December 2004: Transformational and Servant Leadership: Content and Contextual Comparisons
Transformational and Servant Leadership: Content and Contextual Comparisons
December 22, 2004
"For the last twenty years, the topic of leadership has become popular among scholars. Considerable research on this topic has appeared in the literature (Avolio & Yammarino, 2002; Dansereau & Yammarino, 1998). However, there is still no comprehensive understanding what leadership is, nor is there an agreement among different theorists on what good or effective leadership should be. The most popular leadership theories currently being discussed by researchers include charismatic, transactional, transformational and servant leadership.Charismatic leadership is based on extraordinary characteristics of a leader who inspires and directs followers by building their commitment to a shared vision and values (Hellriegel, Slocum, Woodman, 2001; Conger & Kanungo, 1998).
Transactional leadership is a process of social exchange between followers and leaders that involves a number of reward-based transactions. Transformational leadership occurs when a leader inspires followers to share a vision, empowering them to achieve the vision, and provides the resource necessary for developing their personal potential. Servant leadership views a leader as a servant of his/her followers. It places the interest of followers before the self-interest of a leader, emphasizes personal development and empowerment of followers.
Transformational and servant leadership are rooted in the study of charismatic leadership. An early conceptual model of 'charismatic leadership' has been closed linked with the work of Max Weber, who described the leader as a charismatic person who exercised power through followers' identification with and belief in the leader's personality. However, Trice and Beyer (1986) argued that charismatic leadership requires more than just extraordinary personal characteristics. A study by Graham (1991) compared Weberian charismatic authority, personal celebrity charisma, transformational leadership, and servant leadership and argued that charismatic leadership is the theoretical underpinning for each of these leadership models.
What is not clear is the universality of servant and transformational leadership. Specifically, are both of these theories sufficient in all contexts, or do the contexts, in which organizations exist, make one or the other of these approaches to leadership more appropriate?
Transformational leadership has been conceptualized as containing four behavioral components: idealized influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, and individualized consideration (Bass, 1985, 1996; Bass & Avolio, 1994a, 1994b). Bass claims that some leaders may be charismatic but not transformational of their effect on followers. Specifically, Bass contents that intellectual stimulation and individualized consideration are not wholly charismatic in nature. Intellectual stimulation refers to a leader's behavior that encourages followers' creativity and stimulates innovative thinking.
Robert Greenleaf, the founder of the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership, conceptualized the idea of the servant leader. In his vision, the leader is first seen as a servant to others. The servant assumes a non-focal position within a group, providing resources and support without an expectation of acknowledgement. Greenleaf suggests that these people were not initially motivated to be leaders, but assume this position in response to urgings of others in response to the need for group success. Typically models of leadership do not begin with an analysis of leader motivation, and Greenleaf's concepts in this regard are unique. Greenleaf did not provide any definitions of servant leadership. Instead, he focused on specific behaviors of a servant leader, and on influence a servant leader has on followers.
A theoretical comparison of transformational and servant leadership theories suggests competing implications for organizational success. To facilitate this analysis, a matrix of leadership components was created. 1) Transformational leadership is defined as having four conceptually distinct elements: charismatic leadership/idealized influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, and individualized consideration (Bass, 1996). Servant leadership has six distinct components: valuing people, developing people, building community, displaying authenticity, providing leadership, sharing leadership (Laub, 1999). Two questions are addressed in this analysis. The first asks the extent to which the specified leader behaviors overlap in the two models. The second question examines the extent to which each model may be appropriate for clearly distinct contexts.
The first question requires a comparison of the behaviors specified by each dimension of the models. In observing the matrix, it appears that a number of the behaviors that are suggested to be part of each theory correspond with the behaviors of the other theory. In sum, by comparing the models we have made two arguments. First, servant leadership does not account for the intellectual stimulation component of transformational leadership. Second, servant leaders have a leadership style that is more concerned about employees' emotional well-being then does transformational leadership.
The second question raised in this analysis refers to the nature of the contexts that may be appropriate for either servant leadership or transformational leadership approaches. If servant and transformational leadership lead to the same kind of organizational outcomes regardless of organizational mission or context, then servant leadership offers little additional insight into the leadership construct than does transformational leadership.
Under the servant leader model, the leader's motivation to lead arises from an underlying attitude of egalitarianism. In other words, the leader's belief system says he or she is no better than those who are led. The transformational leader emerges from a different motivation base. Where the servant leader has a sense of egalitarianism, the transformational leader is motivated by a sense of mission to recreate the organization to survive in a challenging external environment. The transformational leader's motivation base has a more macro focus.
Transformational leadership, in our opinion, is more suitable for a dynamic external environment, where employees are empowered with greater responsibility and encouraged to innovate, take initiative and risk. On the other side, the life cycle of an organization could account for the effectiveness of varying leadership styles. In our opinion, servant leadership tends to cultivate a more static approach to the external environment than transformational leadership. The servant leader's motivation is directed more at the personal growth of the follower, thus the servant leader's success is determined by the extent to which the follower moves toward self-actualization (Maslow, 1970). Whereas the transformational leader's motivation is directed more toward obtaining success for the organization, which will reflect on his/her abilities, and the success of these leaders is measured by the extent to which they obtain organizational rewards (Smith, Montagno, & Kuzmenko, 2004, p. 80-92)."
Reference: Smith, B.N., Montagno, R.V., Kuzmenko, T.N.; (2004). Transformational and servant leadership: content and contextual comparisons. The Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies, 10, No. 4.
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Created: 2007-11-13, Updated: 2009-02-17