Making sense of motivational leadership: the trail from transformational leaders to motivated followers.

Author:Ilies, Remus

This paper presents a theoretical model that integrates two related, but distinct mechanisms by which transformational leaders influence follower motivation. That is, we propose that an affective mechanism by which charismatic leaders induce positive emotional experiences in their followers, and a cognitive mechanisms that includes communicating the leader's vision and its effects on goal setting explain the connection between charismatic and transformational leadership and follower motivation. Further, we specify the pathways through which affective and cognitive processes influence three components of follower motivation: The direction of action, the intensity of effort, and effort persistence.


Research on leadership has pervaded the organizational literature for decades. Found among the various theories are comments and claims suggesting that "effective leaders motivate" (Locke, 1991, p. 70). Bass's (1990) comprehensive treatment of leadership mentions the term "motivation" hundreds of times. According to his model, (Bass, 1985, p.23), leader behaviors result in follower "heightened motivation to attain designated outcome(s)" which then leads to performance. Path-goal theory maintains that "one of the strategic functions of the leader is to enhance the psychological states of subordinates that result in motivation to perform" (House & Dessler, 1974, p. 30). Despite the high quantity of research on the topic of leadership, there still remains considerable work to be done in understanding the motivational effects of leadership. That is to say, neither motivation nor leadership research provide an adequate account for specifically how leadership and motivation are linked (House & Podsakoff, 1994; Shamir, House, & Arthur, 1993).

Accordingly, the purpose of the present manuscript is to contribute to our understanding of the effects of motivational leadership. We focus specifically on a well-supported theory of leadership--transformational or charismatic leadership. We further consider two distinct (albeit related) psychological processes that are assumed to result in heightened follower motivation--cognitive and affective mechanisms. In the next section of the paper, we consider past research on transformational or charismatic leadership and discuss the potential motivating effects of transformational leaders.

Past Research on Transformational/Charismatic Leadership

The term charisma (Greek for 'gift') has a distinguished history--it appears in 19 separate verses in the New Testament. It was Weber (1947), however, who associated charisma with organizational leadership. The first theory formally linking charisma to leadership was House's (1977) theory, which argues that leaders promote organizational change by articulating a clear vision and creating a strong bond with followers that leads to acceptance of the vision. While House was developing his theory of charismatic leadership, Burns (1978), in his analysis of political leadership, introduced the concept of transformational leadership. According to Burns, transformational leaders motivate followers by appealing to common ideals and moral values. Bass (1985) extended Burns's concept further, and argued that transformational leadership is comprised of four distinct dimensions: idealized influence (charisma), inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, and individualized consideration. There are other terms, sometimes used synonymously, such as visionary leadership (e.g., Locke, 1991b; Sashkin, 1988), to describe this form of leadership.

A considerable amount of research has accumulated on each theory of leadership. House and Shamir (e.g., House & Shamir, 1993), Conger and colleagues (e.g., Conger & Kanungo, 1998), and Howell and colleagues (e.g., Howell & Frost, 1989) have been among those contributing to research on charismatic leadership. Avolio and Bass (Avolio, 1999; Bass, 1985; Bass & Avolio, 1994) have been the leading researchers on transformational leadership. There have even been separate meta-analyses of the effects of transformational (Lowe, Kroeck, & Sivasubramaniam, 1996) and charismatic leadership (Fuller, Patterson, Hester, & Stringer, 1996), published in the same year.

Despite extensive research on charismatic and transformational leadership, it is not entirely clear how the two concepts should be integrated. Virtually all writers on the subject agree that there are strong similarities in the concepts. Some argue that despite the similarities, one concept is to be preferred over the others. Bass and Avolio (1994) argue that charisma is only one lower-order component of transformational leadership. Conversely, others prefer charisma over transformational leadership. Conger and Kanungo (1998, p. 70) write, "the Conger-Kanungo model of charismatic leadership is the most comprehensive." Shamir et al. (1993, p. 577) prefer the label charismatic on the grounds that "charisma is a central concept in all of them." Other writers use the terms synonymously (e.g., Baum, Locke, & Kirkpatrick, 1998). Den Hartog and Koopman (2001, p. 173) conclude, "Despite the broad array of terms used by different authors within this approach, there seem to be more similarities than differences between these view of the phenomenon of leadership." Supporting this conclusion, the meta-analyses of transformational (Lowe et al., 1996, Table 5, p. 410) and charismatic (Fuller et al., 1996, Table 2, p. 280) leadership found nearly identical effects. Charisma correlates very highly with the other dimensions of transformational leadership (ave. r=.84; Lowe et al., 1996, p. 421), and many authors load the purportedly distinct factors on a common factor (e.g., Judge & Bono, 2000).

