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Running head: TRANSFORMATIONAL LEADERSHIP THEORY 1

Transformational Leadership Theory: A Deconstruction and Reconstruction

Patrick D. Randolph

Loyola University Chicago


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Leadership is a living and breathing, ever evolving organism needing to be studied to

better understand it. We also need to constantly question how to utilize leadership along with

how to make it better. In the following paper, I will deconstruct transformational leadership

theory (TLT), reconstruct it, then apply it to a real case study in hopes of gaining a better insight

of the case as well as leadership theories as a whole.

Synthesis

TLT has been one of the most researched leadership theories since its conception in the

early 1970s. It emerged as an essential leadership theory after a classic work (Northouse,

2015, p 162) titled Leadership by political sociologist James MacGregor Burns in 1978. TLT

acts as an expansive approach taking into account the emotions, values, ethics, standards, and

long-term goals (Northouse, 2016, p 161) of both leader and follower. Transformational leaders

are charismatic, have a vision for the future of their organization, are able to create strong

relationships with their followers, act as role models, and empower their followers to succeed

beyond previous expectations (Northouse, 2015).

Bernard M. Bass provided a more expanded and refined version (Northouse, 2015, p

166) of this idea of transformational leadership in 1985. In his new model, Bass (1985) included

transactional leadership and laissez-farie leadership on a spectrum with transformational

leadership. Transactional leadership is defined by clear expectations for followers; if these

expectations are met, followers are rewarded. Laissez-Faire describes a hands-off approach to

leadership; many see laissez-faire as the absence of leadership. In Bass (1985) model,

transformational leadership is deemed most effective, followed by transactional, with laissez-

faire being the least effective. Bass also successfully breaks transformational leadership into

four important factors: idealized influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, and
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individualized consideration. These four factors can be seen as the essentials to transformative

leadership (Bass, 1985).

The first factor is idealized influence but also is referred to as charisma. It describes the

emotional attachment followers feel towards leaders who they deem are great role models.

Charismatic leadership, developed in 1976 by Robert J. House, is synonymous with

transformational leadership. (Northouse, 2015). Charismatic leadership theory captures the

idea that leaders have unique attributes and act in a certain way to influence their followers. The

attributes, as named by House (1976), are dominance, self-confidence, a desire to influence

others, and strong moral values. Additionally, a charismatic leader is a strong role model, is a

competent worker, has a vision and goals for an organization while also setting high

expectations, exhibits confidence, and motivates their followers (House, 1976); all of which is

very similar to TLT.

The second factor is inspirational motivation. As the name implies, this factor describes

leaders who can communicate high expectations to followers and motivate them to become

committed to and apart of the shared vision. (Northouse, 2015, p 169) Thirdly, there is

intellectual stimulation. This encourages leaders to challenge followers to be creative and

inventive with complex problems while also challenging their personal beliefs. Fourth and

finally is the factor of individualized consideration. Individualized consideration describes the

dyadic aspects of transformational leadership, touching upon how a transformational leader must

coach their followers towards higher level thinking and self-awareness. (Northouse, 2015)

While TLT does have valid practices, such as developing strong connections with

followers, creating a shared vision for the organization, encouraging others to think creativily,
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and empowering others to go beyond expectations , this theory does have fundamental flaws that

must be broken down and reconstructed.

Deconstruction

First, transformational leadership tends to focus on the leaders impact on the followers

and never the inverse. This creates a contaminated flow of power which is not named or

addressed within the theory itself. Also, the idea of being charismatic as a necessity for creating

vital leader follower relationships disqualifies many people from assuming the role of leader. It

may also only only attract certain types of followers (Dugan, 2016). These are real concerns that

could cause transformational leadership to be a detriment to the leader and those operating in the

system created by the transformational leader.

