Transformational vs Change Leadership: Effects on Commitment to a Change

Many organizations across the globe are seeing continuous changes.  Change can range from leadership changes, new technology implementation, or extensive mergers and acquisitions. With change, employees are impacted throughout the process by the leadership they experience.  Without proper leadership, employees will not follow their leader and the leader will not establish “buy-in.” The leadership role in managing employees’ responses to organizational change is critical for establishing successful change.  Generally, two leadership styles can be used to manage organizational change: transformational and change leadership.

Transformational v. Change Leadership

Transformational Leadership refers to a long-term relationship established between the leader and the employee through many interactions.  Transformational leaders have a more organizational or strategic orientation and tend to engage in transformational behaviors that paint a vivid, positive picture of the future that typically focuses more on change in the “big picture” sense, which can have an impact on attitudes about specific changes at work.  Transformational leaders also tend to encourage employee empowerment in general. Change Leadership refers to the “here-and-now”, with a focus primarily on enacting the specific change at hand and how the leader is handling it from a tactical point of view. Change leadership involves the engagement of behaviors where the goal is to efficiently implement change. However, some change leadership behaviors that can be linked to the transformational processes include: communicating the plan for change, building rapport, and providing support and developing a rationale for change.  This does not imply that this is the core of change leadership, but merely different tactics to implement change. Therefore, transformational leaders manage by establishing a relationship with employees and building a common “vision” for change.  Change leaders, on the other hand, focus on the specific change occurring and how to effectively implement the change. Overall, although each style shares some commonalities, the differences of each style have a differential impact on establishing employee commitment to change; specifically, transformational leadership yields the best outcomes in establishing commitment to a change.

Developing Commitment to Change

Employees want to feel confident in their leader’s commitment to change and rely on the views of their leader.  They want solid answers to their questions:
  • Do I buy into the leader’s vision?
  • Is the leader credible?
  • Do I share values with the leader?
  • Is this the kind of leader who can help me navigate the turbulent waters of change?
Through the ability to engage employees and motivate support for the leader’s decision, transformational leaders build the confidence of followers, thereby establishing more “buy-in” in times of change.

Implications for Practice

Organizations implementing change should consider the following:
  • Ensure the proper leadership in times of change.   Generally, transformational leadership will establish more “buy-in” and increase the effective implementation of change.
  • Establish the ability within leaders to display the characteristics of a transformational leader.  This can be done through training that educates managers on their current styles and enables them to alter their behavior to fit transformational leadership behaviors.
  • Evaluate employees’ commitment to change in times of change.  This can be done by simple paper and pencil evaluations which establish employees’ feelings toward the change in process.
Although transformational and change leadership styles share some similarity with regards to establishing employee commitment to change, transformational leadership is more effective.    Transformational leadership may not be as focused specifically on a given change at hand, but through the ability to engage and motivate employees transformational leaders build the confidence of and rapport with those around them. The result is increased employee “buy-in” to effectively implement the change.

Interpretation by:

Adam Bradshaw

The DeGarmo Group

This was a summary of the research and practice implications from: Herold, D.M., Fedor, D.B., Caldwell, S., & Liu, Y.   (2008). The effects of transformational and change leadership on employees’ commitment to a change: A multilevel study. Journal of Applied Psychology, 93, 346-357.