Find Your Certification Leadership Style: Transactional vs. Transformational
Posted on
December 10, 2019

NOTE: This article is part of an ongoing series. To read the previous article, click here.

You could use either the transactional or transformational style of leadership to guide your certification program. But which would get better results?

My hope in tackling this series of articles on Finding Your Certification Leadership Style is to be helpful to those who deal with certification program management on a daily basis. Sound leadership is essential to the success of any business or organizational endeavor, but its value is sometimes overlooked. Meaning, consequently, that its conception and execution are also overlooked.

As soldier and statesman Dwight D. Eisenhower once observed, You don't lead by hitting people over the head � that's assault, not leadership.� (31)

Here is my plan for the rest of this series: Starting with this installment I will examine two of the key leadership styles, explore their strengths and weaknesses for those involved in the certification world, and finish things off with a quick compare-and-contrast of the two styles being examined. Finally, I will put forth an argument in favor of one of the two styles.

In the final installment, I will explore all of the styles that I have favored in my earlier article, looking at them side by side to see what they have in common and what makes each stand out. The last thing I will share with you, the reader, is my top pick of all the leadership styles available to certification program leaders, as well as my reasons for making this selection.

In this installment we will first of all explore in depth the following two leadership styles: Transactional and Transformational. We will look for strengths or advantages and also for weaknesses or disadvantages. Secondly, we will examine through a brief comparison chart some of the points of similarity between the two styles, followed by a second contrast chart through which the major differences will be shown. Finally I will put forth an argument in favor of one of the two styles for managing a successful certification program.

No matter what your title is, whether it is Chief Learning Officer (CLO), VP of Education, or VP of Certification, Director of Certification and Assessments, Manager of Certification, or simply Project (or Program) Manager over Certification, if you have somehow been blessed with the responsibilities of making certification a priority for your organization, then this series of articles will help you better understand your options for leveraging a leadership style within your organization. Let's now look at the first two major leadership styles.

Transactional Leadership

Transactional leadership is what most people think of when they think about leadership styles. This type of leadership primarily focuses on supervision, organization, and performance. These leaders usually acquire compliance from followers by using a system of rewards and punishments. Leaders who use this process are usually good at setting expectations, monitoring followers, and giving feedback.

This type of leadership assumes that employees and staff will perform best when the hierarchy is clear and concise. Followers are expected to obey commands and instructions, which means there is little collaboration or input from others. Transactional leadership is so named because interactions between managers and lower-ranking employees are seen as exchanges or transactions:

Employees who perform well are rewarded, while those who perform poorly receive punishments. Most individuals tend to assume, when working within an organization, that this is the form of leadership they will encounter.

Max Weber is generally considered to be the first observer to describe a rational-legal leadership, later to be known as Transactional Leadership Theory. Weber is most notably recognized for his bureaucratic leadership style. The concept of the bureaucratic leadership style basically focuses on the idea of believing in an organization's objectives based on rules, regulations, and certain positions held in an organization.

In this case, an employee is likely to report to his direct superiors if there are any questions or concerns about anything. As the years went on, a scientist, James McGregor Burns, and several researchers — including Bernard M. Bass, Jane Howell, and Bruce Avolio — went on to advance and develop Weber's theory on Transactional Leadership.

You could use either the transactional or transformational style of leadership to guide your certification program. But which would get better results?

Transactional leadership is a leadership style that values structure and order within each relationship. It is the most common type of leadership style used in large corporate environments, international agreements, and military operations.

Transactional leadership requires specific rules or regulations be followed to complete stated objectives. It moves people and resources in an organized fashion to ensure that specific results can be achieved along a typical timeframe. It is a leadership style which requires people to be self-motivated at all times. (30)

The Transactional Leadership style is quite popular and is commonly used to promote leadership qualities in followers. Essentially, this style can be defined as, leaders or managers motivating the group to perform based on punishments and rewards (or incentives). This can be achieved by forming the right set of rewards and punishments that will persuade the group to perform at an exceptional level.

The Transactional Leadership style also focuses on the idea of a management process that includes three basic concepts: organizing, controlling, and short-term planning.

Organizing for a leader might look something like making sure that the group or organization has a set plan, providing set meetings where the group or organization can meet to discuss goals and objectives, or really anything else that might be considered as some form of organizing.

Controlling as a leader would include giving the group or organization proper guidance or telling them what is or what is not acceptable.

Short-term planning for a leader might focus on goals that the organization should have for the near future, or on guiding the group to make positive changes in a very quick manner. (27)

Transactional leadership focuses on results, conforms to the existing structure of an organization and measures success according to that organization's system of rewards and penalties.� It is a telling� style (27) that appeals to the self-interest of individuals, both the leaders and the subordinates. Leader and follower enter into a contract�. The transactional leader explains expectations, sets standards, and defines good and bad consequences.

