Is Transactional Leadership a Valid Approach Today?

Thought we would take a look at a very well established transactional leadership approach which I find still alive and well in some of the organizations I work with. This form of leadership is sometimes called managerial leadership and is very focused on using rewards and punishments in order to get compliance and performance out of followers.

So it is easily identified by the leader who thinks of themselves as " firm but fair" and adopts a carrot and stick approach to getting their followers to do what they want.

Other ways to recognize transactional leaders:

Focuses on short term performance

More process focused than change or creativity

Getting the same tasks done more efficiently

Hierarchicial in nature

Basic positive and negative reinforcement (fear and reward) aproach to motivation

Focuses on Maslows lower order needs

So you can probably recognize some aspects this leadership style in the leaders in your organization.

In a sense this is also a form of "squeeky wheel" leadership where attention is placed on those things that deviate from the norm or are wrong.

So for the transactional leadership exponent and their followers rewards and punishment are contingent on performance. Contingent rewards could include for example: praise or bonuses are given in order to keep things on track. Contingent punishments like criticism, warnings or in more serious situations suspension.


How is Transactional leadership different from Transformational leadership?


Transactional Leadership

Responds directly to what is happening with followers

Operates withing norms of existing culture


Objectives achieved through rewards and punishments set by leader

Focuses on self -interest

Focus on correcting behavior


Transformational Leadership

Leadership is more actively seeking engagement and alignment

May operate in a way to signal a change in culture

Objectives achieved through values alignment and engagement

Focuses on whats best for all of us

Focus on facilitating creativity and thinking



When might Transactional Leadership be Appropriate?

Two examples spring to mind firstly when there is a crisis or emergency and correct behaviour is mission critical and other situatons when detailed and specific behaviours are required and ther is no time or room for debate (perhaps a sports team?)


Why It Doesn't Work

Most work environments are characterized by volatility . complexity and ambiguity. All of these require a strategic change response which requires Leaders to tell the story seek engagement and promote alignment with their teams. Ideas , effort and creativity are all discretionary things for individuals.

People decide how much they invest in their work and things like clarity, empathy, collaboration and learning are the things we expect from our leaders these days. we like to work with Bosses who we feel have our best interests at heart and are interested in us as human beings.

Such relationship and rapport building is really not a significant part of transactional leader's approaches and in my view this style just does not cut it in thre vast majority of todays workplace

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