October 1996 // Volume 34 // Number 5 // Feature Articles // 5FEA3

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Leading Without Authority: An Examination of the Impact of Transformational Leadership Cooperative Extension Work Groups and Teams

An increased use of ad hoc teams and work-groups to accomplish key Extension objectives combined with reluctance to enlarge existing organizational structures require particular leadership skills for effectiveness. Utilizing Bass'(1985) full-range leadership formulation, and in particular his description of transformational leadership, an exploratory study was undertaken to increase understanding of the efficacy and applicability of the concepts to Extension organizations. The Multifactorial Leadership Questionnaire was administered to a group of ten leaders and 47 followers. Results provide extremely strong support for the proposition that new organizational forms will require transformational leadership skills. Limitations and need for additional study is recognized.

William Brown
Associate Professor
Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education, and
Internet address: bbrown@unlinfo.unl.edu

Elizabeth A. Birnstihl
Professor and Assistant Dean
Cooperative Extension Division

Daniel W. Wheeler
Professor and Coordinator
Office of Professional and Organizational Development
Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources

University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Lincoln, Nebraska


Willie Loman, the protagonist in Arthur Miller's play, "Death of a Salesman," describes the particular difficulties and challenges of his life by pointing out that "I was out there with nothing but a shoeshine and a smile..." Similar refrains are often heard from Extension professionals appointed to the leadership of critically important work-groups, task forces, and teams, yet not vested with traditional management authority.

Driven by the dynamic nature of Extension's operating environment, and encouraged by a management orthodoxy that recommends an increased utilization of teams and work groups with a decreased reliance on traditional authority arrangements (Mantz & Sims, 1993), we are embracing an ever-increasing use of ad hoc organizational forms in Extension (Hutchins, 1992; Boone, 1990).

Those appointed to lead these groups occasionally petition for traditional management authority to hire/fire, etc. In general we have resisted these entreaties out of concern for creating additional organizational structure and bureaucracy. However, if we are to deny team leaders any access to or dominion over formal reward structures, just what are they to use to influence others in order to accomplish objectives?

In the Nebraska Cooperative Extension Division we are experimenting with the use of Priority Initiative Teams for program planning and execution. These teams, largely self- selected on the basis of disciplinary interests, typically consist of approximately 15 members, a mix of Extension educators and specialists. Co-team leaders are recruited and appointed by Extension administration and charged with responsibility of bringing the team together at inception. Once established, the team self-selects its continuing leadership.

Team leaders are definitely not considered administrators. They perform their duties in addition to other responsibilities as an Extension educator or specialist. They have little if any access to the ability to impact performance ratings, pay, or professional status of team members. In terms of the leaders' influence over the group, in the absence of formal authority, the alternative is clearly that the primary source of influence must emanate from the person, not from the organization.

We have been examining the emerging concepts of transformational leadership as a means of better understanding, selecting, developing, and gaining access to those unique interpersonal characteristics that generate extra effort and commitment to the accomplishment of objectives.

We have been particularly influenced by the work of Bass (1985) who provides formal descriptions of transactional and transformational leadership. He describes transactional leaders as those persons who emphasize the transaction or exchange that takes place between leaders, colleagues, and followers. This exchange is based on the leader specifying what is expected, and helping followers to clearly understand what they will receive, or avoid, if they fulfill those expectations.

Bass' description of transactional leadership strikes us as being quite consistent with traditional view as to how to animate and activate a group to action in support of organizational objectives. At the risk of igniting the often tiresome debate of the differences between leadership and management, we consider the impact and methods of the transactional leader as being primarily associated with management

Transformational leadership is differentiated from transactional leadership in that transformational leaders do more than set up simple exchanges or agreements. By virtue of the nature of their relationship with followers, they motivate others to do more than they originally intended, more than they thought possible, and to move beyond self-interest and focus on the larger goals of the group or organization.

Perhaps the greatest contribution to our understanding of transformational leadership has been the identification of four characteristics, referred to as the four "I's" (Avolio, Waldman, & Yammarino, 1991) which transformational leaders use to stimulate and engage followers.

