Two Types of Leader

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Based on personality traits, different classifications of leaders can be made. This article discusses the distinction between transactional and transformational leaders.

From Traits to Types

Based on the behavior and traits of people in leadership positions, psychologists have tried to identify different leader types. Many possible classifications have been proposed, including one that discerns leaders who focus on their employees, or leader who focus on the job that needs to be done, or leaders that do both, or neither. Through the use of personality and other psychological tests, psychologists try to group traits together in functional groups, which, in turn leads to the development of different leader types.

Two Types

Of course, many such classifications exist, depending on which traits are grouped together. One of the most often used distinctions is based upon the work of Brendan Bass, who discerned two types of leaders:

  • Transactional leaders: Offers support and advice on the work floor and tries to ensure that their employees find some form of fulfillment in their job. In turn, they expect their employees to perform well. This type of leadership could be viewed as a transaction between the leader and the worker, with potential gains for both. Such leaders are often referred to as managers. They are primarily focused on getting the job done. They perform the traditional management tasks, such as planning and budgeting, and fulfill the role that is expected of a leader within a company.
  • Transformational leaders: Are more charismatic than transactional leaders and encourage employees to go above and beyond their expectations by offering them a vision, an intellectual focus, a feeling that each individual matters. They are more occupied by providing plenty of inspiration, rather than getting the job done. They challenge the status-quo, communicate a new vision and convince and inspire others to achieve more than they’re doing now.

Further research has shown that an efficient leader not only leads objectively, but is also perceived as a leader by his employees, who tend to have a stereotypical image (or prototype) of a leader, and someone who adheres to this, is easier perceived as leader than someone who does not. This explains why members of a non-dominant social group often have to exert themselves even more to be accepted as leader.


Other factors that make a good leader include the following traits:

     • Is able to make the hard choices. If the leader is the owner of a small business, then of course the leader’s family depends on him. But also, the families of his employees also rely on the leader to make the right choices for everyone.

     • The leader has faith in his beliefs about running the business, but is not so rigid in these beliefs that he/she does not have the ability to listen and communicate new ideas with the employees.

     • Knows that the employees are the key to his success and the success of the company. It works both ways, a good leader has the faith of his employees and the leader also has faith in those employees. 

     • The good leader knows the strengths of each employee and acts accordingly when assigning certain projects.

    • Earns respect by giving respect. A good leader does not pick on certain people, does not tell off color or rude jokes and does not throw employees under the bus.

     • Has a good vision of exactly what he/she wants accomplished and does not change the instructions constantly, which results in confusion.


  • Tims, M.; Bakker, A.B. & Xanthopoulou, D. (2011). Do transformational leaders enhance their followers’ daily work engagement? The Leadership Quarterly. 22(1), pp. 121 – 131.
  • Whittington, J.L.; Coker, R.H.; Goodwin, V.L.; Ickes, W. & Murray, B. (2009). Transactional Leadership Revisited: Self-Other Agreement and Its Consequences. Journal of Applied Social Psychology. 39(8), pp. 1860 – 1886.


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