Is leadership a transformational process or is it a form of control?

Published: 2019/12/10 Number of words: 3725

Discussions and theories of leadership tend to emphasise vision, inspiration and motivation. We would learn more about leadership if we focused on people’s psychological need for control. Organisations cannot exist without some form of structure and control. People in organisations are largely controlled by their own adherence to structures. Leaders can either reinforce the significance of these structures or they can empower people to view the structures as a means of achieving change.

Now address the following question:

Is leadership a transformational process or is it a form of control?

Leadership is the process through which an individual can influence others to achieve or accomplish a goal and directs an organisation to make it more rational and consistent. Theories developed to give insight into leadership tend to emphasise inspiration, vision and motivation; however the psychological needs of the employees in an organisation should also be considered in the understanding of leadership. Leadership of an organisation implies that the leaders of an organisation, whether as individuals or as a group, apply their skills and knowledge to the process of leadership of the company. The concepts of leadership fill and arrange the appropriate practice of organisations and comprehend the nature of organised actions and its various possibilities. Nowadays, the concept of leadership has infiltrated organisations to such an extent that it is believed that if there is no leadership, there would be no organisation in the first place. (Smircich & Morgan, 1982)

Leadership can be defined as the process whereby one or more individuals succeed in making an effort to define and frame the actuality of others in the group. Below are a few theories of how leadership can be understood in terms of all the attributes involved in an organisation.


Figure 1. Trait Theory of Leadership, Process Theory of Leadership (Jago, 1982)

Jago, in his study of the trait theory of leadership, states that leadership resides in people and leaders influence their followers with their knowledge and skills. Similarly, the process theory implies that it is the interaction between a leader and followers that defines leadership. The process theory of leadership focuses on people’s psychological need for control. A leader has definite control over the group or her/his followers; it can be understood by more and more interaction (Jago, 1982). Psychological needs can differ from person to person. It can also be argued that not every individual likes to be a leader; such people prefer having somebody to guide them or to look up to.

Outstanding leadership. We can identify many leaders who have a strong presence in their own domains that offer an ideal structure for the situation – domains such as human endeavour, religion, and business. These leaders simply by dint of their position can influence others but those who have strong leadership qualities have powerful abilities to attract people and can influence an entity (Bass, 1985). For example, George Marshall had creative ability that he used together with his own qualities to improve Europe as we know it today. It is difficult to identify the abilities of an event and how they react to the procedures of an organizational structure. It is important for a leader to develop some procedures according to the business plan; these can be highly complex to apply accordingly to the social events.

The leadership approach can be social or personal, either of which can have an influence for both good and bad (for example, Adolf Hitler). Social leaders frequently seek acknowledgement and enhancement from others while personal leaders seek influence for their own historical power and self-aggrandizement regardless of the effects on the social system (House & Howell, 1992). There are certain issues where these leadership styles come into the picture, according to Thomas Watson, Sr. He paid attention to micro- and macro-level issues to ensure that the right assistance would be available to improve the distinction between levels of leadership skills. He also gained knowledge and expertise on how to apply his experience. These organizational needs were virtually fed evenly with adequate resources by gathering critical information. He started to analyse the information by using a cost and benefit analysis; the appeal was to ascertain the functional needs of the followers and the organisation (O’Connor, Strange & Mumford, 2002). As a part of his application, Watson also considered his background and his environment in order to improve his organisational performance – this typifies the skills of social leadership.

Creative problem-solving was considered to be a vital task; how a problem is approached will often determine how an issue is resolved (Hackman & Watson, 1986). Different ideas of how to address and discuss problems will depend on the leader’s view of how the problem is identified. The leader will generate ideas of how to solve the problem, as well as evaluating it, implementing action, monitoring its solution and, most importantly, gathering information. As people have different thoughts, each person would deal with a problem according to its particular definition.

Regardless of whether the leader uses social or personal methods, communication is key. The attitudes of individuals or organisations are often influenced by those who not only can develop others’ understanding but can also persuade them to get involved in the environment created by the leader. People’s behaviour can change depending on the leaders’ skills of communication (Mumford & Marks, 2002). The nature of leadership should be clearly understood and be transparent as this will reduce any ambiguity and help the followers to better recognise what is required without misunderstanding. This applies regardless of whether leaders base their ideas on a conceptual source or whether they have personal goals to succeed. This difference differentiates whether the leadership is a transformational process or a form of power.

Leadership emerges or begins to be implemented when a crisis occurs. The crisis needs to be dealt with to ensure the problem is resolved. Thus, good communication will resolve the aspect of introducing the leadership qualities and the followers will be able to accept the reason for leadership changes according to the task.