The four I's of transformational leadership are:

  1. Individualized Consideration: Gives personal attention to others, making each individual feel uniquely valued.

  2. Intellectual Stimulation: Actively encourages a new look at old methods, stimulates creativity, encourages others to look at problems and issues in a new way.

  3. Inspirational Motivation: Increases optimism and enthusiasm, communicates high expectations, points out possibilities not previously considered.

  4. Idealized Influence: Provides vision and a sense of purpose. Elicits respect, trust, and confidence from followers.

Transformational leaders are thought to engage followers by employing one or more of the 4 "I's" to stimulate voluntary and enthusiastic responses to their influence attempts.

Having associated transactional characteristics with management, we associate the transformational characteristics with leadership. However, Bass (1985) is quick to point out that the two concepts, transactional (you do this and I'll make sure you receive that) and transformational (intellectual stimulation, individualized consideration, inspiration, and idealized influence) are generally not independent of one another. In fact a study of military officers and industrial managers (Waldman, Bass, & Einstein, 1985) showed that although the effects of transformational leadership were generally much stronger than those of transactional leadership, those who had both transactional and transformational characteristics were much more successful than those who had only one.

For us then, the intriguing question comes down to how to stimulate the combined ability to both "rally the troops" and "to make the trains run on time." Both of these skills are important, but they are most effective in an appropriate combination with the other.

In the past, our efforts at leader development have tended to emphasize the necessity for making logical rational decisions and arraying the reward structures in such a manner so as to make things pay off for people who are helping us to accomplish our goals. In Extension this takes the form of merit pay, tenure, promotions, work assignments, and so forth, and in less formal situations it often takes the form of affection, expressed appreciation, approval, personal assistance, favors, or other interpersonal exchanges.

While this capacity is important and needs to be developed, the skills of the transformational leader are often ignored, not because we deem them unimportant, but rather because we have previously been unable to accurately describe, measure, or develop what we often referred to as the elusive "X" factor of leadership. Utilizing factor analytic techniques, Bass and Avolio (1990) have, in addition to identifying the elements of transactional and transformational leadership, provided a validated instrument, the Multi-factorial Leadership Questionnaire to measure this full range of leadership. In an effort to explore the general applicability of the transactional/transformational leadership concepts to Extension in general, and to these new organizational formats in particular, we conducted an exploratory program.


Subjects in this study include a leadership cohort consisting of two Assistant Deans of Cooperative Extension, five Extension specialists appointed as leaders of Priority Initiative Teams, and three Extension educators, also leaders of Priority Initiative Teams. In addition, 47 subordinates of the leader cohort participated in the study for a total of 57 study subjects.

The previously noted Multi-factorial Leadership Questionnaire (MLQ) was utilized to measure elements of transformational and transactional leadership and to examine their relationship to certain organizational outcomes. The MLQ measures seven characteristics of the behaviors of leaders; the four "I"s ( Individualized Consideration, Intellectual Stimulation, Inspirational Motivation, Idealized Influence) associated with Transformational Leadership; Contingent Reward, associated with transactional leadership; Management by Exception, a method of leadership associated with either solving or preventing problems; and Laissez Faire, an inactive form of leadership characterized by a reluctance to become actively involved and a view that the best leadership is to disassociate from the action.

In addition, the MLQ also measures organizational outcomes; the willingness of followers to expend extra effort, effective leader representation of follower needs to higher-level leaders, unit effectiveness, job effectiveness, organizational effectiveness, and job satisfaction.

Each member of the leader cohort completed a version of the MLQ measuring their perceptions of themselves on each of the 13 characteristics or outcomes. Each of the 47 subordinate raters completed another version of the MLQ measuring their perceptions of one of the members of the leader cohort (approximately five raters per leader) on each of the 13 measures. Results from the assessments were analyzed comparing the congruence of self- perception and the perception of others, and the relationships between levels of each of the seven leader characteristics and the six organizational outcomes.

