What is transactional leadership and transformational leadership?

Transactional leadership is primarily process and control based and requires a strict management structure. Transformational leadership, on the other hand, focuses on inspiring others to follow, and requires a high degree of coordination, communication and cooperation. Transformational and transactional leadership are polar opposites in terms of the underlying theories of management and motivation. Transactional leaders focus on organisation, supervision and group performance, while transformational leaders focus on change within the organisation.

As shown in Table 2, correlation analyses showed a pattern of results supporting the hypothesis that higher levels of positive leadership ratings would be associated with more positive attitudes towards evidence-based practice. Specifically, transformational leadership was significantly positively associated with scores on the EBPAS subscales of attractiveness, openness and requirements and with EBPAS total scores. Transactional leadership was significantly positively associated with scores on the EBPAS subscales of openness and requirements and with EBPAS total scores. Next, a regression analysis was conducted for each subscale of the EBPAS and another for the overall scale.

Third, this study involved public sector mental health providers, and the results may not be generalisable to other settings or provider groups. However, this concern is somewhat mitigated to the extent that the results presented here are consistent with the literature on leadership and organisational change. Fourth, five regression models were estimated, so inflation of Type I error rates could be a factor in this set of analyses. Fifth, the study presented here assessed suppliers' ratings of their supervisors' leadership.

However, other organisational variables may also be related to providers' attitudes towards evidence-based practices (4.Finally, the approach to leadership was not assessed. That is, the extent to which supervisors promoted the use of evidence-based practices is unknown in the study presented here. This leaves us with conclusions regarding the general, rather than specific, effects of transformational leadership. One of the strengths of the study presented here is that it focused on real-world mental health service providers working in publicly funded community-based mental health programmes.

In that sense, this work differs from studies of manualised interventions that focus on more traditional psychotherapy practices with PhD-level clinicians (60,6). In the public behavioural health care system, the majority of workforce providers in community settings in the United States do not have PhD-level training, and these essential providers are likely to be agents of widespread delivery of evidence-based interventions. Therefore, although this study took place in one large county, the results are likely to generalise to other similar settings. Further research is needed to determine whether these results can be replicated.

While a transactional leader may micromanage an employee's work, transformational leaders will give them more room to operate. This allows employees to take on more responsibility and use more of their creativity. In turn, the employee feels they have a greater stake in the organisation. Transactional leaders focus on managing and supervising their employees and facilitating group performance.

The transactional leadership style is considered insufficient, but not bad, for developing maximum leadership potential. Although leadership roles may vary according to organisational level or discipline (70,7 , the study presented here suggests that the supervisor-supervisee dyad is a potentially important leverage point affecting attitudes towards the adoption of evidence-based practice. This finding is likely to indicate a general distrust of change and practices that are perceived as different from usual care when leadership is sub-optimal. Transformational leadership inspires and motivates followers, whereas transactional leadership relies more on reinforcement and exchanges.

Transactional leaders focus on performance, promote success with rewards and punishments, and maintain compliance with organisational norms. Full-range leadership theory attempts to combine the best aspects of transactional and transformational leadership into a comprehensive approach. Transactional leadership was significantly positively associated with scores on the openness subscale of the EBPAS. Poor transactional leaders may be less likely to anticipate problems and intervene before they surface, while more effective transactional leaders take the right action at the right time (3).

There is a need for both styles in any organisation, but transactional and transformational leadership are poles apart in terms of what they are and how they are applied. Leadership at the supervisor-supervisee level is important in change management, as it is a frequent point of contact, influence and shared meaning in organisations. Consistent with this definition is the finding that transformational leadership was associated with the EBPAS total score, indicating that inspirational and motivational leadership can engender open attitudes. This indicates that providers who reported that immediate supervisors displayed more transactional leadership behaviours endorsed greater overall openness towards adopting evidence-based practices.

Transactional leaders are concerned with the status quo, while transformational leaders are more change-oriented. Management researcher Bernard Bass developed the Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire (MLQ), which consists of 36 items reflecting aspects of leadership associated with both approaches.

Jason Klingler
Jason Klingler

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