Sample Compare and Contrast Essay on Leadership: What is the Most Effective Leadership Style?
A compare and contrast essay is a type of essay that discusses two or more items. It is coursework commonly assigned in writing classes tracing similarities and differences. In this sample, two leadership styles are compared and contrasted using the block method to determine which is the most effective approach.
Leaders play a crucial role in every organization. Regardless of the nature of the organization’s operations—whether it exists as a for-profit business or a non-profit entity, it benefits when employees are helmed by leaders who know how to bring out the best in people. But finding the right approach to leading can be difficult. A lot goes into a leader’s approach including training, experience, and personality traits. Fortunately, there is a wealth of literature that attempts to determine what makes a good leader . The work of scholars, in turn, has led to the emergence of the concept of leadership style. Scholars have identified many leadership styles including democratic, participative, laissez-faire, and authoritative. In the past few decades, however, new styles have been identified, two of which are transactional leadership and transformational leadership . These two styles, in particular, have received a lot of attention from scholars due to their underlying principles. Many researchers have attempted to determine how effective they are, conducting studies among many groups. While transactional leadership and transformational leadership each have their pros and cons, transformational leadership emerges as the more effective style because it encourages employees to build intrinsic motivation rather than simply rely on getting rewards and avoiding punishment.
To understand which of these two styles is more effective, it is essential to first understand what they are in the first place. Firstly, transactional leadership is an approach to leadership that primarily relies on the use of rewards and punishment. This style was first identified by the German sociologist Max Weber and later on refined by James McGregor Burns and Bernard Bass among others (Nikezic et al., 2012). The main assumption of this style is that the relationship between a leader and a follower is characterized by the exchange. Furthermore, the theory assumes that people have needs that must be fulfilled, which in turn compels them to behave in ways that get these needs met. Consequence is an important part of this style’s theoretical underpinnings, and thus this style is associated with conditioning. That is, positive consequences reinforce desirable behavior whereas negative consequences discourage undesirable behavior. Based on these assumptions, a transactional leader implements a system of incentives and penalties. Employees who meet set standards and measures are rewarded for their performance. On the other hand, employees who fail to meet metrics are subjected to punishment. Transactional leadership, therefore, can be boiled down to the classic carrot-and-stick approach to leading. The leader and follower enter a relationship where parties transact with each other to facilitate operations (Sandling, 2015). An example of transactional leadership in effect is the provision of bonuses. For instance, an employee who exceeds their company’s set quota for sales may be given extra financial compensation. On the other hand, an employee may be subjected to disciplinary measures if they deviate from company policy.
Transformational leadership, on the other hand, centers on the idea that the leader’s role is to empower followers so that they can realize their potential and achieve optimum performance. From the word itself, the leader seeks to transform the follower from someone who performs well for the sake of rewards to one who performs well for the sake of performing well. Transformational leadership was first conceptualized by the sociologist James Downton and eventually refined by influential theorists such as James McGregor Burns (Shelton, 2012). Like the transactional leadership, an important element of this style’s theoretical foundation is the assumption that motivations direct human behavior. However, whereas transactional leadership assumes that people are motivated by tangible needs, transformational leadership believes that people can be motivated by intangible needs such as empowerment and enrichment. Transformational leaders, therefore, focus on encouraging followers to achieve self-actualization. Note that in Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, self-actualization is seen as higher than tangible needs such as food, shelter, and security. Self-actualization is about optimizing one’s potential and finding fulfillment in being an accomplished individual (Bass and Riggio, 2005). Some of the ways by which transformational leaders elevate their followers are by creating a shared vision for the organization, boosting the morale of followers, inspiring them to surpass expectations, valuing their contributions, and appealing to their sense of idealism (Shelton, 2012). On the whole, the transformation style emphasizes growth, pride, and elevation.
