Transactional And Transformational in Sport Leadership

Over  the  past  25  years,  there  has  been  considerable interest in the application of the transactional and   transformational   leadership   paradigm   to understanding  the  effects  of  leadership  behaviors in relation to various psychological (e.g., motivation,  self-confidence)  and  behavioral  (e.g.,  individual  and  team  performance)  outcomes  among those being led. Originally conceived within political  and  organizational  settings,  the  transactional and  transformational  leadership  paradigm  (also referred  to  as  transformational  leadership  theory)  has  been  studied  across  numerous  domains of  human  achievement  including  (but  not  limited to) financial services, multinational project teams, military  combat  units,  sport  teams,  and  education. The basis for sustained academic inquiry can largely  be  traced  to  the  seminal  work  of  Bernard Bass, who differentiated between transactional and transformational leadership, as well as the subcomponents  of  those  leadership  dimensions.  Broadly conceived,  the  essence  of  transactional  leadership involves  a  series  of  exchanges  (or  transactions) between  leader  and  follower,  whereby  leaders make  use  of  rewards  and  reinforcement  to  foster compliance and encourage followers to meet previously  agreed-upon  standards.  Transformational leadership,  on  the  other  hand,  takes  place  when leaders  go  beyond  their  own  self-interests  and inspire, encourage, and stimulate others to exceed minimally expected standards.

Components of Transactional and Transformational Leadership

Transactional leadership is conceptualized as including both management-by-exception and contingent reward subcomponents. Management-by-exception includes both active and passive forms. Active management-by-exception involves actively monitoring the behaviors of those being led and taking corrective action when necessary. Passive management-by exception  involves  waiting  until  problems  become serious before intervening and reprimanding those being  led.  Contingent  reward  involves  the  clarification  of  expectations  and  providing  rewards  and recognition  that  is  contingent  on  successful  goal attainment.

In  the  context  of  sport,  the  active  monitoring of  athletes’  competencies  and  actions  and  taking corrective  action  when  necessary  is  seen  as  the foundation of “good coaching.” Similarly, coaches providing  praise  and  recognition  when  athletes perform well is seen as an important basis for bolstering their self-confidence and acts as an invaluable barometer, letting athletes know whether they are meeting their coaches’ expectations.

From the perspective of transformational leadership theory, however, these transactional dimensions are theorized to be insufficient to maximize salient  follower  outcomes.  This  is  not  to  suggest that  these  leadership  behaviors  are  problematic. They  are  far  from  it.  It  is  rather  that  the  more active  forms  of  transactional  leadership  (i.e., active-management  by  exception  and  contingent reward) provide a basis (or a bare minimum) for effective  leadership,  and  in  order  to  get  the  best out  of  those  being  led  (i.e.,  exceed  minimally expected  standards),  these  transactional  leadership  behaviors  need  to  be  supplemented  with transformational  practices.  Bass  referred  to  this process  as  an  augmentation  effect,  whereby  the effects  of  transformational  leadership  build  upon (and indeed supersede) the effects of transactional leadership.

Although  a  few  different  conceptual  models have  been  advanced,  it  is  generally  recognized that  transformational  leadership  is  composed  of four  behavioral  subcomponents.  These  include idealized influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual  stimulation,  and  individualized  consideration.  Idealized  influence  involves—to  use  the old adage—“doing the right thing because it’s the right thing to do.” In essence, it involves acting as a role model, engendering the trust and respect of others, and articulating and acting on the leader’s personally held value system. In sport settings, this might  involve  ensuring  the  coach  practices  what she preaches and following through on her words, even if it involves following the path of most (not least) resistance. Inspirational motivation involves articulating  a  compelling  vision  of  what  is  possible, setting high expectations of others, as well as displaying considerable optimism and enthusiasm about  what  others  can  accomplish.  In  sport,  this might involve a coach conveying to his athletes, his philosophy  for  working  effectively  as  a  cohesive team,  and  also  raising  team  members’  expectations  about  what  they  can  accomplish  personally and  collectively.  Intellectual  stimulation  involves encouraging  others  to  look  at  various  challenges, assumptions,  and  problems  from  new  and  alternative  perspectives  and  actively  involving  them in  decision-making  processes.  From  a  coaching perspective, this might involve relinquishing some power and responsibility to one’s athletes and having  them  become  active  agents  in  shaping  adaptive  team  norms,  strategizing,  and  developing group  goals.  Finally,  individualized  consideration involves paying attention to, and acting to satisfy, individuals’  personal  and  psychological  needs.  In sport,  this  might  involve  coaches  tailoring  their training  programs  to  align  with  each  athlete’s individual strengths and improve upon their weaknesses, ensuring that sufficient time is allocated to listening to their specific concerns or challenges.

