Just as businesses and organizations require effective leadership behaviors in order to grow and develop successfully, it has been suggested that the same is required within families in order to foster a family climate that promotes healthy child development. Although a range of predictors are associated with child and adolescent health, arguably the family (and especially parents) remains one of the most influential determinants of child and adolescent health behaviors. Although many theories of parenting are utilized in sport and exercise psychology, a contemporary framework of leadership has recently been extended to the parenting domain in order to examine the influence of parenting behaviors in relation to physical activity participation (and other important sport and health-related cognitions and behaviors) in youth.
Grounded in transformational and transactional leadership theory, which was initially conceptualized by Bernard Bass, transformational parenting comprises four behavioral dimensions; idealized influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, and individualized consideration. When parents engage in idealized influence, they behave as role models to their children, lead through the demonstration of personally held values and beliefs, and are consistent and dependable. Inspirational motivation involves parents energizing and inspiring their children to go beyond minimally accepted standards and displaying optimism with regard to what their child can achieve. Intellectual stimulation includes behaviors that get their children to think for themselves, encourages them to contribute to decision making and behaviors that are respectful of their children’s ideas and opinions. And finally, when parents display individualized consideration they show a genuine interest in their children’s life, display a sense of care and concern, and are sensitive to their children’s unique abilities and needs.
The behaviors that underpin transformational leadership in many ways parallel effective parenting strategies. For example, both leaders (within organizations) and parents (within families) aim to encourage those they lead to become increasingly autonomous in their actions and seek to inspire and motivate them to achieve established goals or objectives. Furthermore, successful leadership and parenting both involve maximizing the quality of their relationship with others. It is the focus on higher order intrinsic needs of followers and the long-term vision for success (rather than a focus on short-term goals) that differentiates transformational leadership theory from other leadership theories and makes this framework especially pertinent to parenting.
Given the positive associations that have been demonstrated between transformational leadership and important follower outcomes in diverse settings (self-efficacy, intrinsic motivation, leader satisfaction, positive affect), and the significance of parenting in promoting adolescent physical activity and health, researchers are now applying transformational leadership to the parenting domain with a focus on understanding the effects of specific parenting behaviors on child and adolescent physical activity and health-related outcomes.
Although empirical research integrating principles from transformational leadership theory and parenting is at a relatively early stage, a growing number of studies have extended this framework to parenting. In the context of sport, perceptions of transformational parenting behaviors are associated with adolescents’ own use of transformational leadership behaviors displayed within their peer interactions in sport settings. Given the positive associations between transformational leadership and important group-level outcomes, such as group cohesion and improved conflict management, fostering transformational leadership in youth sport has important implications for subsequent participation and performance, and it is plausible to suggest that this can be enhanced through parents’ own use of transformational behaviors in the home. Furthermore, research suggests that displays of transformational parenting may translate into less aggressive behaviors in youth sport. These outcomes arise as transformational parenting involves behaving in ways that fosters identification with the leader and desire to emulate their (prosocial) behaviors. Furthermore, transformational parenting involves setting high expectations for (appropriate) behavior and getting children and adolescents to think about alternative ways to overcome problems and frustrations, thus making it less likely that they will choose to enact aggressive behaviors.
Outside of the sport arena and from an exercise and health psychology perspective, research has demonstrated positive associations between parents’ use of transformational leadership behaviors (transformational parenting) and adolescents’ self-efficacy beliefs to engage in regular physical activity and to sustain a healthy diet, as well as indices of adolescent psychological well-being. Furthermore, adolescents’ perceptions of transformational parenting are also associated with their actual physical activity and healthy eating behaviors. Interestingly, these studies suggested that both mothers’ and fathers’ use of transformational parenting was associated with these improved health-related outcomes among adolescents. Transformational parenting is postulated to bring about improvements in health-related cognitions by communicating high expectations with regard what adolescents can achieve, thus motivating them to choose to enact voluntary health behaviors such as increasing their physical activity. Furthermore, transformational parenting involves empowering rather than controlling behaviors and also creates conditions where adolescents are encouraged to think for themselves, thus bringing about improved self-regulation to engage in such behaviors.
In light of the predictive effects of transformational parenting behaviors in relation to adaptive adolescent exercise and other health-related outcomes, it seems pertinent in future research to examine the potential of transformational parenting interventions. Given the well documented success of training and developing transformational leadership in other diverse settings through relatively short-term intervention, this framework holds much promise for fostering adolescent health and well-being via improvements in these family leadership processes.
- Bass, B. M., & Riggio, R. E. (2006). Transformational leadership (2nd ed.). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
- Morton, K. L., Barling, J., Rhodes, R. E., Mâsse, L. C., Zumbo, B. D., & Beauchamp, M. R. (2010). Extending transformational leadership theory to parenting and adolescent health behaviours: An integrative and theoretical review. Health Psychology Review, 4, 128–157.
- Morton, K. L., Wilson, A. H., Perlmutter, L. S., & Beauchamp, M. R. (2012). Family leadership styles and adolescent dietary and physical activity behaviours: A cross-sectional study. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 9, doi: 10.1186/1479-5868-9-48
- 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.