Whatever the proper label and structure of this form of leadership, it appears to matter. The aforementioned meta-analyses suggest that charismatic (Fuller et al., 1996) or transformational (Lowe et al., 1996) leadership is related to both subjective perceptions and objective criteria indicating effective leadership. Supportive studies have been laboratory (Jung & Avolio, 1999) and field (Howell & Hall-Merenda, 1999), cross-sectional (Yammarino, Dubinsky, Comer, & Jolson, 1997) and longitudinal (Howell & Avolio, 1993), correlational (Judge & Bono, 2000) and experimental (Barling, Weber, & Kelloway, 1996). Transformational or charismatic leadership is associated with perceptions of effective leadership (Shamir, Zakay, Breinin, & Popper, 1998) and objective measures of group (Sosik, Avolio, & Kahai, 1997), work unit (Avolio, Howell, & Sosik, 1999), and organizational (Geyer & Steyrer, 1998) performance.

At the same time, beyond the definitional difficulties noted above, there is a mysterious quality to this leadership. Some of the concern and debate has been over whether charismatic or transformational leadership is of the exceptional nature--reserved for a few gifted individuals-or of a more prosaic nature for the masses (see Beyer, 1999). A more microanalytical--but equally important--concern is the need to understand how transformational leadership works. As Bass (1999, p. 24) commented, "Much more explanation is needed about the workings of transformational leadership." Although there have been recent efforts to look inside this "black box" (Jung & Avolio, 2000), a particularly pressing area is the need to understand the motivational effects of transformational or charismatic leaders. Shamir et al. (1993, p. 578) commented, "There is no motivational explanation to account for the profound effects of [charismatic] leaders." Similarly, House and Aditya (1997, p. 442) concluded, "The neocharismatic theories offer inadequate or untested explanations of the process by which the theoretical leader behaviors are linked to, and influence ... followers."

There have been a few exceptions to the dearth of attention to the motivational effects of transformational leaders. Shamir et al. (1993) offered a self-concept-based explanation for the motivational effects of charismatic leaders, predicting that charismatic leadership is effective because it raises follower self-esteem, collective identity, and intrinsic valence of work. Shamir et al. (1998) tested the theory based on a sample of Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) officers. Based on the results, Shamir et al. (1998, p. 404) concluded, "In general, the self-concept-based theory (Shamir et al., 1993) did not receive much support." Bono (2001) also tested various aspects of Shamir et al.'s (1993) theory. Though several hypothesized links were supported, the results were not particularly supportive of self-concept theory with respect to job performance. Path-goal theory (House & Dessler, 1974) is another leadership theory that emphasizes follower motivation, arguing that follower motivation results from a complex interaction of leadership style, follower characteristics, and situational attributes. However, reviews of theory indicate mixed support and flawed tests (Podsakoff, MacKenzie, Ahearne, & Bommer, 1995; Wofford & Liska, 1993). Podsakoff et al. (1995, p. 457) concluded, "There is little support" for the predictions of path-goal theory. Thus, if there are motivational effects of transformational leaders, it appears that one must look at additional processes beyond those previously proposed.

In the next section of the paper, we present a model of the relationship between transformational leadership and follower motivation. In the model, we make a distinction between affective and cognitive processes, which is an issue we discuss next. We should also note that, in the model, we use the terms transformational and charismatic leadership, treating charisma as a theoretically-relevant (particularly for our purposes) indicator of transformational leadership. Further, we do not make distinctions among possible dimensions of transformational leadership, such as those in the Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire (MLQ; Avolio, Bass, & Jung...

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