Empirical Evidence From the Sport Domain

Although  considerable  research  has  been  devoted to  examining  the  transactional  and  transformational   leadership   paradigm   in   organizational settings,  its  application  in  the  field  of  sport  psychology  (SP)  is  relatively  recent.  In  one  of  the first  studies  to  examine  the  external  validity  of the  transformational  leadership  construct  in  the context  of  sport,  Danielle  Charbonneau  and  her colleagues  investigated  the  extent  to  which  perceptions  of  transformational  leadership  predicted motivation  and  sport  performance  among  youth athletes. In this study, transformational leadership predicted  elevated  levels  of  athlete  performance, and  this  relationship  was  mediated  via  elevated levels of intrinsic motivation.

Consistent with a core tenet of transformational leadership theory, research has also provided some support  for  the  augmentation  hypothesis  specified  earlier.  Specifically,  in  the  context  of  martial arts  classes,  displays  of  transactional  leadership utilized by sensei (i.e., coaches) were found to be significantly related to three indicators of coaching effectiveness.  These  included  measures  of  student satisfaction  with  the  coach,  self-report  measures of  “extra”  effort,  as  well  as  student  perceptions of coaching effectiveness. Most notably, however, the results of this study revealed that the effects of transactional  leadership  in  relation  to  these  three criterion  measures  were  significantly  augmented by  the  effects  of  transformational  leadership  in predicting higher levels of those same outcomes.

In  addition  to  predicting  enhanced  individual level outcomes, a growing number of studies have sought  to  identify  the  potential  effects  of  transformational  leadership  behaviors  in  relation  to group-level outcomes. Consistent with work conducted within occupational settings, elevated levels of transformational leadership have been found to be associated with improved task and social cohesion. In other work, conducted within the context of youth (ice-) hockey teams, when coaches were found to make use of transformational leadership behaviors,  this  was  associated  with  a  lower  likelihood  that  athletes  would  engage  in  aggressive behavior.  In  this  study,  the  relationship  between transformational leadership and athlete aggression was  mediated  by  team  aggression  levels.  Taken together, this suggests that coaches have the ability to shape the culture and climate within a given team (in this case in relation to maladaptive or deleterious behaviors) and that this climate, in turn, can play a substantive role in shaping individual level athlete outcomes.