In transformational leadership, power seems to only come from the person who is acting

as leader. As stated by Dugan (2016) theories seem to either presume a basis of authority from

which a leader operates or ignore the concept all together. (p 3) It seems TLT has fallen into this

very trap and can only be enacted with the assumption of authority. The idea of creating a shared

vision for an organization is one place this assumption of authority privileges can be seen. When

setting long-term goals, the organizational authority will have the final say on goals for the entire

group, regardless of input from individual members of the organization. So while you may offer

your thoughts and ideas, unless you have authority, you cannot create the vision for the

organization. This can again be seen in the notion that transformational leadership requires that

leaders become social architects. This means that they make clear the emerging values and

norms of the organization. (Northouse, 2015, p 176) Once again, to be the creator of norms

within organizations, it requires power and or authority. This could also be problematic as it may

stifle your followers abilities to challenge processes because they were created or finalized by
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someone in a position of authority. Further more, when analyzing charisma on a flow of power

spectrum, there is language to suggest power flows from the top down. House (1976) uses the

word dominant to describe how a leader should carry themselves. Also, the effect on the

follower when using charismatic traits is described as enthusiastically give unquestioned

obedience, loyalty, commitment and devotion. (House, 1976, p 6) This language sounds more

consistent with a leader manipulating followers rather than creating an environment of

encouragement and contributions. Finally, almost all of the research Northhouse (2016)

highlights in their chapter on TLT focuses on how TLT effects the followers and the outcomes

resulted from the implementation of TLT. A gap in the research can be found when studying how

implementing transformational leadership effects the leader. The theory places the leader and

follower as bound together in the transformation process (Northhouse 2016, p 162) but never

explores the way the leader is also transformed. This gap again draws attention to a flow of

power dynamic, where the power is always flowing from the leader to the followers. All of this

leads me to believe there is a large unnamed power dynamic within TLT.

TLT requires the implementer to have an almost ineffable quality, defined here as

charisma. As stated before, charisma is used to establish the emotional aspect of the leader-

follower relationship. House (1976) defined characteristics of charisma as dominant, a desire to

influence, self-confident, and strong moral values. While these characteristics may sound

positive, this trait based leadership may cause transformational leadership to be unobtainable for

some and off-putting for others. Through research done by Ayman and Korabik (2010), we see

transformational leaders are perceived differently depending on gender identity. They found the

higher womens transformational behavior was in terms of intellectual stimulation and

individualized consideration, the less effective their men, but not their women, subordinates
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thought they were as leaders. (p 164) While implementing these same charismatic traits,

womans leadership does not receive the same reception as that of mens. Ayman and Korabik

(2010) also touched upon when women leaders adopt stereotypically masculine leadership

behaviors, are in male-dominated settings, or are evaluated by men (p 164) they are at a high

risk of being rated negatively. This is clearly an issue with the underlying core beliefs that

fundamentally inform [the] theory. (Dugan 2017, p 11) Something we may be able to infer is, if

gender identity effects how a person can implement TLT, other identities and the intersectionality

of those identities could also play a part in implementing TLT. With this knowledge, you must

also analyze the idea of transformational leaders being excellent role models. In studies done by

Lockwood and Kunda (1997), they found that role models are chosen when there is some sort of

similarity, such as race or gender between the mentor and mentee. They also found people

choose role models that represent obtainable success; seeing someone who identifies like you

reaching what you deem as success is a powerful motivator and gives a person hope (as cited in

Singh, Vinnicombe, and James, 2006). Knowing TLT does not necessarily work for women or

possibly other marginalized identities, we risk only giving leadership roles to white men. If that

perpetuation continues, we will attract an uneven amount of similar followers, continuing the

cycle.

These two deconstructions display TLT does have areas that need to be revaluated.

Aspects such as encouraging creativity, praising accomplishments, treating followers as an entire

person, care for the whole person, and inspiring people to do more than they thought capable

should all be kept within TLT. But without this vital reconstruction, the theory can perpetuate

hegemonic norms and create an environment where everyone cannot flourish.


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Reconstruction

The key to reconstructing TLT is actively naming the top-down power dynamic while

also actively combating the notion of charisma as a necessity to effective leadership. This

involves the leader attempting to give up a lot of their power through inclusion and creating an

authentic environment where all abilities and traits are valued.

