Emotional intelligence and transformational and transactional leadership: a meta-analysis.

Author:Harms, P.D.


The purpose of this study is to evaluate claims that emotional intelligence is significantly related to transformational and other leadership behaviors. Results (based on 62 independent samples) indicated a validity estimate of .59 when ratings of both emotional intelligence and leadership behaviors were provided by the same source (self, subordinates, peers, or superiors). However, when ratings of the constructs were derived from different sources, the validity estimate was .12. Lower validity estimates were found for transactional and laissez-faire leadership behaviors. Separate analyses were performed for each measure of emotional intelligence. Trait measures of emotional intelligence tended to show higher validities than ability-based measures of emotional intelligence. Agreement across ratings sources for the same construct was low for both transformational leadership (.14) and emotional intelligence (.16).


transformational, leadership, emotional intelligence


Research into the relationship between emotional intelligence (EI) and transformational leadership is filled with bold claims as to the relationship between these constructs. Noted experts in the field of EI argue that elements of EI such as empathy, self-confidence, and self-awareness are the core underpinnings of visionary or transformational leadership (Goleman, Boyatzis, & McKee, 2002). An information package distributed by Multi-Health Systems, the leading distributor of EI assessment tools, claims that "emotional intelligence is synonymous with good leadership." Some have claimed that "for those in leadership positions, emotional intelligence skills account for close to 90 percent of what distinguishes outstanding leaders from those judged as average" (Kemper, 1999, p. 16). Others have noted the disappointing results of intelligence and personality models in the prediction of exceptional leadership and have argued that EI may represent an elusive "X" factor for predicting transformational leadership (Brown & Moshavi, 2005).

Since Goleman (1995) popularized the concept of EI, there has been no shortage of studies investigating the relationship between EI and positive outcomes. Two recent meta-analyses have found positive associations for El with school and work performance outcomes (Van Rooy & Viswesvaran, 2004) as well as mental and physical health (Schutte, Malouff, Thorsteinsson, Bhullar, & Rooke, 2007). Research into the relationship between EI and leadership outcomes has seen similar, if not more, levels of interest in recent years. The relationship with transformational leadership has received particular attention in these studies, which can be attributed to both its popularity in the leadership literature and specific elements of transformational leadership theory that seem relevant to EI. Yet, there has been widespread skepticism of the link between El and leadership outcomes (Antonakis, Ashkanasy, & Dasborough, 2009; Landy, 2005; Locke, 2005) and many studies have failed to find significant relationships between EI and transformational leadership in particular (e.g., Brown, Bryant, & Reilly, 2006; Moss, Ritossa, & Ngu, 2006; Sosik & Megarian, 1999; Weinberger, 2004). A review of the relationship between EI and leadership outcomes described the ongoing debate between the proponents and critics of El as one that "thrives on hyperbolic claims on one hand, and empirical evidence to the contrary on the other" (Lindebaum, 2009, p. 227). Furthermore, in a recently published debate (Antonakis et al., 2009) between major figures in each camp, Ashkanasy and Dasborough argued that a meta-analysis was needed to establish whether or not the claims of the EI proponents had merit. To address the issues raised in prior research and the current debate, this study will use a meta-analytic approach to establish whether or not EI is related to transformational and transactional leadership behaviors and under what circumstances.

Transformational Leadership

The concept of transformational leadership, a component of Bass and Avolio's "full range leadership theory" (Antonakis & House, 2002; Avolio, 1999; Bass, 1998), is one of the most widely researched paradigms in the leadership field and has shown substantial validity for predicting a number of outcomes including leader performance and effectiveness ratings in addition to follower satisfaction and motivation (Judge & Piccolo, 2004; Sashkin, 2004). Transformational leaders act as mentors to their followers by encouraging learning, achievement, and individual development. They provide meaning, act as role models, provide challenges, evoke emotions, and foster a climate of trust. The five dimensions of transformational leadership are idealized influence (attributed), idealized influence (behavioral), individual consideration, inspirational motivation, and intellectual stimulation (Bass & Avolio, 1997). Idealized influence (attributed) refers to the socialized charisma of the leader and whether or not he or she is perceived as being confident and committed to high-order ideals. Idealized influence (behavioral) refers to charismatic actions by the leader that are based on values, beliefs, or ideals. Individualized consideration is the extent to which a leader attends to the needs and concerns of his or her followers by providing socio-emotional support. This involves mentoring followers, maintaining frequent contact, encouraging followers to self-actualize, and empowering them. Inspirational motivation is the degree to which leaders inspire and appeal to followers by setting challenging goals and communicating optimism with regard to goal attainment. Intellectual stimulation refers to the extent to which leaders engage in behaviors that cause followers to challenge their assumptions, think creatively, take risks, and participate intellectually.

