When is Transformational Leadership Needed Most?

Topic(s): job satisfaction, leadership, organizational citizenship behavior
Publication: Academy of Management Journal, 2018
Article: Examining Follower Responses to Transformational Leadership from a Dynamic, Person-environment Fit Perspectiv
Authors: B.J. Tepper, N. Dimotakis, L.S. Lambert, J. Koopman, F.K. Matta, H.M. Park, W. Goo
Reviewed by: Mona Bapat

Research has found a strong relationship between transformational leadership and employee and organizational effectiveness. Transformational leadership goes beyond supervising, and extends to inspiring employees to adopt organizational values and goals as their own. Examples that the authors (Tepper et al., 2018) give of transformational leadership behaviors are clearly describing an inspiring vision and offering intellectual stimulation.

It can seem that such leadership is always the best to employ, but is that really the case? Recent research has also suggested that transformational leadership is often not done consistently and can vary over time, even daily. So how do employees respond to varying levels of transformational leadership? 


Researchers conducted two studies and found that employee response to varying levels of transformational leadership may be related to how well this leadership style fits with current workplace demands.

Results of this first study showed that employees tended to experience a lower amount of positive emotion on days when the transformational leadership they received did not match their needs. Further, employees experienced higher levels of positive emotion if a higher need for transformational leadership was met, compared to when a lower need was met, or if the leadership received was in excess of need. Additionally, the study found that positive emotions were needed for job satisfaction and supervision satisfaction, even if transformational leadership needs were met.


Organizational citizenship behavior (OCB) is going beyond an individual’s job description to behave in a way that benefits the organization or other employees. For their second study, the researchers examined the relationship between OCB and the fit of the transformational leadership received.

The second study revealed that fit of transformational leadership was likely to lead to OCB if employees were experiencing positive moods. However, a key finding of this study is that more does not necessarily mean better when it comes to transformational leadership. For instance, on a day that employees are dealing with obstacles on the job, such as insufficient resources or administrative hassles, they are more likely to want guidance that addresses those immediate concerns. The second study also suggests that employees will need transformational leadership most when the work is more stressful, when there is greater uncertainty at work, and when the work is more meaningful.


A key take-away from this study is that more transformational leadership is not always better. The authors recommend that organizations work to improve their leaders’ abilities to assess their employees’ needs. For example, they can inventory the types of stressors employees are dealing with. This will help leaders provide the appropriate amount of transformational leadership at the appropriate time.


Tepper, B.J., Dimotakis, N., Lambert, L.S., Koopman, J., Matta, F.K., Park, H.M., & Goo, W. (2018). Examining follower responses to transformational leadership from a dynamic, person-environment fit perspective. Academy of Management Journal, 61(4), 1343-1368.