Using three specific tools of reconstruction, we can address the issues we have found in

TLT; these tools include: attending to power, cultivating agency and disrupting normativity

(Dugan, 2016, p 12-13). Attending to power is the practice of figuring out how a theory uses

power and actively attempts to redistribute it to make the theory just (Dugan, 2016). Cultivating

agency will be used hand-in-hand with attending to power. It is an attempt to make sure

followers feel as if they have the ability to make change within the organization. Lastly,

disrupting norms is simply challenging hegemonic norms when possible. Using these tools, I

would reconstruct TLT by inserting the following propositions: explicitly name the power and

authority held by the transformational leader. Then, use inclusion in an attempt to break down

that power dynamic and invite all to have agency. Finally, continuously disrupt the idea of

charisma as traits one must emulate to be a leader.

The first proposition is an attempt to break down the power dynamic and truly have an

environment created by the whole group. The first step is explicitly naming this power dynamic,

especially if you are in a position of power or authority. If a person in an authority position

names this power dynamic to all of their followers it would be a strong statement moving

forward. Followers may be more comfortable challenging the system if they know their ideas

will truly be taken into account and there is little chance of punishment when they voice their

concerns in a respectful way.


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The second proposition, breaking down power dynamics with inclusion, acknowledges

people are socialized to a system where challenging authority should not be the the norm. As

Dugan (2016) discusses, people are socialized in a top-down dynamic of power; they may

actively sabotage themselves due to fear of being equal. In an attempt to give agency to

followers, the leader must use the ideals of inclusion. Katz and Miller (1996) saw inclusion as

the practice of embracing and using differences as opportunities for added value and

competitive advantages in teamwork, product quality, and work output. In addition, Ferdman

and Brody (1996) describe how inclusion implies not only eliminating barriers to opportunity

based on group differences but also supporting every individual to reach her or his full

potential ...without requiring assimilation." (as cited in Ferdman & Dean, 2014, p 25) The

implementation of inclusion attempts to give agency to all within the group. Naming the power

dynamic and actively including group members is a way of addressing the flow of power and

also giving the group members the chance to influence the leader, something explicitly stated as

an important facet of TLT.

The final proposition is a simply addressing the importance of disrupting the hegemonic

norm of a leader having certain traits which cannot be learned. As stated before, if we accept

charisma as the only factor of a successful leader, we will continue to take away opportunities to

those who have been deemed as uncharismatic. Kouzes and Posner (2007) did an admirable job

of trying to remove charisma from transformational leadership with their five practices of

exemplary leadership, but even they used hegemonic norms when siting credibility and inspiring

as the foundation of leadership. If the leader can help people see there is no one type of leader or

leadership, it will again empower people in the group to strive for leader roles they may have

thought they were not qualified for.


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Using this reconstructed theory, we can then attempt to apply it to real world applications.

In the following paragraphs, we will be examining a case study using this reconstructed theory.

Analysis of Case Study

Dr. Raymond Nguyen seems to be enacting TLT in a negative and self-serving manner;

this is commonly known as pseudo-transformational leadership. Nguyen is manipulating workers

into agreeing with his vision, negatively effecting employees in the office by modeling bad

habits, and actively shutting down creative thought; he overall does not seem to be developing

good relationships with his followers. All of these concerns can be addressed by correcting Dr.

Nguyens understanding of TLT and applying the newly reconstructed propositions.

Nguyen seems to use manipulation with the goal of convincing followers to accept his

new vision, even though it does not align with the mission given to the department by the Vice

President. It is clear Nguyen has a problem when wielding his power and authority. Instead of

creating strong relationships with all of his staff members, Nguyen has created in-groups. He

then uses those in-groups to give agency to those who agree with him, and revoke agency from

those who do not. This can be seen when Nguyen reassigns the previous Assistant Director to be

less visible in the institution due to his mistrust of the previous leadership. He also takes away

agency in the case of the new hire who suggested perhaps they should re-examine the

presidents charge and better align with it. She later reverses her opinion to agree with Nguyen,

while she appears to yield less influence during the next semester. While this is the opposite of

what TLT preaches, when words such as dominant, obedience, and unquestioning followers

(House, 1976, Northouse, 2015) are used to describe parts of charisma related to TLT, it is easy

to see where someone can use these aspects in a negative manner. I am reminded of the Paulo

Freire (1970) quote Leaders who do not act dialogically, but insist on imposing their decisions,
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do not organize the people--they manipulate them. (as cited in Dugan 2016, p 1) Nguyen also

has created in and out groups within his organization similar to those described in the leader-

member exchange theory (Northouse, 2015). Nguyen and his new hires seem to have

information others in the department do not and when asked to share that information, he insists

it is not important or the information will be shared later. This has caused the out group to

become increasingly less excited about the organizational transformation. These pieces of

evidence show Nguyen is not acting as a transformational leader.

