Transactional vs. Transformational Leadership: Is it really either/or?


Many people seem to think that transformational leadership is good and transactional leadership is bad. Business and leadership schools are constantly promoting the merits of transformational leadership and the need to provide followers with a vision and purpose.  Vision and purpose are great, but can only be focused on after a persons basic level needs are met.  According to Maslow, the basic human needs have to be met before higher levels can be achieved.  Most employees will not be motivated by vision when they are struggling to pay their bills.  When leading a new project, first determine what motivates your new team members before committing to a leadership style or simply assuming that what worked for your last project team will work for your new project team.


Transactional leadership is considered more of a management style were leaders offer rewards and/or punishment to gain compliance and to encourage or discourage employee behavior.


Transacational leadership is based on the ability of a leader to provide rewards that employees value.  Recently a friend was telling me about a rewards program at work that allowed employees to choose their work schedules based on performance.  Time is our most precious resource and these employees realized the value in choosing their own schedules.

Another friend informed me that at her office top sales leaders were rewarded with products made by the company, like new appliance.  The rewards of household appliance meant that employees could spend their limited monetary resources on other items.  The competition also encouraged employees to boost their sales numbers.

In both of these situations, the employees were excited and motivated about the incentives offered in by their employers.  It is important when using a reward system to know the motivations of your employees.



Transformational leadership is often considered superior leadership and is when leaders can elevate the interests of their employees and inspire them.

Elected officials like President Barrack Obama and Chief Executive Officers like Elon Musk are known for their transformational leadership styles and their ability to inspire others with charisma and vision.

One of my former jobs was working at The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).  The primary mission of NORAD is to keep the US and Canadian homelands safe and as a Department of Defense civilian, there is no higher calling.  Protecting and serving those we love is inherently motivational and inspiring.

I volunteer for a public speaking organization, Toastmasters International.  As a volunteer we don’t have a large budget,  so I reinforce the importance of goal of the organization to motivate and inspire other volunteers.  Volunteers are often members, because they truly believe in the cause. On the other hand, volunteers will often quit if pushed too hard, because they have other responsibilities.

Both Transactional and Transformational leadership are effective in the right situations and can often be combined.  Every leader needs to adjust their style based on the needs of their team and their environment.  Leadership is something which you can adjust and change over a lifetime.  Learn from your experiences and make changes as your grow.

Life is a Project!

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