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Transactional vs. Transformational Leadership: Pick Your Style!

written by: Kristina Dems•edited by: Linda Richter•updated: 1/13/2011

Transactional vs. transformational leadership styles have long caused a raging debate. Which is the more effective leadership style? Read on and find out.

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    Leadership Styles

    FreeDigitalPhotos.net, (Man Standing Out from the Crowd) by JSCreationzs The success of an organization usually relies on the effective management of its leader. Any organization would never succeed without an effective and inspiring leader who can motivate his or her followers to work toward the accomplishment of the group’s vision. Through the years, academicians have pitted two leadership styles--transactional leadership and transformational leadership. The debate on transactional vs. transformational leadership has raged on years after James McGregor Burns published his leadership book that first introduced the said concepts.

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    Transactional Leadership

    Transactional leadership is defined as the influence of a leader toward his subordinates using reward and punishment as a form of motivational medium. The style is based on the concept that a leader has to give something to his followers in exchange for performing certain tasks. In this style, a leader may offer something valuable like increased salary, incentives, and promotion to his subordinate, who in turn is expected to fulfill his or her duties well. Otherwise, the leader provides his subordinate less future opportunity and incentive or may use a demotion as a form of punishment for not projecting a good performance. Unlike the rewards, punishment is not often mentioned ahead, but subordinates already have the general idea as it is usually stated and agreed in the terms and conditions of the organization to successfully achieve its goals.

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    Strengths and Weaknesses

    The advantage of transactional leadership is that it clearly defines the roles and expectations from the leader and the followers. The style also ensures that the culture within an organization is maintained, with the rules strictly followed as well as the behavioral norms. On the other hand, the transactional leadership style means that failure to deliver the expected output can result in consequences like reduction of pay, absence of bonuses, or--the worse: dismissal. Simply put, this leadership style is a very direct, in-your-face approach, with the leader expecting results from his followers who in turn must deliver unless they want to suffer the consequences.

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    Transformational Leadership

    On the other hand is the transformational leadership model in which the leader works as a model and a motivator, encouraging the followers to work not because of an exchange of value but for the love of their work. The transformational leader encourages his followers to love their craft and value their own input, making a positive change toward being future leaders. This leadership style presents a leader who inspires followers; knows his followers by strengths and weakness to assign them to the right job; and challenges them to work at their best in their field of expertise.

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    Pros and Cons

    There are pros and cons of transformational leadership. It has been proven to be effective in the long run as it instills a positive mindset in followers. It is particularly effective during crises such as economic difficulties that hamper the growth of a particular organization. On the other hand, transformational leadership has its shortcomings like draining personnel when not properly used or assigned to the right position.

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    Which is Better?

    There is no clear winner in the transactional vs. transformational leadership debate. Most leadership experts suggest that the two leadership styles are incorporated by supervisors and leaders. A transformational leader should be directive or transactional whenever the situation requires it. Even great leaders like Churchill recognize the need to be directive and transformational in certain situations.

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    References

    Leadership Champions, Wordpress blog, at http://leadershipchamps.wordpress.com/2008/08/04/transactional-leadership-vs-transformational-leadership/

    Changing Minds.org, at http://changingminds.org/disciplines/leadership/styles/transactional_leadership.htm

    Changing Minds.org at http://changingminds.org/disciplines/leadership/styles/transformational_leadership.htm

    Image Credit: FreeDigitalPhotos.net, Man Standing Out from the Crowd by JSCreationzs