Using the reconstructed TLT, the first step for Dr. Nguyen is to incorporate inclusion.

When including people Ferdman and Berra (2009) noted followers will feel safe, trusted,

accepted, respected, supported, valued, fulfilled, engaged, and authentic in their working

environment (as cited in Ferdman & Deane 2014, p 24) By including the followers in his

department, he would start to build a cohesive team. Nguyen should also develop relationships

with all of the people in his department and show a true interest in them as a whole person. He

can use those relationships to learn about the goals of his workers and their vision for the office.

As he learns the thoughts of his colleagues, Nguyen could then discuss these visions in a large

staff meeting. Raymond should address his power and authority in the space and do his best to

give agency back to the workers through owning his abuse of power. Admitting his short-

comings would also help to heal wounds from his past transgressions. Once he has redefined the

power dynamic, he can start to help foster the conversation of a shared vision and include all

those in the office with goals moving forward. After the shared mission and long term goals are

established, Nguyen can start to encourage his workers to go beyond their expectations through

specifically encouraging them to take leadership roles in and out of the department. By
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encouraging self-reflection, self-actualization, and his followers to take on leadership positions,

Raymond will be fighting the hegemonic norms of charisma he himself had perpetuated.

Helping Raymond to realize his mistakes and how to correct them would be, in its own

right, an example of transformational leadership created by the Vice President. Tierney (1989)

wrote:

The central aspect of transformational leadership is that the actions of the leader are

moral and they empower followers to take control of their lives. The comment by one

speaker who said, "We need someone who will lead by letting us lead," and another

individual who said, "We are all expected to lead," again highlights the culture of an

organization that sets the stage for transformational leadership. (p 172)

This culture is crucial for transformational leadership to thrive. This is the necessary objective of

the Vice President in moving forward.

Conclusion

The Vice President seems to have a larger cultural hurdle on her hands. Nguyen seems to

have negatively impacted the culture of his department and other departments in the division; all

the while, students realize they are not getting the support they need. I would not fault the Vice

President for dismissing Nguyen from his position, but I think a more developmental approach

would go a long way in modeling the way to use a term from Kouzes and Posner (2007). As

the Vice President, I would suggest discussing the changes presented above, which are necessary

to repair his damaged department. To reiterate, Nguyen would need to foster relationships with

his followers centered around caring for the whole person, include all workers in conversations

of shared mission and goals, name his power and authority then actively seek to give agency
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back to his workers, and encourage workers to fight against hegemonic norms of what a leader is

by striving for leadership positions themselves.

I would discuss these changes with Nguyen in hopes of developing a functioning

environment where the workers and students feel supported. I would also us this moment to start

creating a new culture within the division base off of the reconstructed TLT. Regular one-on-one

meetings with department heads would be a great first step in building this culture. It would

create trust between department leadership and the Vice President, encourage directors to voice

their goals or concerns, break down any power dynamic which may be looming by giving the

directors access to the VP, and also allow the VP to have a more developmental and hands on

way of leading. You can also use these meetings to establish a shared vision again using the

principle of inclusion.

I would also create professional development programs to teach the people in my division

the importance of studying leadership and looking at it with a critical perspective. It is important

to establish leadership as something which can be learned. Machdia and Schaubroeck (2011)

found Leaders who focus on learning and who believe that ability is directly proportional to

learning have an advantage in maintaining a moderate level of self-efficacy. (p 466) With

higher leadership self-efficacy, you encourage more people to go beyond expectations and also

strive for leadership positions. The importance of the critical reflection piece is to see how

power and hegemony inscribe themselves in our daily actions and decisions and to challenge

how they suppress true democracy. (Preskill & Brookfield, 2009, p 44) This practice relates

back to the reconstruction portion of this paper. Being able to deconstruct then reconstruct

theories and processes is what allows us to serve all of our students, especially the ones with

marginalized identities.
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References

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