Transactional vs. Transformational Leadership

Throughout my time at the English school, I have observed both the transactional and transformational leadership theories in action. As discussed in previous blog posts, much of the leadership displayed by our administrative staff is transforming and/or transformational in nature. My colleagues and I are instilled with a greater sense of purpose and leave group meetings feeling inspired and empowered to make a difference in our students’ lives by doing our jobs to the best of our abilities. Therefore, it is interesting that instead of transformational leadership, transactional leadership seems to be the main method used within the classroom walls. If one of us teachers wishes to get the students to put forth more effort toward studying a concept or doing their practice exercises, we typically offer some sort of reward, such as extra time to play outside, in exchange for the completed worksheet. In this way, the transactional style of leadership helps to overcome the challenge of keeping a group of energetic elementary schoolers on task and focused. It seems as though the transactional leadership style is more effective with younger kids because the more simple basis of a reward and punishment system of the style is easier for them to grasp. The transformational leadership methods of pointing to a larger purpose and inspiring motivation through striving for a long term goal do not work quite as well with the children because it is difficult for them to focus on the long term effects of today’s choices – they’re not thinking 10 years into the future, they just want snack time. Due to their short attention spans, kids respond much better to the immediate gratification that often goes along with transactional leadership’s terms. 

On the other hand, transformational leadership tactics can prove effective with the older refugee students, who are able to think more long term and be motivated by the ultimate goal of finding work in the English-speaking country they get accepted to one day. The younger kids view English as one more class added to their school day, whereas the older students can see the bigger picture and future benefits of studying English each day. Although there are some components of transformational leadership that I am able to incorporate with my younger students, such as individualized consideration and intellectual stimulation, I have yet to have much success relying on inspirational motivation to generate great results. While transactional leadership is better for bringing about quick, short term results in the younger kids’ behavior, I do wonder when the appropriate time is to transition to a more transformative leadership approach.

2 thoughts on “Transactional vs. Transformational Leadership

  • July 11, 2019 at 9:55 am

    Really interesting reflection. I’m not sure if there is research around this in the education literature; seems like a worthy question to explore in terms of education (perhaps a research opportunity for you in the future). It seems an inquiry like this – about when (and to some extent how) to transition from transactional to transformational leadership in a classroom setting – would really bring together a variety of fields (psychology, biology – in terms of child development and brain function, education – in terms of pedagogical strategies, etc.). Really interesting. Would you mind if I shared this reflection with my colleague at Jepson who works with our communications and social media? She’s looking to highlight some interns and their connections to LDST and I think this would be great.

    • July 12, 2019 at 12:12 am

      Thank you, I thought it was a really intriguing and not very well researched concept, too. Of course, feel free to share! I’d love to hear your colleague’s thoughts.

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