In my experience, this is still one of the most used styles leveraged across the certification industry. It is not necessarily the most effective, but it is the most widely used by leaders and understood by subordinates. To be quite honest, I never saw my programs thrive under the fear of punishment. Just the opposite, in fact: The programs I ran always struggled under a transactional leader.

Next let's look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of transactional leadership. First let's look at the advantages or strengths.

Advantages of Transactional Leadership (30)

1. Transactional Leadership provides a way to motivate employees so that productivity is maximized.
2. Transactional Leadership provides a way to establish achievable goals for every level of the organization.
3. Transactional Leadership establishes a clear chain of command that is easily identifiable.
4. Transactional Leadership establishes a way to improve production while reducing costs.
5. Transactional Leadership is a simple and straight forward process to establish. All that is required is someone who is willing to remove workers who are unable or unwilling to complete their assigned tasks.
6.Transactional Leadership creates a system that is easy to follow.
7. Transactional Leadership establishes a way for workers to select the rewards they want to work for.

Now let's look at the disadvantages or weaknesses of Transactional Leadership.

Disadvantages of Transactional Leadership (30)

1. Transactional Leadership eliminates individuality from an organizations production process.
2. Transactional Leadership restricts the amount of innovation that is possible.
3. Transactional Leadership establishes many more followers than leaders.
4. Transactional Leaders focus far more on negative consequences than on positive rewards.
5. Transactional Leadership does not care how workers feel or think. Transactional Leaders place no value of empathy.
6. Transactional Leadership does not move people to produce more.
7. Transactional Leadership cares greatly on how efficient each worker is being. That is a bottomline metric that is of high importance.
8. Transactional Leaders makes leadership ineptitude difficult to counter.
9. Transactional Leadership believes that a measured success can result from and be attributed to the leadership's hands only.

Now that we've taken a good long look at Transactional Leadership, let's shift our focus to the second of today's two styles.

Transformational Leadership

You could use either the transactional or transformational style of leadership to guide your certification program. But which would get better results?

Transformational leadership is a system of supervision that was first introduced by James MacGregor Burns. It is a type of leadership where leaders and followers work with one another to achieve higher levels of motivation and team morale.

Instead of dictating changes to their team, transformational leaders inspire people to change their perceptions, expectations, or motivations to work toward a common mission or goal. This process, according to Bernard Bass, who expanded upon this theory, garners higher levels of respect, trust, and admiration. (29)

Transformational leadership is defined as a leadership approach that causes change in individuals and social systems.� (10, 13)

Transformational Leadership is a style of leadership in which the leader identifies the needed change, creates a vision to guide change through inspiration, and executes the change with the commitment of the members of the group.

It is a selling style which prioritizes group progress. The leader connects with subordinates and inspires them. Sometimes leaders are placed in a position where they do not fit well, or where the organization is continually performing practices that do not harbor growth. This will stagnate the success of an organization. When a transformational leader takes over, many, if not all, aspects of job performance within an organization improve drastically. (26)

In my experience, this is the kind of leader you need to get a program off the ground. If you can get a transformational leader to buy into the program you believe is needed, then you will be on the road to a successful program.

Next let's look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of transformational leadership. First we will examine the advantages.

Advantages of Transformational Leadership (29)

1. This style of leadership has lower turnover costs.
2. Employees and/or followers are fully engaged by Transformational Leaders.
3. Transformational Leaders can easily sell changes because they are already on board.
4. Transformational Leaders have an easy time incorporating a new view vision into the current operations of an organization.
5. Transformational Leaders area excellent communicators.
6. Transformational Leaders are good cheerleaders and generate enthusiasm.
7. Transformational Leaders are excellent at encouraging ongoing learning and development in an organization.
8. Transformational Leaders are outstanding at changing a low morale situation into a high energy one.
9. Transformational Leaders are good at building a community based on solid relationships, while treating everyone as an individual.
10. Transformational Leaders are ethically driven.
11. Transformational Leaders asks solid questions like why and why not, always looking for a new way to accomplish goals.
12. Transformational Leaders avoid imposing fear or coercion on their followers.

Now let's examine the weaknesses or disadvantages of Transformational Leadership.