Figure 2: Pathways to outstanding leadership: a comparative analysis by Michael D. Mumford

Leadership styles are directly related to the attributes of the leader. The style of leadership will have an effect on the behaviour and prevent complexity. The leadership style may be based on a charismatic, ideological or pragmatic model. These styles may reflect past, present and future models depending upon the situation. For instance, taking different attributes into account, we can conclude (Conger & Kanungo, 1998) that a mix of different styles can lead to better leadership. Such a mix of styles is more likely to be accepted by all the individuals in the organization, allowing a healthy approach in dealing with any complex changes required in the organisation. Further, such a mix of styles will lead to fewer misinterpretations as there will be a transparent approach that does not give way to complexity. There will no dilemma working out whether it is a transformational process or the power to enjoy.

When it comes to a time frame, rather than opting for one time frame, leaders need to consider all the possible facts and figures as this will result in a sound analysis and the ability to resolve the issues accordingly. Leaders need to be more optimistic about finding a solution by considering both positive and negative aspects and incorporating them into the structures. Being transcendent might work with some leadership styles but it has to be looked into according to the situation. All styles of approach should be more open to external and internal activities which minimize complexity. As communication is a very important way of making things clear, the locus of causation should be more interactive rather than concentrated on particular situations and people. To control these particular situations, the leader should be more selective and moderate in making decisions.

Effective leaders are those who can identify what their team or individuals need, adapt to the requirements and act accordingly. Figure 3 gives a diagram demonstrating various styles of leadership:


Figure 3. Leadership Styles

Each leader is different from another and each leader uses individual behavioural patterns to attempt to influence others. These patterns include both directive (task) behaviour and supportive (relationship) behaviour. In a directive behavioural approach, leaders assist group members in establishing goals and accomplishing these goals. They do this by giving directions, offering methods of evaluation, defining timelines, defining roles and by showing how the goals can be achieved. Directive behaviour involves one-way communication in a work place; employees are told what work has to be done, how it has to be done and who is responsible for completing the job. In contrast, supportive behaviours help group members feel comfortable about themselves and the situation. Supportive behaviours show two-way communication and are more motivating.

Directive and supportive leadership styles can be further classified into four categories:

The first style (S1) is a high directive–low supportive style, which is also referred to as a ‘directing’ style. In this style, the leaders’ communication focuses on global achievement and they spend much less of time on supportive behaviour. The use of this style allows leaders to guide their subordinates in achieving their goals.

The second style (S2) is known as the ‘coaching’ approach. It is a high directive and high supportive style. The leader using this style focuses on interaction and communication with subordinates and considers both maintenance and goal achievement. Socio-emotional needs are considered. This interactive style means that the leader takes part in the work with his subordinates; the leader offers encouragement and solicits input from subordinates. Coaching is an extension of S1 but the final decision is made by the leader who decides how the goal can be achieved and what has to be done to do this.

The third style (S3) is a ‘supporting’ approach. The leader adopts a high supportive–low directive approach; the leader does not focus exclusively on goals but uses supportive behaviours that encourage the employees’ skills around the task to be accomplished. The supporting style includes listening, praising, asking for input and giving feedback. An S3 leader is quick to give social support and recognition to subordinates.

The fourth style (S4) is called the low supportive–low directive style. It is a ‘delegating’ approach. This kind of leadership offers minimal input and social support but rather facilitates individual employees’ motivation and confidence with reference to the job. This kind of leader does not become involved in planning, controlling details and goal clarification. They get the job done in whatever way they feel is best and refrain from intervening with unnecessary social support.

Organisational control is necessary for an organisation to be successful. Any form of control involves rules to be followed and establishes a common goal for the organisation. Organisational control can be understood to be the effect of all the interpersonal relationships in an organisation. It can also be understood as the crafting of rules and the monitoring of these rules through a defined hierarchy (Ouchi, 1979).

The structure is an important aspect of any organisation as it establishes relationships between all the individuals working in it. Ideally, the structure should be defined so that there is clarity about specifications for jobs and each individual knows what needs to be done. The form of the structure can vary from organisation to organisation and can be a hierarchical or a flat structure (Singla, 2009). The organisational structure establishes formal relationships including the hierarchical degrees or levels and the duties of each level. The organisational structure also groups individuals together to form teams or departments that contribute to the success of the organisation. Having a structure in place helps the organisation in terms of better communication, integration and co-ordination across all the departments in an organisation (Daft, Murphy & Willmott, 2010).

Considering the importance of control and structure in any organisation, leadership can be considered to be a transformational process. Leaders emerge within organisations. While leadership is a form of control, leaders can choose how to use their power over the others. Transformational leaders mostly emphasise the inherent motivations of their group. In a way, transformational leaders motivate a group by raising the expectations beyond their expectations. Transformational leadership yields to better results than transactional leadership (Lang, 2010).

