Transformational Leadership: The Nature vs. Nurture Debate
Transformational Leadership: The Nature vs. Nurture Debate
Spain's famous football club, Real Madrid, has a history of changing managers as often as players change their socks (Clegg, 2010). The hope that this pattern would end with the hiring of the Portuguese manager, Jose Mourinho, was well deserved, given the great deal of respect he has earned among footballers across Europe and in the Americas. Aside from being exacting and detail oriented, Mourinho is the epitome of a transformational leader. Many experts believed that Mourinho would be the best person for reining in the massive millionaire egos on the team, thereby improving the team's performance on and off the field. Leadership experts equated the challenges Mourinho was facing with those any executive would face in a boardroom.
According to Clegg (2010), Mourinho is more manager than leader because he is willing to roll up his sleeves and get his hands 'dirty' with the day-to-day tasks required to keep an organization running. Another way to view Mourinho's approach to management is that he judges his own performance based on the performance of the sports club. A case in point was provided when Real Madrid arrived in Benfica, the home of a bitter rival. Rather than subject the entire team to the stadium's animosity, Mourinho entered the stadium and stood alone on the field until the crowd had vented their hostility. After the booing subsided the Real Madrid players entered the stadium and probably played better as a result. Another strategy Mourinho has employed includes sending players motivational memos and emails, a habit that contrasts with the more common strategy of punishing employees for poor performance. At all times Mourinho exudes confidence and emphasizes the importance of placing the team before individual agendas.
Mourinho completed an undergraduate degree in sports science in Lisbon, where he claims he developed an appreciation for an academic/scientific approach to sports management (Clegg, 2010). Mourinho's exceptional managerial talents would make any aspiring football manager wonder if transformational leaders are the product of nature or nurture. If nurture does play a role, then it become essential to identify the attributes of transformational leadership which can be taught in an academic setting. Accordingly, this report will examine the transformation leadership model and any known or suspected contributions from nature and nurture. This exploration should help identify which attributes can be taught.
History of Transformation Leadership as a Model
Black and Porter believed that the minimum qualification of any leader is the ability to convince followers to ignore individual agendas for the good of the organization (as cited in Konorti, 2012, p. 165). Other attributes that have been proposed to be important include maintaining high standards for motivation and empowering employees. Transformational leadership, however, transcends the basic skills of management by being inspirational, charismatic, intellectual, and individualized (Konorti, 2012, p. 166). The term "transformational leadership" was first mentioned in the book Rebel Leadership: Commitment and Charisma in a Revolutionary Process, which was written by J.V. Downton and published in 1973 ("The Transformational Leadership Report," 2007). In the book Leadership, published in 1978, James MacGregor Burns applied the term 'transformational leadership' to politicians and defined it as a process through which leaders and followers are able to empower each other to attain higher levels of morality and motivation. Short-term interests are therefore set aside in the interest of achieving long-term organizational goals.
Abraham Maslow's Theory of Human Needs was an important influence in Burn's approach to leadership ("The Transformational Leadership Report," 2007). Maslow proposed a hierarchy of needs and at the bottom of this hierarchy were physiological needs, such as food, water, shelter, and sleep. Personal safety was the next highest level in Maslow's hierarchy, which included physical, financial, family, and moral security. The next level was social connectedness with family, friends, and community. The level immediately above social connectedness was esteem, consisting of self-esteem, confidence, achievement, and the respect of others. Topping the hierarchy was self-actualization, which was defined as engaging in creative, spontaneous, intellectual, equitable, open-minded, and moral activities. The transition from one level up to the next is generally assumed to depend on fulfillment of more basic needs first.
The influence of Maslow's hierarchy of needs can be seen in Burns' belief that employee performance is determined to a large extent by whether more basic needs have been fulfilled ("The Transformational Leadership Report," 2007). For example, an employee who is worried about the quality of daycare staff will not perform optimally in the workplace. This worry would fit within the second level of Maslow's hierarchy of needs because it concerns family safety. Transformational leaders, on the other hand, should be operating at the highest levels of the hierarchy, with ample self-esteem and self-actualization. Burns emphasized values, purpose, and meaning in defining transformational leaders and the goal of consciousness-raising. A transformational leader would therefore help employees gain a solid grasp of their true needs and give these needs meaning, thereby motivating employees to act decisively and effectively and increasing organizational performance.
One of Burns' students, Bernard Bass, formulated a different definition of transformational leadership ("The Transformational Leadership Report," 2007). Instead of emphasizing self-actualization, Bass believed transformational leadership is essentially amoral and focused on helping employees understand the importance of a given task to the organization and the organization's goals. Eventually, both Burns and Bass contributed to what has been called the transformational leadership model, which is discussed next.
Transformational Leadership Model
The basic transformational leadership model proposed by Burns and brought to light by Bass consists of four traits: "(1) charisma, (2) inspiration, (3) intellectual stimulation, and (4) individualized consideration" (as cited in Konorti, 2012, p. 166). Charisma has been suggested to be important for creating a strong organizational culture by helping managers and employees to share a common vision. The ability to create this vision is another trait some have attributed to transformational leadership (Konorti, 2012). Inspiration can come in the form of high expectations, at both the individual and organizational level. Transformational leaders also inspire by assigning meaning and purpose to daily tasks in a way that is easily understood by all employees. Intellectual stimulation can be encouraged by rewarding creative, intellectual solutions to old problems. Inspirational leaders encourage all employees to assume a stake in organizational performance by giving individuals personal attention. This can come in the form of delegated assignments that could lead to professional and personal growth. A large number of other traits have been added to the model over the years since, including pragmatism, self-confidence, nurturance, personal efficiency, honesty, and integrity.
Garman and colleagues (2003) reviewed the transformational model proposed by Bass in 1985, which helped define this model by contrasting it with transactional leadership. Instead of providing a shared vision and showing employees the value of day-to-day tasks to organizational goals, transactional leaders appeal to the self-interests of individuals in order to keep the day-to-day grind of operations running. Accordingly, the motivational strategies employed by transactional leaders depend on punishment and reward. Management-by-exception is also common among transactional leaders, which is a management approach where only those issues requiring immediate decisions are brought to the attention of a supervisor. All other issues are ignored by managers. Transformational leaders, on the other hand, focus the attention of employees on the immediate needs of customers through a motivational strategy composed of values, inspiration, intellectual soundness, and individual attention.
One of the most recent revisions of the transformative leadership model was authored by Eli Konorti (2012) and it is based on only three traits: wisdom, courage, and vision. Konorti (2012) fails to present an unambiguous definition of wisdom, but suggests that wisdom depends on knowledge and the ability to use this knowledge to make practical decisions. In other words, a wise person will be knowledgeable, but a knowledgeable person may not be wise. Leaders who have the courage to reinvent their organization and make important decisions in the face of uncertainty are individuals most likely to have the attributes of transformative leaders. A vision creates an intellectual framework upon which employee confidence in organizational goals can be built. Among the three traits in Konorti's (2012) model only vision has significant empirical support in relation to management success.
Many of the traits that have been associated with transformational leadership are personality traits, such as charisma, pragmatism, and honesty. Personality traits are believed to be significantly influenced by heritable factors and therefore relatively stable over time (Hopwood et al., 2011). However, environmental factors can still influence the expression of personality traits over time. What follows is a discussion of transformational leadership and whether the attributes defining this managerial style can be learned.
Nature, Nurture and Leadership
Caldwell and colleagues (2012) cite the cynicism most employees direct toward management as justification for increasing the prevalence of the transformative leadership model in the business community. They base this rationale on the heavy emphasis Burns' placed on morality in his model. Some of the data Caldwell and…