Disadvantages of Transformational Leadership (29)

1. Transformational Leaders can develop negative outcomes if they lose their morale compass and go off their ethical rails.
2. Transformational Leaders must provide continued good communication and provide consistent feedback in order for their followers to stay engaged.
3. Transformational Leaders need their followers to buy into their vision.
4. Transformational Leaders need to have a plan on how to deal with risks that may be disruptive.
5. Transformational Leadership can burnout followers.
6. Transformational Leaders need to be detailed oriented but often are not.
7. Transformational Leaders can fail to focus on the team's needs while focusing too much on an individual's needs.
8. Some Transformational Leaders can focus on deception in order to accomplish their goals which can turn off many followers.
9. Transformational Leadership can be used in way which would ignore operational protocols.

Next, I will briefly summarize the similarities and differences between the Transactional and Transformational Leadership Styles. We will compare the similarities, and contrast the differences:

Compare (Looking at the similarities)

Both styles are designed to increase performance
Both styles are based on motivation
The success of both depends on the follower's acceptance of change.
They both really look for growth opportunities.
Both styles care deeply about organizational success.
Most effective leaders are flexible enough to be both transformational and transactional leaders, depending on current situation and the needs of the organization.
Both styles are involving leaders and followers with one or more shared goals.

Contrast (Looking at the differences)

Transactional leadership focuses more on work conditions and less on the workers. By contrast, transformational leadership focuses more on actually transforming the business, task, or world- pushing those around them outside of their comfort zone, all while building solid relationships.
Transactional leadership does not usually receive high marks from employees. By contrast, transformational leadership usually receives higher marks from employees than transactional leaders do.
Transactional leadership is task- or project-oriented. By contrast, transformational leadership is people-oriented, but not so much group-oriented.
Transactional leadership uses extrinsic reward and punishment methods. By contrast, transformational leadership does not use an extrinsic reward and punishment method.
Transactional leaders rarely take the time to coach individual through tasks. By contrast, a transformational leader will always make time to assist individuals through tasks.

My Preferred Style for Certification

You could use either the transactional or transformational style of leadership to guide your certification program. But which would get better results?

Based on the in-depth analysis we have just completed on two of the leadership styles I outlined in my introductory installment for this series, I will now summarize my thoughts on the two and then share with you my preference for leading a certification program.

Transactional leadership is a leadership style that sticks close to the rules and regulations that are set by companies. These leaders try to inspire their employees to work toward goals. In doing so, they judge by performance reviews, and utilize the reward-penalty system.

Transformational leadership methods are generally viewed as being proactive, represent change, and are often able to motivate and empower employees to achieve goals through reaching moral or personal standards.

I would prefer the transformational leadership style because I believe working closely with your team and department always yields better outcomes. It is important for leaders and teams to have a strong relationship in order for a successful certification program to produce hoped-for organization impacts. I believe that eam building, motivation, cooperation, and collaboration are the most important things in leadership.

With a visionary person who has a passion for certification, who also is a disciple of transformative leadership, you will build a team of followers who have bought into their leader's vision and truly want the program to succeed. Not only will you have a happy workforce, but you will also have a program that is meeting organizational goals without the fear associated with transactional retribution.

Each leadership style can be useful in the workplace and it is important to understand the differences between the two. If you are like me, and have had to sell your idea for a certification program, then when you find a receptive leader who is willing to let your dreams come to fruition, you need to be ready to sell your idea to those who will be supporting you and your certification dream.

Welcome to the wonderful world of being a transformative leader — someone who is able to motivate and empower employees to achieve goals through reaching moral or personal standards.

In our next installment, we will look at two more of the leadership styles available to those driving certification for an organization.


1. Cherry, Kendra. Know More. Live Brighter. Verywell Mind, Dotdash, 8 Feb. 2019,
2. Leadership. WebFinance, Inc. February 12, 2019 <>.
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8. Leadership Styles. Hoonuit Online Learning Framework
9. Riggio, Ronald E. Take this test: Are You a Transformational Leader? Psychology Today, 24 Mar. 2009,
10. What Kind of Leader Are You? TestQ, 2017, what-kind-of-leader-are-you
14. The Ride of a Lifetime, Robert Iger, 2019,
15. Introduction to Interdisciplinary Studies 2nd Edition by Allen F. Repko
22. Lawrence, D., 2014, Transforming Leadership-An introduction, ATD.

About the Author

Warren E. Wyrostek is a Solutions Oriented Educator and Leader, a Certified Trainer and Facilitator, an Experienced DACUM Enthusiast, and an innovative Certification and Assessment expert in demand. Warren holds a Doctorate in Education in Curriculum and Instruction. Currently Warren is an Adjunct at Valdosta State University and the owner of 3WsConsulting - Providing Efficient And Effective Top To Bottom Solutions To Learning Issues. Warren can be reached at

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