023
tag ##ManagementLeadership

Nearly 10,000 studies have looked at leadership, but the definition is still elusive. However, we can agree that leadership is more than just a title, it is a skill that can be cultivated.
It is a dynamic process that inspires and influences individuals to work towards a common goal.

Leadership can be categorised into different styles. The origin of leadership styles is generally attributed to the American economic psychologist, Bernard M. Bass, who was inspired by the work of James M. Burns (1). These researchers have notably established and differentiated two styles of leaderships: the transactional and the transformational leadership. Even if other researchers oppose this viewpoint, it remains a fact that both leadership styles are classified  as constructive styles of leadership, as opposed to destructive styles. They are called constructive styles because they have a positive impact on their objectives in serving the interests of the group and siming towards fulfilling a shared mission.

That being said, these two styles have differences in their approaches.

The transactional style

This is a classic leadership style built on the theory of social exchange. It is based on “give-and-take” relationships, where an exchange takes place between the leader and the collaborator. These exchanges can be of two types: either a payment against contribution, giving the employee the promised reward if they work well, or punishment if there is a counter-production, where the errors they make are penalised.

This style of leadership is by far the most encountered in today’s workplace. Its popularity is probably due to the explicitness of requests and the ease of control over the work carried out. Its implementation is just as simple since the mobilisation of employees is essentially based on this reward-punishment system in order to achieve objectives defined in advance. This mode of operation makes the employees evolve in a very structured environment with rules defined by the hierarchy that must be respected.

However, this reward-punishment system has its limits. If, in the short term, the objectives are achieved, in the long term, the results are disappointing. The consequences of this leadership style show the lack of commitment of employees and highlight frustrations about the possibilities of independent thinking, going beyond what they have been assigned, and showing initiative and creativity. Like the stick and the carrot, the employee does what they must do to be rewarded, and lacks the motivation to do more if the consequences are not defined in the initial exchange. This level of motivation, which is more extrinsic, is limiting and can make you lose the purpose of work.


The transformational style

This style goes beyond a simple transactional relationship and aims to transform employees into collaborators driven by a desire to excel. If the transactional leader expects the assigned objectives to be achieved, the transformational leader seeks to go beyond that by motivating everyone to surpass themselves.

In this model, leaders work hand in hand with their employees to carry out missions and drive the necessary changes within the organisation. Rather than giving instructions, these leaders place their employees at the heart of the action, and actively involve them in defining the best strategies to adopt. This high level of autonomy granted to employees and their involvement in defining missions not only gives them a sense of responsibility, but also stimulates their motivation and sense of ethics.

This style of leadership, which is more rooted in people and their development, is still largely overwhelmed by the transactional style. Given the current changes in the world of work, leaders would do well to move away from the transactional style and adopt a more modern, more human style, with a more unifying vision of the future.

Discover in our ebook how transformational leadership works and the qualities required to put it into action.

 (1)The impact of James Burns' leadership  : Bernard m Bass - December 1993 in "The Leadership Quarterly
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