Transactional Leadership

Transactional leadership is one of the eight main “theories” of leadership. This type of leadership focuses on the role of supervision, organization and group performance. This theory bases leadership on a series of rewards and punishments. 

You may not have known what this practice was called but I’ll bet you have often seen it used in business. When employees are successful, they are rewarded; when they fail, they are reprimanded or punished. Every interaction between the “leader” (I use that word very loosely here) and their people is a separate transaction. Think “what have you done for me lately” and you’ll get the idea behind transactional leadership.

Transactional leadership is an incredibly lazy way to lead. It requires very little on the part of the leader. They have no need to really know their people and they don’t have to care about them one bit. They are not responsible in the least for the success or well-being of their people. All they really need is the whip of intimidation and maybe a strong voice.

Oh, and they will need a constant supply of people to replace the never ending exodus of people who may have had the potential to be great successes but were never in an environment where they could actually succeed. They should also keep their own resumes up to date because sooner or later transactional leaders always follow their people out the door. 

Transactional leaders never seem to understand that their own success is dependent upon the success of their people. They can’t comprehend that most all of their “people problems” are the result of their own failed leadership. 

I feel for you if you’re working for a transactional leader. It will be virtually impossible to reach your full potential or to do work that really makes a difference if you find yourself stuck under these lazy leaders. 

The good news is you are not really stuck. If you don’t belong under a transactional leader then you will find or create a way out. If you’re not willing to work your way out from under this leader in name only then don’t complain about it either. 

Successful people don’t complain about the circumstances they allow to be part of their lives. If those circumstances are not conducive to their success they change them, not complain about them.

If you have nothing but problems with the people you lead then it’s entirely possible that you are a transactional leader. Now that you are aware of that possibility you can decide if you want to invest the time to become a more relational leader.

You will need to be willing to invest time and a bit of own emotions to help the people you lead succeed. You’ll also need to learn the real value of those people, you’ll need to see them not as mere resources but as human beings. Real people with goals and wants, problems and concerns very likely much like your own. 

You will need to understand that until you actually care about your people, really genuinely care, that your people won’t truly care about following you. 

Transactional leadership is a terrible way to lead. It’s really barely leadership at all. If you struggle with “people problems” then stop conducting transactions with them and start building actual relationships. I can promise you that your rewards will be well worth the effort.

8 thoughts on “Transactional Leadership

  1. Good post Steve. I was figuratively nodding through most of it and it made me think of our current state of the union. I know… Big surprise.

    I wondered what we call the type of leadership that our government models in which entire body calls themselves leaders, has the power to be our leaders, yet many of ‘the people’ have either stopped recognizing them as leaders or are now seriously questioning what it means to be patriotic and loyal in light of what we are witnessing.

    We the people are forced to follow whoever will be elected President and yet we can’t force our leadership to care ( no matter the organization), to be honest, or to behave in a manner fitting for such an office.

    So many leadership theories don’t seem to be working in reality in multiple levels.

    We certainly live in a challenging era; one that is requiring each of us to question our values, recalibrate our priorities, and really think about how best we can serve and model the future that we need that will help our children.

    1. Two things…never let anyone cause you to question your values and second, YOU are the very very best model of success your kids will ever have. You will be that model of success for your kids as long as you live.

      A billion crooked politicians will never change that fact. Live as you would want them to live and they will also never have to question their values.

      1. I question our nations values and leadership in general often. So what I mean by questioning values is in that context. Basically if group or organization or person A values greed, dishonesty, power at any price… It causes me to question in what ways does how WE the people live that contributes to those same ‘values’ having priority instead of values like honesty, mutual caring, and collaborative relationships that serve the majority rather than harm them?

        That’s what I mean.

        Thanks Steve. 😃

  2. I hope to hear different types of leadership ..i presume there are there…and if so are there not situational circumstantial

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