Mention transformational leadership and the celebrated public speakers of the generations tend to come up as examples. Richard Branson, Barack Obama, Steve Jobs. Charismatic, fit men with gravitas, melodious voices, and faces that strike the perfect balance of good-looking-but-not-too-good-looking, somewhere between George Clooney and your barista.
It’s a personality type that most people will never fit, but managers have been striving towards those ideals since the term was first coined in the 1970s. And finally, for those who feel they might never get there, there’s evidence that leadership doesn’t have to be quite so dramatic.
A University of Iowa study of Chinese companies found that sometimes, employees just need a stable manager who can lead well with reliability. For teams that needed extra motivation or weren’t performing well, transformational leaders were helpful. However, for employees who were self-motivated, and teams that were already high-performing, the energy of transformational leaders was found to be disruptive.
“If (team) identification is high, transformational leadership efforts will meet with less success,” said study author Ning Li, professor of management and organizations. “Leaders need to tailor their transformational actions accordingly, rather than use a one-size-fits-all, group directed, transformational style.”