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Harmonizing Humanistic and Transformational Leadership

leadership transition Aug 30, 2023
small group discussion

- By Sophie Pinkoski

As the professional landscape continues to transform in light of years of pandemic and new focus on striving towards a different work-life balance, workplaces that recognize this shift will be recognized and rewarded with increased engagement and loyalty.

Leaders have a wonderful opportunity to advance their organizations by valuing their team members as individuals with unique needs.

The incredible potential of fostering genuine human connections and inspiration holds immense significance at this time. By examining different leadership approaches, our organizations can uncover the diverse ways in which leadership can influence and shape the dynamics of organizations and beyond.

Transactional leadership –– Characterized by a focus on extrinsic short-term goals, rewards, and punishments, transactional leadership can limit employee engagement and stifle creativity. While it might yield immediate results, it often fails to inspire individuals to go beyond the minimum requirements of their roles. They may feel like cogs in a machine, leading to disengagement and a lack of enthusiasm for their work. Internal competition commonly encouraged through transactional leadership often discourages healthy collaboration, resulting in team resentment instead.

Transactional leaders often focus on strict, inflexible work routines to maintain maximum efficiency, sometimes at the detriment of their team’s wellbeing and trust to complete their work unsupervised.

While transactional leadership may lack empathy and compassion, there are other styles that can fill those gaps

Transformational leadership –– Where transactional leadership only focuses on short-term tasks, transformational leadership paints a vivid picture of the future that better clarifies how individuals’ values align with their organization’s vision. In fact, including every team member in the decision-making process ensures everyone feels a degree of ownership and contribution in the mission, vision, and values of your organization. This approach encourages individuals to embrace change, explore new ideas, and take calculated risks.

It turns the workplace into a space not just for delivering results, but constant transformation and growth for both the organization and the individuals that build it up.

Leading researcher on the topic, Bernard Bass describes transformational leaders as “those who stimulate and inspire [their team] to both achieve extraordinary outcomes and, in the process, develop their own leadership capacity”. They engage their team with intrinsic rewards through empowerment, pride in their work, and raised self-esteem. These leaders are disruptors of the status quo, challenging biases in their openness to perspectives outside their own. They don’t shut down anyone’s ideas and hold space for everyone’s voices.

Humanistic leadership –– A humanistic approach works perfectly hand in hand with transformational leadership. Humanistic leadership takes the aspirational drive of transformational leaders and actively adapts to team members’ needs. When leaders understand their team members’ aspirations and challenges, they can provide the necessary support and resources to help them thrive.

Empathetic leaders create an environment where individuals feel valued, safe to express ideas, and empowered to collaborate.

They can then bring their whole selves to work every day, bringing with them more authenticity and creativity than ever before. This sense of psychological safety fuels the courage to share innovative concepts without fear of judgment. Humanistic leadership empathizes and understands that when well-being is prioritized for everyone involved, everything else tends to fall into place.

In many ways, humanistic and transformational leadership feed into one another: humanistic leadership leads to transformational growth and vice versa. When used in tandem, they can bring out the full potential of everyone on your team and take your organization to greater heights.

By empathizing with individuals' needs and fostering their creativity, you create a workplace that thrives on innovation, collaboration, and a shared commitment to a brighter future.


Further Reading:

Transformational Leadership, Mind Tools

The Humanistic Leadership Model (HLM), Excelsior University Journal of Business and Technology.

How to Kill Creativity. Harvard Business Review

Seven Transformations of Leadership. Harvard Business Review

How Do Transformational Leaders Inspire and Motivate Followers? Very Well Mind

Bass, B. M., & Riggio, R. E. (2006). Transformational Leadership. Transformational Leadership | Bernard M. Bass, Ronald E. Riggio | Tayl (taylorfrancis.com)

Brown, B. (2018). Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. Random House.

Bray, J., Lee, J., Smith, L., & Yorks, L. (2000). Collaborative Inquiry in Practice: Action, Reflection and Making Meaning. (pp. 1–19) Thousand Oaks, CA. Sage Publications, Inc.

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2008). “Self-determination theory: A macrotheory of human motivation, development, and health”. Canadian Psychology/Psychologie Canadienne, 49(3), 182-185.

Allen, T. D., French, K. A., Dumani, S., & Shockley, K. M. (2015). “Meta-analysis of Work-Family Conflict and Strain”. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 86, 157-171.

Wrzesniewski, A., & Dutton, J. E. (2001). “Crafting a Job: Revisioning Employees as Active Crafters of Their Work”. Academy of Management Review, 26(2), 179-201.

Muff, K. (2009). “Developing globally responsible leaders in business schools”. Journal of Management Development, 32(5), 487–507.

Hayat, R., Suliman, A.M. (2013). Humanistic Leadership in Work Organizations. Integrity in Organizations. Humanism in Business Series. Palgrave Macmillan, London.

Ferris, W. (Ed.) (2013). Encyclopedia of Management Theory. SAGE Publications, Ltd.

Fu, P., Kimakowitz, E., Lemanski, M., & Liu, L. (2020). “Humanistic Leadership in Different Cultures: Defining the Field by Pushing Boundaries”. Cross Cultural & Strategic Management. 27. 533-546.


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