Charismatic and Transformational Leadership Research Paper

Charismatic and Transformational Leadership Research Paper

Within the scope of this research, we will explain the charismatic and transformational leadership models. The scientific study of leadership originated in the work of one of the founding fathers of sociology, Max Weber (1864-1920). Weber formulated three “ideal-types” of leadership: the rational-legal, the rational-authoritarian, and the charismatic. (Bass, 1996) The charismatic leader was the most unusual of the three, and the only one, Weber thought, who might counter the dispiriting effects of life in an overly bureaucratic and rationalistic world, what he called the “iron cage” of modernity. Indeed, it was Weber’s fondest hope that such a leader, endowed with extraordinary, even superhuman, qualities, might be able to instill in his followers a sense of mission and moral purpose that a thoroughly demystified society no longer provides.

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The notion of charismatic authority was espoused in different form by Weber’s contemporary, Georg Simmel (1858-1918), a lecturer in philosophy at the Humboldt University of Berlin. A pioneer in the study of social interaction, Simmel postulated the existence of a “prestige leader” who commands obedience by dint of unique personal qualities.

(Yammarino, 1993) Even more than Weber, Simmel stressed that the prestige leader could be understood only in the context of the intimate relationship between the leader and follower. By refusing to appeal to the base instincts that united them and by transforming their expectations of leadership, said Simmel, a leader could create a new kind of reality for his followers.

Though different elements of Weber’s (and Simmel’s) ideas have informed each stage of the study of leadership, the one constant running through the field’s history has been the urge to fashion typologies. Indeed, the scientific study of leadership itself can be divided into three phases. In the first, from the turn of the century to World War II, researchers set about identifying the traits of leaders in an attempt to demystify charisma itself. The second phase, which lasted from World War II until around 1970, focused on the behavior of leaders. The thud and current phase centers on the interaction between leaders and followers. (Yukl, 2005)

The first phase began promisingly enough. In an effort to identify the charismatic traits that leaders presumably possess, researchers such as Charles M. Cox, a finance professor at Brigham Young University, carried out a battery of tests designed to measure personality and character. These tests examined qualities such as the intelligence, physical appearance, dynamism, and speaking skills of exceptional leaders. (Yammarino, 1993) Many researchers looked for leadership traits among school children. Not too startlingly, the studies revealed that the traits correlating most significantly with leadership were originality, judgment, liveliness, and the desire to excel.

Without question the most important review of the traits field was conducted in 1948 by Ralph Stogdill, a professor of management science and psychology at Ohio State University. After examining 120 trait studies, this diligent social scientist declared that no consistent pattern of traits could be detected among leaders. “A person does not become a leader by virtue of the possession of some combination of traits,” Stogdill concluded, “but the pattern of personal characteristics of the leader must bear some relevant relationship to the characteristics, activities, and goals of the followers.” (Bass, 1996)

Even before Stogdill’s conclusions were presented, the leadership field had begun to turn from identifying traits to examining the behavior of leaders. Other theorists of leadership contended that two types of behavior marked successful leaders. One was oriented toward the accomplishment of tasks; the other toward good relations with employees. (Yammarino, 1993) Employees might designate a task-oriented individual as a leader, but they never termed an exclusively employee-oriented one as such. Under Stogdill’s direction, a number of studies carried out at Ohio State disclosed that the effective leader would not only show consideration for his subordinates but also supply them with the tools to complete their tasks.

The third phase of leadership studies has attempted to examine those categories more closely, focusing on what might be called the “transactional” and “transformational” approaches. In the early 1970s, Edwin P. Hollander, a professor of psychology at Baruch College, employed the term “idiosyncrasy credit” to stand for the freedom that members of a group were granted to act idiosyncratically. (Yammarino, 1993) The stress on transformational and transactional styles was crystallized by the distinguished political scientist, James MacGregor Burns.

Burns’s massive study Leadership (1978) has, in fact, become the Rosetta Stone of recent leadership studies. Drawing on a wide range of historical examples and figures, from William Lloyd Garrison to Sir Robert Peel to Franklin Roosevelt, Burns offered an ambitious meditation on the nature of leadership, one that returned to Weber’s and Simmel’s emphasis on the leader-follower nexus. Unquestionably, Burns’s most important insight was to draw a distinction between transformational and transactional leadership. (Bass, 1996)

Where transactional leadership is merely a version of managerialism that appeals to the economic self-interest of followers, transformational leadership alters the expectations of followers. Like Simmel and Weber, Burns contends that leaders can elevate their followers to new levels of morality and rectitude: “Moral leadership emerges from, and always returns to, the fundamental wants and needs, aspirations and values of followers.” (Posner, 1993)

The current generation of leadership theorists has not been slow to attempt to turn Burns’s emphasis on the ineffable qualities of leadership into a measurable theory – or even to challenge it. Prominent among these challengers is Bernard Bass, a student of Stogdill’s and a professor of organizational behavior at the State University of New York, Binghamton. The author of numerous books, including Leadership, Psychology and Organizational Behavior (1960) and Leadership and Performance Beyond Expectations (1985), Bass contends that Bums created a wholly artificial distinction between transactional and transformational leaders. Far from being antithetical, the two types of leadership can exist in the same person. Leaders such as Charles de Gaulle, Franklin Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson displayed varying degrees of transactional and transformational qualities. By the same token, Bass points out, a leader may exhibit neither set of qualities.

In an attempt to refine further the understanding of transformational leadership, Marshall Sashkin, an adjunct professor at George Washington University, has devised a “Visionary Leadership Theory” to take account not only of the practices of leaders but also of the effect of their behavior on the culture of an organization. Sashkin argues that followers are transformed because they internalize the values of the organization. The task of the leader is to disseminate the organizations principles and to enunciate the values that animate the organization. (Yukl, 2005) The ultimate paradox, Sashkin finds, is that the effective transformational leader can employ a managerial approach in order to transform his followers.

Perhaps the most successful promoter of the transformational model in the business world is Warren Bennis, professor of management at the University of Southern California. Despite successive adoptions of new approaches to the question of authority, the field of leadership studies has remained hobbled by its epistemological commitments. The scientific quest for a generic model of leadership can take one only so far. Employing factor analysis to quantify leadership and focusing so minutely on the qualities of leadership, the field repeatedly loses sight of the one of the principal reasons for its subject’s essentially unpredictable nature – the environment in which leaders function. Or, to put it another way, leadership studies lacks an adequate concern for context, historical or situational.

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