Leadership Models for Becoming a Better Leader

By: Iavjot Kaur,

In this day and age, leadership is valued to be an important skill in life. As an article by Pennsylvania State University (2014) states, “effective leadership is essential to a functioning society” (para. 1). Whether it is in university or in the workplace, there will be times where you are required to step up as a leader. There might even be moments in your personal life where you can depend on your leadership skills to inspire those around you (University of the People, 2020). However, when thinking of leadership, it is important to keep in mind that leadership is not the same as totalitarianism, where one leader calls all the shots. In fact, “leadership is a process of social influence, which maximises the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal” (Kruse, 2013, para. 12). Nevertheless, the critical question remains: what makes a good leader? Although there are several types of leadership models out there, there is no one size fits all model. Thus, one should aim at choosing the right leadership model for themselves to maximise its effectiveness in the long-run. In light of this, the following article will introduce three leadership models which have been proven to make people better leaders, namely the Laissez-Faire, Transactional and Transformational model.

Laissez-Faire Model

Merriam-Webster (2020) defines laissez-faire as “a philosophy or practice characterised by a usually deliberate abstention from direction or interference especially with individual freedom of choice and action” (para. 1). As this leadership model is based on the French phrase “laissez-faire” which literally translates to “allow to do”, this model emphasizes “[letting] people do as they choose” (Merriam-Webster, 2020, para. 2). Thus, laissez-faire leadership, also known as delegative leadership, “empowers individuals, groups or teams to make decisions” (St. Thomas University, 2014, para. 8). In practice, the laisse-faire leadership model requires “leaders [to] leave it up to their subordinates to complete responsibilities in a manner they choose, without requiring strict policies or procedures” (St. Thomas University, 2014, para. 5). Thus, from the laisse-faire perspective, a leader only needs to focus on building a strong team by providing training and support and once that is accomplished, the leader leaves the decision-making to their subordinates and “stay out of their way” (Cherry, 2020; St. Thomas University, 2014, para. 5). As laissez-faire leadership employs a hands-off approach, “people who enjoy a wide degree of latitude in making decisions and working on projects autonomously are often most comfortable with laisse-faire leaders” (St. Thomas University, 2014, para. 1). The laissez-faire leader also needs to be comfortable with their employees making mistakes and needs to have a certain level of trust and confidence in their subordinates’ ability to “possess the skills, knowledge, and follow through to complete a project without being micromanaged” (Cherry, 2020, para. 3).

Just like any other leadership styles, the laissez-faire leadership model has its own advantages. Firstly, this leadership style allows the leader to encourage personal growth (Cherry, 2020). As the leaders are adopting a hands-off approach, it allows their employees to have more hands-on experience in the workplace (Cherry, 2020). Secondly, this leadership model also encourages innovation (Cherry, 2020). As employees are given the freedom to make the decisions by themselves, it inspires their creativity and innovation (Cherry, 2020). Lastly, it facilitates the decision-making process and makes it faster (Cherry, 2020). Without the absence of micromanagement, employees can make their own decisions which also helps them to make quick decisions as they do not need to wait for days or even weeks for approval from their leader (Cherry, 2020).

However, the correct environment is needed for laissez-faire leaders to thrive. This leadership model is often suited better to businesses in the “incubator phase of product development” or business which are highly creative, such as advertising agencies and social media companies (St. Thomas University, 2014, para. 13). This leadership style is highly relevant to start-up business too as “innovation is crucial to a company’s initial success” (St. Thomas University, 2014, para. 13). As employees are often “highly motivated, skilled, creative, and dedicated to their work” in creative fields, a leader can obtain great results by employing the laissez-faire leadership style (Cherry, 2020, para. 14). For one to become a better leader using laissez-faire leadership, they need to excel at providing essential information and background at the beginning of a new project so that the self-managing employees can acquire the necessary knowledge needed for them to complete the task (Cherry, 2020). Furthermore, as this particular leadership style is better suited to the early phases of a project where brainstorming of ideas is needed, leaders should remain flexible and open-minded to changing their leadership approach to “a style that involves more direction and oversight” once the “design is in place and ready for production” (Cherry, 2020, para. 15).

Transactional Model

The transactional model is one of the most common leadership models used by enterprises around the globe. According to Indeed (2020), “transactional leadership is a managerial style that promotes compliance and attaining goals through supervision, organisation and a system of rewards and management” (para. 2). Unlike the laissez-faire leader, a transactional leader is “someone who values order and structure” (St. Thomas University, 2014, para. 1). Since it is a result-oriented approach, it works better with employees who are self-motivated (Indeed, 2020). Through a team of self-motivated employees, transactional leadership is able to achieve goals (Indeed, 2020). However, these goals are not focused on changing the organisation as a whole (Indeed, 2020). Instead, transactional leadership focuses on “short-term and long-term goals while maintaining a routine, conformity and the status quo of the company” (Indeed, 2020, para. 3). Depending on whether the goals are met or not, employees can receive rewards or punishments (Indeed, 2020). In this leadership model, as the leader views the relationship between managers and employees as a sort of exchange, employees will receive rewards or punishments depending on their self-motivation and performance (Cherry, 2020).  Hence, this leadership style is referred to as being “transactional”.