In the above paragraph, we discussed what transformational leadership is and its advantages. Referring back to the question: ‘Is leadership a transformational process or a form of control?’ Leaders emerge in most cases. ‘However, John Potter in his book of leadership, states that leadership is a transformational process in its smallest form a transcendent process when most effective’ (John Potter, 2007). Practically, it would be more helpful to consider leadership as a process which can influence a group and create emotional alignments.

Adapting to a transformational approach helps both the sides (leaders and followers) equally.

Hooper and Potter (1997) in their book of the business of leadership suggest leadership competencies to be the following:

  1. a) Defining a goal
  2. b) Emotionally aligning with individuals
  3. c) Acting as an example
  4. d) Developing and encouraging individuals at all levels
  5. e) Encouraging change
  6. d) Behaving effectively in crisis situations.

The form of control that leaders have over their teams greatly influences the performance of a team or an organisation.

Similarly, all individuals working in an organisation will look up to their leaders. Organisations are structures and are developed to help the free flow of communication, co-ordination and integration. People in organisations are highly influenced by their own loyalty towards the structures. This, in a way, is a good aspect of the organisation. People in organisations obey what is ordered and work under the same and similar structures. Organisations with large structures and concrete hierarchies define a pattern of work flow. This establishes a natural control over the subordinates in each level of the hierarchy. The right hierarchy should be defined in an organisation depending upon the size of the organisation. The number of levels of organisation, functionality, and nature of the information that flows between them has to be well defined. The accountability and authority should be well distributed in an organisation (Gautam & Batra, 2007).

Bowers and Seashore (1967) stated that there should be a minimum of four characteristics of effective leadership: support, interaction facilitation, goal emphasis and work facilitation (Bowers & Seashore, 1967). Good leaders can influence their team or followers for a better understanding of these structures and can modify these structures to achieve change. A newly established organisation would have a simple hierarchy. The hierarchy would grow and become more complex in proportion to the size of the company. Some organisations find it difficult to change and develop more complex structures. However, organisations like Skype and Semco have created a new trend in establishing flat organisations. The control over the employees by a leader is widely spread rather than being vertical.

Considering what we have discussed so far, leadership can be both transformational as well as a form of control. All leaders have control over their followers that is best utilised when used correctly. This control over a group can be utilised to transform the individuals into better personalities. There is a difference between leadership development and leader development. Leadership development focuses on leaders as well as followers in order to build up shared leadership ability. Leader development focuses on the improvement of an individual (Day & O’Connor, 2003). Transformational leadership involves more involvement with the group, but a form of control is always necessary to keep the group intact. A group obeys a person or a leader only if he or she has a control over the group, but the progress of the group can show good results if the leader is transformational (Bass & Riggio, 2006).

Leadership is a phenomenon that can be seen all through the organisations and can be viewed as a form of control. The degree or extent of control over a group can be identified by the actions of a leader. In reality, leaders should not worry about the authority or control they have over their group, but should rather try to be more transformational. The combination of control, designation and theatre employed by leaders usually depends on the circumstances they face in real time that force the leaders to adapt to situational leadership. Leadership should be a form of influence, not a form of control. People like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, for example, had no control over any individual but influenced a lot of people. Good leaders can influence the environment around them, making them transformational. However the ultimate question arises if we think about the stability or steadiness of transformational leadership. The best leaders are considered to be both transactional and transformational. A leader, if he/she is to gain a control over a group or influence it, has to be both subjectively and objectively effective.

A transformational leader or manager pushes the boundaries and encourages a group to perform beyond their expectations. A transformational leader can bring about change in the individuals of an organisation or a group. Clear vision, confidence and the ability to influence people are the characteristics of a leader with transformational qualities. Leadership can be transformational process to inhibit change in an organisation. In a transformational process, leaders and followers can move to a better level, by helping each other. In organisations with a defined structure and control, people, regardless of the outcome, obey the instructions of a leader. The position or power that a leader or a manager has on his/her team allows them to get the resources required to develop the desired job. In many cases, the followers of a leader do the job just well enough to satisfy the leader but this kind of approach might not result in good growth or results in the long term. In most situations, leaders can achieve compliance but not commitment from their team unless they have the ability to influence the group. A person in a team can be motivated by self-interest, but cannot achieve consistency unless motivated and guided by a leader. Similarly, from a leaders’ perspective, the actions of a leader should reflect the organisation’s goals as well as the individual interests of the people in a group. Ultimately, the success or failure of an organisation depends on the choices the leaders make. Addressing the question, and considering the concepts we have discussed, leaders can influence and empower individuals to see the structures as a means of change.


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