A critique of Transformational Leadership theory
This paper assesses the main characteristics of the criticisms which are made against transformational leadership (TL) theory. Particular emphasis is placed on those arguments which question the entire theoretical basis of TL on the grounds that it has been constructed on foundations which contain certain fundamental flaws, which inevitably results in questions arising on the extent to which the empirical evidence can be trusted in terms of generalizability and representativeness. Consequently certain key claims of TL theory have been put under close scrutiny. Amongst the criticisms made, this discussion has deemed the following to be amongst the most significant:
the dubious validity of those measurement criterion which underpin the Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire (MLQ) and the resultant negative implications this has in terms of the way in which TL theory is at root based on fundamentally flawed interpretation of how leadership indicators are measured objectively
accusations of TL theory being an „elitist‟ concept
ambiguity of measurement criteria („idealized influence‟ is looked at in some detail)
shortcomings of the charismatic argument
An empirical assessment is made of each criticism together with a study of what, if any, response has been made by TL‟s supporters. Finally, I outline my reasons as to why TL theory has provided an effective synthesis of general leadership theories, the advantages of which far outweigh the disadvantages, and by extension the successful refutation of those relatively weak arguments of the theory‟s opponents. Criticism and counter-criticism
Arguably the greatest charge against TL theory is that the MLQ - an instrument which underpins the entire philosophical framework of the theory itself – is conceptually flawed. Its detractors argue that the four elements which comprise TL theory (idealized influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation and individualized consideration; aka the „Four I‟s‟) are not sufficiently distinctive to facilitate a meaningful 1
separation of TL‟s theoretical arguments from those of other leadership theories (Northouse, 2007).
Criticism has been made of the perceived ambiguous usage of the concept of „influence‟ as a way of justifying the explanatory power of TL theory. According to this view, TL theory relating to aspects concerning influence would have more substance if the actual processes themselves were more lucidly identified within TL empirical studies. Yukl criticises the lack of qualitative and quantitative studies relating to “arousal of motives or emotions, increased self-efficacy or optimism, modification of beliefs about reward contingencies and increased task commitment” (Yukl: 287). Bryman expands on this criticism by stating that it is vital for there to be a proven link between charismatic leadership and its influence on followers to the extent that they in turn display behaviours which are commensurate with the leader‟s overall objectives. He calls this the „routinization of charisma‟ and states that “if the mechanisms for routinizing their charisma are poorly understood, charismatic leadership is likely to be an ephemeral phenomenon” (Bryman: 754). In other words, all of the qualitative research studies which underpin TL theory are inherently flawed.
In seeking to address these criticisms Hoyt and Blascovich undertook rigorous research into whether or not the TL style is directly responsible for raising the collective self-efficacy of the group in the realm of raising performance standards would appear to be needed before one could categorically state that TL is responsible for this impact (Hoyt and Blascovich, 2003). This research was conducted out four years after Yukl‟s critique and comprehensively measures those very variables which Yukl deemed as being insufficiently tested to provide validity to TL theory. Using regression...
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