One area of inquiry that has received considerable  attention  outside  of  the  field  of  SP  concerns the  extent  to  which  transformational  leadership behaviors  are  shaped  by  heritable  factors,  early childhood  experiences,  or  through  intervention later in life. Some estimates, based on recent twin studies  (involving  comparisons  of  monozygotic and  dizygotic  twins),  place  the  level  of  heritability in transformational leadership behaviors at just under  50%,  which  suggests  that  both  nature  and nurture  play  a  substantive  role  in  bringing  about these behavioral characteristics. Although research has yet to examine the genetic bases of leadership behaviors  among  coaches  and  athlete  leaders  in sport,  there  is  some  evidence  to  suggest  that  the family environment can play an important role in developing  transformational  leadership  behaviors among  young  athletes  in  sports.  In  a  prominent study  by  Anthea  Zacharatos  and  her  colleagues, researchers examined the relationship between the leadership  behaviors  displayed  by  youth  athletes and  the  leadership  behaviors  provided  by  their parents.  In  this  work,  parents’  displays  of  transformational  leadership  were  found  to  be  associated  with  their  adolescent  children’s  displays  of transformational  leadership  (based  on  self-ratings as  well  as  ratings  provided  by  their  teammates and  their  coach).  Furthermore,  when  adolescents made  use  of  transformational  leadership  behaviors in the sport team context they were rated by both  their  teammates  and  coach  as  being  more effective.  This  suggests  that  the  home  environment created by parents, and the manner in which parents  interact  with  their  children,  can  shape,  to some extent, the development of transformational leadership among youth. In terms of the extent to which  transformational  leadership  can  be  trained through intervention, this remains a question that has yet to be empirically tested within the context of  sport.  However,  in  organizational,  military, and  more  recently  within  educational  settings,  a growing number of intervention studies have been conducted,  which  support  both  the  viability  and efficacy  of  transformational  leadership  training programs. In these studies, transformational leadership has been found to be amenable to change (i.e., trainable) and thus enhanced through intervention, resulting  in  improved  cognitive  (e.g.,  self-efficacy, self-determined  motivation)  and  behavioral  (e.g., achievement, performance) outcomes among those being led. In light of the moderate to large training effects derived within these studies, this would suggest  that  such  intervention  initiatives  might  have considerable value within the sporting domain.

Transformational Leadership and Physical Activity Engagement

Recently,  researchers  have  begun  to  examine  the transformational  leadership  behaviors  utilized  by teachers in relation to the behavioral engagement of students within physical education (PE) classes. While  work  in  sport  settings  has  primarily  been concerned  with  the  extent  to  which  transformational  leadership  behaviors  utilized  by  coaches might be related to performance-related outcomes among  athletes,  research  in  educational  settings has  primarily  centered  on  the  extent  to  which transformational leadership behaviors used by PE teachers might be related to health-enhancing cognitions and physical activity (PA) outcomes among adolescents. Recent studies indicate that when PE teachers  make  use  of  transformational  leadership behaviors in their interactions with their students, their  students  tend  to  respond  with  improved self-efficacy  beliefs,  more  self-determined  motivation,  and  greater  engagement  in  PE  classes. Furthermore, there is evidence that when PE teachers  consistently  display  transformational  leadership  behaviors  in  their  interactions  with  their students this not only predicts effortful behaviors by adolescents within class time but, perhaps more importantly,  also  predicts  greater  engagement  in PA behaviors during their leisure time. This finding  points  to  substantive  cross-domain  effects, with PE teachers influencing adolescent behavioral engagement beyond the confines of the school.

Consistent with studies conducted within industrial  and  organizational  settings,  there  is  also  evidence  that  transformational  leadership  behaviors used  by  PE  teachers  can  be  developed  through short-term  (1-day)  training  programs,  resulting  in elevated  motivational  responses  among  students. Transformational  leadership  training  initiatives have  typically  taken  a  social-learning  approach, whereby  leaders  are  provided  with  exemplars  of transformational leadership, opportunities to practice and receive feedback on their leadership behaviors, as well as make use of self-regulatory processes (e.g., goal setting) to maximize their sustained use of  transformational  leadership  over  time.  In  light of  the  omnipresence  of  professional  development workshops  for  teachers,  such  training  programs have the potential to maximize the quality of interactions between teachers and their students.


The  transactional  and  transformational  leadership paradigm has received a growing amount of empirical  attention  within  both  the  sport  performance literature and the field of educational psychology.  Studies  to  date  point  to  the  predictive utility of the transformational leadership construct in relation to a range of adaptive athlete and student  outcomes.  Future  work,  however,  is  clearly warranted to test the effectiveness of interventions guided  by  transformational  leadership  theory, especially  in  sport  settings  in  relation  to  enhancing coach behavior, as well as salient athlete–team outcomes  (e.g.,  motivation,  group  cohesion,  individual and team achievement).


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  8. Zacharatos, A., Barling, J., & Kelloway, E. K. (2000).Development and effects of transformational leadership in adolescents. The Leadership Quarterly, 11, 211–226.

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