Although the rigid structure of this leadership model might seem unappealing to some initially, it does have some advantages over other leadership styles. Firstly, transactional leadership facilitates goal achievement (Indeed, 2020). As a lot of companies adopting a transactional style are focused on short-term goals, it is easier and more realistic to facilitate the achievement of goals (Indeed, 2020). Secondly, this leadership style is motivating (Indeed, 2020). Although the task and goals set by the leaders might be challenging, it helps to encourage productivity and motivate employees to overcome the challenging goals (Indeed, 2020). Moreover, self-motivated employees will be attracted by the monetary compensation they will receive upon the completion of their goals (Indeed, 2020). Lastly, transactional leadership can be seen as “a measuring stick for success” (Indeed, 2020, para. 22). As some companies do not clearly define their idea of success, transactional leadership can lay out simple and clear goals and guidelines for everyone in the office to follow (Indeed, 2020). The employees can then use these goals and guidelines as a measuring stick to if they have achieved what is expected of them (Indeed, 2020). This measuring stick can also help companies fine-tune their rewards and punishment policies for employees depending on how well the employees are doing (Indeed, 2020).

For transactional leadership to be effective, problems in situations need to be simple and clearly defined (Cherry, 2020). Unlike laisse-faire leadership, employees are not expected to find new solutions to problems or to be creative (Cherry, 2020). Transactional leadership also works well in situations where certain tasks need to be achieved within a short period of time. By assigning clearly defined duties to employees, leaders can make sure that everything will get done in time (Cherry, 2020). According to Cherry (2020), “transactional leaders focus on the maintenance of the structure of the group” (para. 27). Not only are the leaders required to communicate to the employees what is expected of them, but they also need to be able to articulate the merits of performing well and the consequences of failure (Cherry, 2020). Throughout the whole process, leaders should also provide feedback which will help to keep the employees on task (Cherry, 2020).

Transformational Model

            The transformational leadership model is often seen as the polar opposite of the transactional model. According to Bass and Riggio (1998), the authors of Transformational Leadership, “transformational leadership involves inspiring followers to commit to a shared vision and goals for an organisation or unit, challenging them to be innovative problem solvers, and developing followers leadership capacity via coaching, mentoring, and provision of both challenges and support” (as cited in Stafford, 2010, p. 102).  Bass and Riggio (1998) asserts that there are four components in transformational leadership which can make leaders and employees advance each other “to a higher level of morale and motivation” (as cited in Cherry, 2020, para. 3). The first component is Idealised Influence (II) in which the leader serves as a role model for their employees (Cherry, 2020). Through trust and respect for the leader, “they emulate this individual and internalize his or her ideals” (Cherry, 2020, para. 10). The second component is Intellectual Stimulation (IS) where the leader encourages creativity among their employees (Cherry, 2020). The leader should not only challenge the status quo, but they should also encourage their employees to consider new ways of learning and doing things (Cherry, 2020). The third component is Inspirational Motivation (IM) in which the “transformational leaders have a clear vision that they are able to articulate to followers” (Cherry, 2020, para. 9). Transformational leaders should be able to help employees “experience the same passion and motivation to fulfil these goals” (Cherry, 2020, para. 9). The last component is Individualised Consideration (IC) where the leader offers support and encouragement to their employees (Cherry, 2020). Keeping lines of communication open helps to foster supportive relationships as employees feel comfortable in sharing their ideas and in return, “leaders can offer direct recognition of the unique contribution of each follower” (Cherry, 2020, para. 8).

            According to Bass and Riggio (1998), transformational leaders should be able to “stimulate and inspire followers to both achieve extraordinary outcomes and, in the process, develop their own leadership capacity” (as cited in Cherry, 2020, para. 20). Bass and Riggio (1998) also assert that “transformational leaders help followers grow and develop into leaders by responding to individual followers’ needs by empowering them and by aligning the objectives and goals of the individual followers, the leader, the group, and the larger organization” (as cited in Cherry, 2020, para. 20). As such leaders have faith in their employees that they will do their level best, it makes the employees feel inspired and empowered which in return leads to having “higher levels of performance and satisfaction than groups led by other types of leaders” (Cherry, 2020, para. 21). Apart from this, transformational leadership can also positively impact employees’ well-being (Cherry, 2020). Research has shown that “a transformational leadership style, which both conveys a sense of trust and meaningfulness and individually challenges and develops employees, also has a positive effect on employee well-being” as they feel valued in the company Cherry, 2020, para. 22).

However, similar to laissez-faire and transactional leadership, transformational leadership works better in certain environments, such as agile environments where the stakes for failure is comparatively low (White, 2018). Although a leader should aim for the development of a product to remain consistent and error-free, they should be careful not to “hinder the progress and growth of future updates and improvements” (White, 2018, para. 18). Small businesses can also benefit from such kind of leadership as “they work out the kinks associated with growth and brand-building” (Indeed, 2020, para. 29). In fact, upper management might also find transformational leadership helpful in achieving an overarching company vision (Indeed, 2020). Often times than not, as different management positions employ different leadership styles, transformational managers in hybrid-style companies can even pass down the company vision to transactional middle managers (Indeed, 2020).


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