While transactional and transformational styles are both important styles, they have differences that ultimately contribute to transformational leadership being the more effective between the two. Firstly, transactional leadership is reactive. This means that the leader plays its role by responding to the performance of the follower (Nikezic et al., 2012). That is, rewards and punishments are given based on how the employee performs. For instance, a manager of a sales division team decides who gets bonuses only after reviewing the month’s sales. This approach to leadership is reactive in that the leader only takes cues based on how the employees behave. Secondly, transactional leadership focuses on the maintenance of the organizational culture and status quo. For the exchange that characterizes transactional leadership to work, rules have to be set, since these rules eventually serve as the benchmark for the rewards and punishments (Sandling, 2015). The problem with the focus on retaining the culture and status quo is that it does not encourage change, especially positive change. Such an environment can be stifling to growth, innovation, and progress. Third, transactional leadership heavily depends on stimulating extrinsic motivation such as the need for financial compensation and other material incentives (Nikezic et al., 2012). The drawback with this approach, however, is that extrinsic motivation only goes so far. Multiple studies have shown that while extrinsic motivation aids in improving performance, intrinsic motivation plays an even more important role. Employees who fail to find a sense of fulfillment in their jobs eventually lose interest even if they are well-compensated (Kuvaas et al., 2017). Meanwhile, the meting out of punishment may have a detrimental effect on followers’ morale. Finally, transactional leadership appeals to followers’ self-interest. As explained earlier, transactional leadership utilizes the classic carrot-and-stick approach. Such an approach, however, does not appeal to followers’ morale or idealism; rather, it merely facilitates performance by way of appealing to followers’ basic needs and impulse to avoid punishment. Ultimately, this style’s focus on rewards and punishments poses limitations to the collective performance of the organization, since it works only insofar as the exchange of tangible needs remains necessary.
As opposed to the limitations of transactional leadership, transformational leadership comes across as the more effective style. For one, transformational leadership is proactive (Zineldin, 2017). What this means is that a transformational leader does not merely respond to the performance of the follower; rather, the leader actively inspires the follower to perform well. For instance, a manager of a sales team who uses this style will boost followers’ morale regardless of their performance for the month. The focus of the manager, therefore, is on the future performance rather than the past. Secondly, transformational leadership seeks to continually develop organizational culture (Bass and Riggio, 2005). This style values innovation, and this is manifested in the leader’s desire to make positive changes in the culture where possible and appropriate. Transformational leaders welcome new ideas, new ways of doing things, and new technologies if these will help elevate the performance of the followers and the entire team. This style, therefore, actively avoids stagnation. Third, transformational leadership motivates followers by appealing to their ideals. As mentioned earlier, this style goes beyond the carrot-and-stick method. Instead, it relies on inspiring followers. Transformational leaders encourage followers to reach their full potential. They also communicate the message that efficiency should be pursued for efficiency’s sake rather than extrinsic motivation alone. That said, it is important for transformational leaders to also recognize the value of extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation alone will not be enough if the basic needs of followers such as compensation and security are not met (Wyld, 2013). Finally, transformational leadership motivates followers by encouraging them to go beyond their personal interests and instead pursue collective interests. Transformational leaders effectively communicate the fact that the whole is bigger than the sum of its parts; that is, the contribution of each member ultimately adds up to something that cannot simply be broken down into its individual constituents. Successfully imbuing this idea upon followers results in cohesive individual performance and overall super team performance.
In the end, transactional leadership and transformational leadership each have their advantages. But while the transactional style can be effective to an extent, it is limited by its focus on reward and punishment. It is predicated upon the assumption that people are driven by extrinsic needs alone, thus causing it to fail to recognize that people also have higher intangible needs like the desire to self-actualize, feel fulfillment, and optimize their potential. On the other hand, the transformational style acknowledges the existence of these needs and uses them as leverage to bring out the best in people. This style, of course, takes care of extrinsic motivations. But it also goes beyond them by complementing them with what may be considered as nourishment for the followers’ soul. And it is this complementary approach that gives transformational leadership its edge over transactional leadership.
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Bass, B. M. and Riggio, R. E. (2005). Transformational leadership. Psychology Press.
Kuvaas, B., Buch, R., Weibel, A., Dysvik, A., and Nerstad, C. G. L. (2017). Do intrinsic and extrinsic motivation relate differently to employee outcomes? Journal of Economic Psychology, 61, 244-258. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.joep.2017.05.004
Nikezic, S., Puric, S., and Puric, J. (2012). Transactional and transformational leadership: Development through the changes. Internal Journal for Quality Research, 6(3), 285-296. http://www.ijqr.net/journal/v6-n3/11.pdf
Sandling, J. (2015). Leading with style: The comprehensive guide to leadership styles. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.
Shelton, E. J. (2012). Transformational leadership: Trust, motivation and engagement. Trafford Publishing.
Wyld, D. (2013). Transformation leadership: when is It redundant? Academy of Management Perspectives , 27(2). doi:10.5465/amp.2013.0064
Zineldin, M. (2017). Transformational leadership behavior, emotions, and outcomes: Health psychology perspective in the workplace. Journal of Workplace Behavioral Health, 32, 14-25.