How Transformational Leadership Leads to Ethical Leadership
As managers struggle to make their subordinates follow their directions, one thing that managers must realize is that theirs is just a title assigned to their role in the team, and does not necessarily equate to leadership. With more employees turning into cynics about the real motives of management, the more becoming an effective manager and leader and changing the leadership approach become crucial in keeping employees loyal, motivated, and satisfied with their job and work environment. Therefore, what managers must understand is how becoming a transformational leader can help restore the faith of employees to management without sacrificing ethics, principles, and values.
Caldwell et al. (2012, p. 176) defines transformative leadership as "an ethically based leadership model that integrates a commitment to values and outcomes by optimizing the long-term interests of stakeholders and society and honoring the moral duties owed by organizations to their stakeholders." Simply put, transformational leadership is a method that helps people change their perspectives about change itself. It makes people embrace the idea of wanting "to improve and to be led" (Hall et al., 2012). It incorporates the notions of servant leadership (Caldwell et al., 2012, p. 180), which shows a deep commitment to the wellbeing of others above self. To do this, a transformational leader must begin by evaluating the stakeholders' motivations, satisfy their desires, and show importance to these stakeholders. What makes this leadership model different is how the emphasis shifts from the leader to the followers themselves unlike in traditional models where importance is placed highly on what the leader wants the team to achieve, without regard to the wants and needs of the followers. This is brought about by traditional beliefs that leaders are bestowed power and control over the team (Anon., Traditional Leadership Styles, n.d.).
However, as times are changing in the corporate world, I share Northouse's (Armstrong & Muenjohn, n.d., pp 22-23) argument that four aspects of transformational leadership engage individuals to perform better. These are idealized influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, and individualized consideration. Leaders who act as catalysts for change and serve as role models are called "idealized influence" (Armstrong & Muenjohn, n.d., p. 22), for their ability to gain the trust of the followers. "Inspirational motivation" (Armstrong & Muenjohn, n.d., p. 22) leaders arouse inspiration and motivation by sharing expectations to followers and enthusing followers to commit and share the company's visions. When a leader encourages the followers to become resourceful, this leader uses "intellectual stimulation" to keep followers thinking, innovating, and empowered, thus, invigorating their minds to think and "challenge their own beliefs" (Armstrong & Muenjohn, n.d., p. 22). Last is individualized consideration, which symbolizes support for followers through coaching and mentoring (Armstrong & Muenjohn, n.d., p. 23). Leaders who possess these qualities are believed to be highly ethical (Caldwell, et al., 2012, p. 177) as they strive to better the organization and the followers instead of focusing on inward motives.
Transformational leadership model leads to ethical leadership when leaders go out of their way to listen, motivate, and empower the followers to instigate and execute changes within the organization. An example of a transformational leader is the owner of Wal-Mart, Sam Walton, who made his presence felt across all branches of the store and who believed that by praising and showing employee appreciation, employees would feel motivated and important (Hall et al., 2012). Another example of transformational leadership is how Enron treated its employees through charismatic leadership method, which used intellectual stimulation to paint a vision of a better life for Enron employees than those working in other companies (Tourish, n.d). By constantly reminding employees how good they were and how much the company values their input, employees started to believe that working for Enron is the perfect work setup and that someday, they will also experience the same privileges as the leaders (Tourish, n.d.).
On the other hand, Mayer et al. (2012, p. 152) claims, "moral identity motivates leaders to act in ways that demonstrate some responsiveness to the needs and interests of others". That factor restrains a leader from acting corruptly, especially when it goes against the leader's self-perception. Because it acts as a self-monitoring system, it only proves the direct relationship between moral identity and ethical leadership (p. 152). Ethical and moral leaders are more likely to act according to what they perceive is right or wrong and just or unjust. Their definition of success depends not only on the outcome but the manner on how the outcome was reached (p. 153). Thus, a person without moral identity cannot be a good ethical example.
Studies also reveal that individuals observe and emulate leaders whom they think are ethical leaders. According to Bandura's Social Learning Theory (Mayer, et al., 2012, p. 153), by observing role models or leaders on how they reward good behavior, followers are influenced instinctively to act the same way as those given the rewards. The same is true when these role models address unethical behavior through punishments. Thus, individuals not only learn to behave properly based on their experiences, but also through observation (Mayer, et al., 2012, p. 153) of other employees' actions.
If Bandura's Social Learning Theory is applied correctly, I think it would produce the desired results, that is, having leaders who are ethical and followers who behave accordingly based on what is right or wrong. By observing the dynamics between leaders and erring employees, companies strongly emphasize that inappropriate behaviors are not tolerated, thus, followers are more likely to act based on what is expected of them. In addition, the more individuals witness how just and moral their leaders are, the more they are likely to emulate them and opt to produce good results.
Moral identity and transformational leadership show a direct correlation when it comes to identifying some core traits of a leader. Based on qualities of various leaders who proved to be thriving in their fields, studies were conducted to identify effectiveness of a leader according to physiological, demographic, personality, intellective, and judgment factors (Anon., Trait Theory of Leadership, n.d.). Results showed that although there are many traits that winning leaders possess, core characteristics that make a leader successful include honesty and integrity, emotional maturity, charisma, desire to improve the welfare of others, flexible, and a good listener, among others.
Leading others can be a personal relationship between the leaders and the followers, especially when the act of leading makes a positive influence on the lives of the ones being led. Thus, inspiring others to become better, encouraging creativity and innovation, motivating followers to commit to company goals, coaching and advising, and acting fairly on unethical behaviors, among others, help transformational leaders gain trust and respect of their followers. When leaders are morally guided by principles that clearly establish their stand on dishonorable behaviors, then occurs a seamless integration between a transformational leader and an ethical leader.
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Caldwell, C., Dixon, RD., Floyd, LA., Chaudoin, J., Post, J. and Cheokas, G. 2012. Transformative leadership: Achieving unparalleled success. Journal of Business Ethics, 109(2), pp. 175-187.
Hall, J., Johnson, S., Wysocki, A. and Kepner, K. 2012. Transformational leadership: The transformation of managers and associates. [online] Available at:
Mayer, DM., Aquino, K., Greenbaum, RL and Kuenzi, M. 2012. Who displays ethical leadership, and why does it matter? An examination of antecedents and consequences of ethical leadership. Academy of Management Journal, 55(1), pp. 151-171.
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