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).
- Bass, B. M. (1997). Does the transactional– transformational leadership paradigm transcend organizational and national boundaries? American Psychologist, 52, 130–139.
- Beauchamp, M. R., & Morton, K. L. (2011).Transformational teaching and physical activity engagement among adolescents. Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews, 39(3), 133–139.
- Callow, N., Smith, M. J., Hardy, L., Arthur, C. A., & Hardy, J. (2009). Measurement of transformational leadership and its relationship with team cohesion and performance level. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 21, 395–412.
- Charbonneau, D., Barling, J., & Kelloway, E. K. (2001).Transformational leadership and sports performance: The mediating role of intrinsic motivation. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 31, 1521–1534.
- Chaturvedi, S., Arvey, R. D., Zhang, Z., & Christoforou,P. T. (2011). Genetic underpinnings of transformational leadership: The mediating role of dispositional hope. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies,18(4), 469–479.
- Rowold, J. (2006). Transformational and transactional leadership in martial arts. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 18, 312–325.
- Tucker, S., Turner, N. A., Barling, J., & McEvoy, M. (2010). Transformational leadership and children’s aggression in team settings: A short-term longitudinal study. The Leadership Quarterly, 21, 389–399.
- Zacharatos, A., Barling, J., & Kelloway, E. K. (2000).Development and effects of transformational leadership in adolescents. The Leadership Quarterly, 11, 211–226.