The future of leadership Theory

Research on leadership behavior is moving in many directions. In this article, we will look at transformational or charismatic leadership and a recent revival of the behavioral approach. Then we will look at two challenges to our traditional ideas of leadership. One challenge casts a skeptical eye on the leader’s personality, while another raises questions about the way followers see their leaders. A final challenge comes, where we discuss self managed groups and whether leaders are really necessary.

Transformational or Charismatic Leadership:

One area of growing interest is the study of individuals who have an exceptional impact on their organizations. These individuals may be called charismatic or transformational leaders. The recent interest in such transformational leaders stems from at least two sources. First, many large companies including such giants as AT&T, IBM, and GM have embarked on organizational transformations, programs of extensive changes that must be accomplished in short periods of time. Such transformations, it has been argued, require transformational leader. Second, many feel that by concentrating on traits, behaviors and situations, leadership theory has lost sight of the leader. The visibility of a business leader like Lee Iacocca or a military figure like General Norman Schwartzkopf reminds us that some leaders seem to have personal characteristics that do make a difference but are not accounted for by existing theories.

Bass’s Theory of Transformational Leadership:

In his explorations of the concept of transformational leadership, Bernard M Bass has contrasted two types of leadership behaviors: transactional and transformational. Transactional leaders determine what employees need to do to achieve their own and organizational objectives, classify those requirements, and help employees become confident they can reach their objectives by expending the necessary efforts. In contrast, transformational leaders motivate us to do more than we originally expected to do by raising our sense of the importance and value of our tasks, by getting us to transcend our own self interests for the sake of the higher order needs, such as self actualization.

Much of the leadership theory that we have discussed in this article fits Bass’s transactional category reasonably well, and Bass argues that such theory is useful helpful, as far as it goes. However, to be fully effective and to have a major impact on their organizations leaders need to use their personal vision and energy to inspire their followers.

House’s theory of Charismatic:

Although the transformational leadership concept dates back at least to Max Weber’s discussion of charismatic leaders in the first decades of the century the concept received relatively little research attention until recently. One of the notable early contributions to systematic analysis of the subject is Robert J House’s theory of charismatic leadership.

House’s theory suggests that charismatic leaders have very high levels of referent power and that some of the power comes from their need to influence others. The charismatic leader has extremely high levels of self confidence, dominance, and a strong conviction in the oral righteousness of his/her beliefs or at least the ability to convince followers that he or she possesses such confidence and conviction. House suggests that charismatic leaders communicate a vision or higher level (transcendent) goal that captures the commitment and energy of followers. They are careful to create an image of success and competence and to exemplify in their own behavior the value they espouse. They also communicate high expectations for followers and confidence that followers will perform up to those expectations.

One aspect of House’s theory that is likely to receive careful attention is the type of vision transformational leaders and their followers pursue. Though the names and deeds of Winston Churchill, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King are stirring House and others are well aware that the ability to inspire great commitment, sacrifice, and energy is no guarantee that the cause or vision is a worthwhile one. Adolf Hitler was also known for his charisma and for the tragedies his leadership brought to his followers and others. Transformational leaders may possess great potential for revitalizing declining institutions and helping individual find meaning and excitement in their work lives, but they can pose great dangers if their goals and values are opposed to the basic tents of civilized society.

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