Transformational leadership: Advantages and disadvantages

Transformational Leadership: Advantages and Disadvantages

Transformational leadership is both a theory and a style of leadership in which a leader employs more specific approaches or mechanisms to build and maintain relationships, increase the motivation and morale, and improve the performance of the followers.

Some of the notable examples of these mechanisms include aligning the identity and interests of the organization with the identity and interests of the followers, determining shared goals and objectives, identifying needed change and creating the corresponding vision, and challenging followers to take ownership or giving them autonomy over their roles and responsibilities among others.

Unlike transactional leadership that focuses on supervision, organization, and performance, transformational leadership is about inspirational motivation, empowerment of the followers, promoting positive change, and intellectual stimulation.

The Pros: The Strengths and Advantages of Transformational Leadership

1. Most Effective Style of Leadership Based on Established Research

Several studies have explored the strengths and advantages of transformational leadership over all other styles and models of leadership. Researchers K. B. Lowe, K. G. Kroeck, and N. Sivasubramaniam conducted a meta-analysis that combined data from studies both in the private and public sectors.

The analysis revealed that transformational approach ranked first in terms of effectiveness. Transactional leadership ranked second while the contingent reward and managing-by-expectation ranked third and fourth respectively.

2. Promotes Creativity and Innovation Through Collaboration

When compared to transactional, authoritarian styles of leadership, and micromanagement, that place all decision-making and problem-solving tasks solely on the leader, transactional leadership has the advantage of generating more creative ideas and innovative solutions through collaboration. Transformational leaders collaborate with their followers to generate, explore, and synthesize insights and ideas.

A leadership setting under a transformational approach encourages all individuals to take part in meeting shared goals and objectives and thus, in coming up with creative ideas and innovative solutions needed to advance the group or organization.

3. Builds and Maintains Motivation and Satisfaction of Individuals

Remember that transformational leadership is also about inspiring people. Findings from one study by Mosad Zineldin involving 128 leaders working at Swedish companies indicated that inspirational and intellectual stimulation aspects of the transformational approach significantly contributed to enthusiasm, happiness, attentiveness, pride, and hopefulness of employees.

The aforementioned study concluded further that transformational leaders are the most effective in increasing organizational outcomes by boosting job satisfaction across the workforce. It also noted that transformational leadership plays a role in enhancing mental and psychological health inside and outside the workplace.

4. Fosters Organizational Change By Influencing Positive Behavior

Another strength of transformational leadership is that it helps an organization go through change because it positively influences the behavior of employees. An empirical analysis by S. Faupel and S. Süb showed that engagement and valence components of the transformational approach serve as mediators for facilitating organizational change.

To be specific, findings revealed that transformational leaders inherently increase the engagement of employees and their perception of the attractive change consequences through these two components, thus inducing employee behavior in support of the change.

The Cons: Weaknesses and Disadvantages of Transformational Leadership

1. Restricted Applicability in Specific Circumstances

Transformational leadership is not a one-size-fits-all leadership style. One of its drawbacks is its inapplicability in certain situations. For example, it is useless in groups or organizations composed of followers performing routine or mechanized tasks. Also, it is counterproductive in new and chaotic organizations that lack established rules or experienced members. Note that transactional leadership is more applicable in these circumstances.

Another example is emergencies that require quick decisions. An organization managed by a transformational leader might fail to make fast and appropriate courses of action due to inexperience in prompt decision-making and problem-solving or overdependence on collaboration. Hence, in these instances, a leader should have both transactional and transformational competencies.

2. Dependence on the Cultural Context of the Leadership Situation

Cultural factors also limit or counteract the strengths and advantages of transformational leadership. A study of transformational leaders in India by V. Gupta and R. Krishnan revealed that these individual are more likely to exhibit transformational behaviors if their followers are more unassuming in approaching them. What this study suggests is that cultural context determines the applicability and effectiveness of the transformational approach.

Another study by G. M. Spreitzer, K. H., Perttula, and K. R. Xin, K. R. examined leaders from U.S. and Taiwan to determine how cultural values affect the effectiveness of transformational leadership. Findings suggested that those with more traditional cultural values see a weaker link between transformational leadership and leadership effectiveness compared to those with less traditional cultural values.

3. Can Place High Amounts of Pressure on the Followers

One of the advantages of transactional leadership, as well as an authoritarian style of leadership, is that they place the pressure and accountability on the leader. However, under a transformational approach, the leader distributes accountability across the group or organization by giving them autonomy or ownership over their tasks.

There is also an emphasis on collaboration or participation under a transformational setting. Some individuals might find additional collaborative and leadership roles and responsibilities too taxing. Their high level of involvement in achieving collective goals and objectives might leave them feeling overworked or even exploited.

4. Can Have A Negative Effect on Creativity and Innovation

Remember that one of the strengths of transformational leadership is its role in facilitating creativity and innovation through collaboration. However, in some instances, this leadership style can also negatively affect the creative and innovative capabilities of individuals. A study by S. A. Eisenbeib and S. Boerner that examined research and development activities found that the transactional approach indeed increases the creativity of the followers but at the same time, increases their dependency, thus reducing their individual creativity.

Another study by V. Li, R. Mitchell, and B. Boyle concluded that group-based transformational leadership leads to team innovation while an individual-focused transformational leadership has a negative impact on individual innovation. What these studies suggest is that the transformational approach enhances group creative and innovativeness but negatively affects such capabilities at the individual level.


  • Eisenbeib, S. A. & Boerner, S. 2013. “A Double-Edged Sword: Transformational Leadership and Individual Creativity.” British Journal of Management. 24(1): 54-68. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8551.2011.00786.x
  • Faupel, S. & Süb, S. 2018. “The Effect of Transformational Leadership on Employees During Organizational Change – An Empirical Analysis.” Journal of Change Management. DOI: 10.1080/14697017.2018.1447006
  • Gupta, V. & Krishnan, V. R. 2004. “Impact of Socialization on Transformational Leadership: Role of Leader-Member Exchange.” South Asian Journal of Management. 11(3): 7-20
  • Lowe, K. B., Kroeck, K. G., & Sivasubramaniam, N. 1996. “Effectiveness Correlates of Transformational and Transactional Leadership: A Meta-Analytic Review of the MLQ Literature.” The Leadership Quarterly. 7(3): 385-425. DOI: 10.1016/S1048-9843(96)90027-2
  • Li, V., Mitchell, R. & Boyle, B. 2015. “The Divergent Effects of Transformational Leadership on Individual and Team Innovation.” Group & Organization Management. 41(1): 66-97. DOI: 10.1177/1059601115573792
  • Spreitzer, G. M., Perttula, K. H., & Xin, K. R. 2005. “Traditionality Matters: An Examination of the Effectiveness of Transformational Leadership in the United States and Taiwan. Journal of Organizational Behavior. 26(3): 205-227. DOI: 10.1002/job.315
  • Zineldin, M. 2017. “Transformational Leadership Behavior, Emotions, and Outcomes: Health Psychological Perspective in the Workplace.” Journal of Workplace Behavioral Health. 32(1): 14-25. DOI: 10.1080/15555240.2016.1273782