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Leadership Styles and their Impact on Organisations

Photo by kipcurry
Photo by kipcurry

Müller and Turner advise, “the project manager’s leadership style influences project success” (2007, p. 30) and in their study on the differences leadership can make to an organisational unit, Smith, Carson, and Alexander determined that “leadership definitely made a difference” (1984, p. 774). Similarly, Ogbonna and Harris have found that leadership is inextricably linked to organisational performance (2000, p. 765). With this in mind, it is important to understand the differences in leadership styles in order to recognise the different impacts that these styles can have on an organisation and the decision making process within an organisation.

Leadership styles are “relatively stable patterns of behavior displayed by leaders” (Eagly, 2003, p. 569). Prior to 1990, Eagly split leadership into two core styles (p. 570). One style is defined as “task-oriented”, concerned with “accomplishing assigned tasks by organizing task-relevant activities” (Eagly, 2003, p. 570), the other as “interpersonally oriented”, concerned with “maintaining interpersonal relationships by tending to others’ morale and welfare” (Eagly, 2003, p. 570). Bass and Bass described two other core leadership styles that were introduced prior to 1990 as transactional leadership and transformational leadership (2008, p. 50). The transactional leader exchanges one thing for something else in order to get the job done, the transformational leader however seeks to change the existing framework they are working in and subsequently satisfy higher needs (p. 41). “Transactional leadership encompassed contingent reward, management by exception and passive or laissez-faire” characteristics (Bass & Bass, 2008, p. 50), comparatively “transformational leaders were said to motivate followers to go beyond their own self-interests for the good of the group, organisation or society” (Bass & Bass, 2008, p. 50). Based on the definitions provided by Eagly (p. 569) and Bass and Bass (p. 50), similarities can be seen between the task-oriented and transactional leadership styles as well as between the interpersonally oriented and transformational styles.

In studies post 1990, it has been noted that male and female attributes defined by gender roles can affect the expected and actual tendencies of the leader (Eagly & Johannesen-Schmidt, 2001, p. 783). Eagly and Johannesen-Schmidt have suggested that the two main leadership styles that gender roles cause a tendency towards can be represented as agentic and communal. The agentic characteristics are represented most in men and can generally be described as an “assertive, controlling, and confident tendency—for example, aggressive, ambitious, dominant, forceful, independent, daring, self-confident, and competitive” (Eagly & Johannesen-Schmidt, 2001, p. 783). In contrast, the characteristics of the communal style are better represented in women and can generally be described as “a concern with the welfare of other people—for example, affectionate, helpful, kind, sympathetic, interpersonally sensitive, nurturant, and gentle” (Eagly & Johannesen-Schmidt, 2001, p. 783). It is apparent comparing the pre-1990 styles defined by Eagly (2003, p. 569) and Bass and Bass (2008, p. 50) with these post-1990 gender role tendency affected styles that there are clear similarities showing a male more closely aligned to a transactional or task-oriented leadership style and a woman more closely aligned to a transformational or interpersonally oriented leadership style.

Further studies have since suggested that leadership can best be broken into four styles, directive, transactional, transformational, and empowering (Bass & Bass, 2008, p. 42). Directive leadership involves characteristics such as instruction and command, assigned goals and contingent reprimand (Bass & Bass, 2008, p. 42). Research has extensively implied that directive leaders are the cause of both defective processes and of poor group decision-making thus resulting in poor outcomes for the organisation (Peterson, 1997, p. 1108). Directive leadership can however focus on outcomes or the process to varying degrees with research indicating that process based directive leadership is far more successful than outcome based directive leadership (Peterson, 1997, p. 1108). Transactional leadership involves contingent material rewards and contingent personal rewards (Bass & Bass, 2008, p. 42). Transformational leadership can be recognized by stimulation and inspiration, vision, idealism and challenging the status quo (Bass & Bass, 2008, p. 42) in the form of concentration on long-term goals; emphasis on a vision; working outside existing systems; and, encouraging followers to take on greater responsibility (Aragón-Correa, García-Morales, & Cordón-Pozo, 2007, pp. 349-350). Empowering leadership encourages thinking in terms of opportunities, self-reward, self-leadership, setting goals participatively and encouraging teamwork (Bass & Bass, 2008, p. 42).

Transformational leadership has been linked to innovation (Aragón-Correa, García-Morales, & Cordón-Pozo, 2007, p. 349), and it has been suggested that a leader may be both transactional and transformational (Lowe & Galen, 1996, Literature Review section, para. 2) but that a transformational leader is able to garner greater “work unit effectiveness” than a transactional leader (Lowe & Galen, 1996, Summary and Discussion section, para. 1). Other recent thought has put forward a leadership style referred to as “engaging leadership” (Alimo-Metcalfe, Alban-Metcalfe, Bradley, Mariathasan, & Samele, 2003, p. 587), which features characteristics of both transactional and transformational leadership similarly to Bass and Bass’ empowering leadership style described earlier. Engaging leadership offers the transaction of respect, joint vision, empowerment and encouragement under the guidance of “ethical principles and the desire to co-create and co-own ways of working with others towards achieving a shared vision” (Alimo-Metcalfe, Alban-Metcalfe, Bradley, Mariathasan, & Samele, 2003, p. 587) in return for integrity, transparency, strategic thinking, constructively critical thinking and proactive problem solving. Essentially a transferral of transformational leadership attributes between the leader and the followers in order to ensure the organisation can cope with change (p. 587).


Alimo-Metcalfe B., Alban-Metcalfe J., Bradley M., Mariathasan J., & Samele C. (2008) The impact of engaging leadership on performance, attitudes to work and wellbeing at work: A longitudinal study. Journal of Health Organization and Management, 22(6), 586-598. doi: 10.1108/14777260810916560

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Smith J. E., Carson K. P., & Alexander R. A. (1984). Leadership: It can make a difference. The Academy of Management Journal, 27(4), 765-776. Retrieved from

Ogbonna, E., & Harris L. C. (2000). Leadership style, organizational culture and performance: empirical evidence from UK companies. International Journal of Human Resource Management, 11(4), 766-788. doi: 10.1080/09585190050075114

Peterson, R. S. (1997). A directive leadership style in group decision making can be both virtue and vice: Evidence from elite and experimental groups. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 72(5), 1107-1121. Retrieved from

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