Beyond the subdimensions of transformational leadership, Bass and Avolio's (1997) full range model of leadership also contains three transactional leadership factors: contingent reward, management-by-exception (active), and management-by-exception (passive). Contingent reward refers to the degree that leaders operate according to economic and emotional exchange principles with followers. The leader sets out clear goals and expectations and rewards followers for working toward them. Management-by-exception (active) is the extent to which a leader actively monitors followers for mistakes and tries to correct them. Management-by-exception (passive) refers to leaders who wait for mistakes to occur before acting to correct them.

A final style of leadership is laissez-faire leadership, which refers to the absence of leadership. Laissez-faire leaders avoid making decisions or taking positions, hesitate to take action, abdicate their authority, and are typically absent when they are needed. Although conceptually similar to management-by-exception (passive), this form of leadership results in a lack of action even when correction is needed.

It has been noted that leaders can display each of these leadership styles at various times and to various degrees but that effective leaders are described as displaying transformational leadership behaviors and transactional leadership behaviors more frequently than passive and ineffective non-leadership style behaviors (Avolio, 1999).

Although there has been a great deal of research demonstrating the effectiveness of transformational leadership behavior in organizations (Judge & Piccolo, 2004), there has been a relative lack of research investigating the antecedents of these behaviors (Rubin, Munz, & Bommer, 2005). Prior research has linked transformational leadership with a number of biographical background factors such as parents taking an active interest in the development of their child, high parental moral standards, and whether or not individuals enjoyed school and their prior work experience (Avolio, 1994). In terms of psychological factors, transformational leadership has been linked with the higher levels of the traits Extraversion, Agreeableness, Emotional Stability, and Openness (Bono & Judge, 2004) in addition to other individual differences such as Need for Power (Antonakis & House, 2002; Sashkin, 2004), moral reasoning (Turner, Barling, Epitropaki, Butcher, & Milner, 2002), and secure attachment style (Popper, Mayseless, & Castelnovo, 2000). Higher levels of intelligence have also been found to be related to transformational leadership (Atwater & Yammarino, 1993). However, overall, the capacity of individual differences to predict transformational leadership has been disappointing. A meta-analysis of the relationship between transformational leadership and Big Five traits found that the corrected correlation between these constructs ranged from a low of .09 for Openness to a high of .23 for Extraversion (Bono & Judge, 2004). As a consequence, it has been suggested that other, unexplored factors such as EI may play a prominent role in predicting transformational leadership behaviors (Bass, 2002; Brown & Moshavi, 2005; Nye, 2008).

Emotional Intelligence

Although definitions of El vary widely, it can be thought of as "the set of abilities (verbal and non-verbal) that enable a person to generate, recognize, express, understand, and evaluate their own and others' emotions in order to guide thinking and action that successfully cope with environmental demands and pressures" (Van Rooy & Viswesvaran, 2004, p. 72). Research has conceived of EI as either a trait (Baron, 1997; Goleman, 1995; Petrides & Furnham, 2000; 2001) or an ability (Salovey & Mayer, 1990). As a trait, EI is considered to be an innate characteristic that enables and promotes well-being. Trait EI has been described as a constellation of emotional self-perceptions at the lower levels of personality hierarchies (Petrides, Pita, & Kokkinaki, 2007). As an ability, EI is considered to be important for not only comprehending and...

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