Max Weber’s Transactional Leadership
Max Weber was a German sociologist who introduced the concept of the transactional and transformational leader. Weber, whose prominence was at its peak in the late 1940’s, broke leaders into three separate the types – bureaucratic, charismatic and traditional. He used these roles to create his Model of Transactional and Transformational leaders (1947). The first frame shows the “charismatic hero,” or transformer. To Weber, this describes one who is “set apart from ordinary people and endowed with supernatural, superhuman powers and heroic charismatic leadership.” In a sense, the transformational leader is similar to a “Superman,” someone who is larger than life.
Weber’s second frame shows the bureaucratic or “transactional” leader. In the theorist’s view, the bureaucratic leader is based on the concept of rational, legal, hierarchical power. To further explain, Weber’s definition of bureaucracy is “the exercise of control on the basis of knowledge.” (p. 339).
Finally, there is the traditional leader, or “prince.” This type of leader is tied to loyalty, favoritism and politics.
In general, Weber viewed leadership as situational in nature. He felt that the most effective leaders were the ones who could shift from one style to the other as the situation at hand dictated. While he put transactional and transformational leaders in his model, he saw a major difference between the two. Transactional leaders work within the existing system to achieve results. They are successful, but simply used the tools at hand. By contrast, the transformational leader is heroic and thinks “outside the box.” In essence, they are not afraid to approach a problem from an entirely unique perspective, and use their gleaming personality to meet their goals.
James McGregor Burns developed his theories about 30 years after Weber, but used some of Weber’s premises and insights to assist with his model. However, Burns infiltrated his model with Kohlberg’s stages of moral development, adding ethics to the equation of successful leadership.
Weber and Burns both recognized transactional and transformational leaders. However, Burns formulated a list which described five different types of leaders. They are:
- Opinion leaders – have the ability to change public opinion.
- Bureaucratic leaders – ones which hold position power over their followers.
- Party Leaders – Hold positions or titles in a particular country.
- Legislative leaders – Politicians who work behind the scenes (i.e. smoky back room)
- Executive leaders – described as the president of a country. Not always bound to a political party or legislators.
Burns (1978) also separated the “moral” leader from the “amoral” leader. Burns’ definition of a moral leader is one who “emerges from, and always returns to, the fundamental wants and needs, aspirations, and values of his followers” (p. 4). He adds that for the moral leader views his task as the “opposite of mere power-holding and brute power.” (p. 4).
On the other hand, amoral leaders, such as Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini, were neither transactional nor transformational. His reasoning was that “naked power wielding” cannot be viewed as true leadership. Although the amoral leaders were charismatic, they were not sensitive to the needs and wants of their followers, and they were also not supportive of helping them attain these.
Finally, Burns also separated his moral leader into the transactional and transformational categories, seeing the transactional leader as one who barters one thing for another (i.e. promises for votes), while the transformational moral leader exploits the needs of followers, and seeks to enhance the common good of all.”
Leadership Theory of Daniel Goleman
Daniel Goleman is the most recently known of the three theorists, and he is the one who introduced the term “emotional intelligence,” or “EI” to the public discourse. His theory sought to examine the behaviors which made people effective leaders, in essence turning inward toward feelings rather than the cold and calculated decision-making process.
Goleman (2002) defined emotional intelligence as the “ability to understand and manage the emotions of yourself and those around you.” His EI theory had four components, but when applied to a leadership situation described five characteristics. They are:
- Self-awareness – the first element, which involves a person’s ability to know what makes you tick, in other words, what are your strengths and weaknesses?
- Social skills – this is actually the last component of Goleman’s emotional intelligency theory. Applied to leadership, it states that leaders with good social skills are the best communicators, which also makes them better with conflict resolution and furthering their vision by enlightening and motivating others.
- Self-regulation – the emotionally intelligent leader is able to think through and analyze a situation before reacting. This lessens the chance of making a snap decision which turns into a mistake.
- Motivation – the emotional leader has an intense drive to succeed and is able to instill this passion in others.
- Empathy – the most successful leaders are able to understand the points of view which others share.
In my opinion, the most effective leadership qualities presented by the three theorists are those of the transformational leader and the emotional intelligent one. The transformational leader can have the largest effect on a group, in a positive or negative way, so I disagree with the assessment which Weber makes saying an amoral leader is not transformational. Also, as leaders emerge in the 21st century, emotional intelligence is becoming the most important trait for a quality leader to possess, because two-way communication has become more crucial in the workplace.
Burns, J. M. (1978). Leadership. Harper & Row: New York.
Goleman, D. (1995) Emotional Intelligence. Bantam Books: New York.
Weber, M., Gerth, H. H., Mills, C. W. (1947). From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology. Trubner & Co.: London.