The importance of combining subordinate evaluations with self evaluations is well established in the relevant literature (Harris & Schaubroeck, 1988; Mabe & West, 1982). In general, congruence between self-ratings and those of subordinates provides an indication of the validity of the underlying measure. In this study both categories of respondents provided ratings on a five point scale for each of the leadership and organizational outcome measures. Table 1 summarizes the mean scores on each measure, and the relatively strong agreement between self and subordinate ratings, thus providing reassurance regarding the validity of the measures in this study.

Table 1
Mean Scores and Comparison of Self and Subordinate Ratings
Leadership Characteristics
(0 to 5 scale)
Self Rating Means Subordinate Rating Means Self-Subordinate Differences
Idealized Influence 2.8 3.2 -0.4
Inspirational Motivation 2.8 2.8 0.00
Intellectual Stimulation 2.8 2.8 0.00
Individualized Consideration 3.0 2.9 +0.1
Contingent Reward 2.5 2.5 0.00
Management by Exception 1.9 1.9 0.00
Laissez Fair 1.7 1.4 +0.4
Organizational Outcomes
(0 to 5 scale)
Extra Effort 2.5 2.6 -0.1
Relationships to Higher-Ups 3.0 3.1 -0.1
Unit Effectiveness 2.5 2.9 -0.4
Job Effectiveness 3.0 2.8 +0.2
Organizational Effectiveness 3.1 3.2 -0.1
Job Satisfaction 2.7 3.1 -0.4

Pearson's R, commonly referred to as a correlation coefficient, was used to measure the relationship between leadership characteristics and organizational outcomes. The value of R ranges between -1 (a perfect negative correlation) and +1 (a perfect positive correlation). A value of 0 indicates no relationship. These relationships are summarized in Table 2

Table 2
Correlation of Leadership Characteristics with Organizational Outcomes Organizational Outcomes
Amount of Extra Effort Relations to Higher-Ups Effectiveness Job Satisfaction
Unit Job Organizational
Idealized Influence
+0.95 +0.90 +0.76 +0.80 +0.96 +0.80
Inspirational Motivation
+0.98 +0.86 +0.85 +0.75 +0.89 +0.76
Intellectual Stimulation
+0.92 +0.75 +0.71 +0.62 +0.77 +0.72
Individualized Consideration
+0.97 +0.76 +0.76 +0.77 +0.83 +0.75
Transactional Leadership Characteristics:
Contingent Reward
+0.77 +0.60 +0.69 +0.60 +0.64 +0.75
Management by Exception
0.00 +0.06 +0.38 -0.11 -0.05 +0.36
Inactive Leadership:
Laissez Fair
-0.23 -0.11 +0.10 +0.10 -0.49 -0.07

Guilford (1956) provides assistance in interpreting and comparing correlation coefficients. He describes correlation coefficients of less than .20 as being interpreted as "slight almost negligible relationships", correlations of .20 to.40 as "low correlation;" correlations of .40 to.70 as "moderate correlation;" .70 to.90 as "high correlation, marked relationship;" and correlation greater than .90 as "very high correlation, very dependable relationship."

An inspection of Table 2 reveals that transformational leadership characteristics have a consistently positive correlation with organizational outcomes in a range from .62 to .95, indicative of a very strong overall relationship. The correlations between contingent reward/transactional leadership and organizational outcomes is also strong; however, somewhat less so than in the case of the transformational factors. The strength of correlations with organizational outcomes virtually disappears in the case of the problem-oriented Management by Exception leadership and has generally weak negative association with Laissez Fair leadership approaches.


Having embraced an increased use of ad hoc teams and work- groups to accomplish key organizational objectives, and hesitant to enlarge existing organizational structures, we have actively sought to better understand and develop the organizational dynamics necessary to make these new organizational forms effective. Having been impressed by Bass'(1985) full-range leadership formulation, and in particular his description of transformational leadership, we have undertaken an exploratory study seeking to better understand and develop the requisite leadership capacity.

Using a relatively small sample of Extension leaders and 47 of their Extension colleagues they are attempting to influence, we have utilized the Multifactorial Leadership Questionnaire, to make an exploratory examination of the relationship between various leadership characteristics and desired organizational outcomes.

An examination of the results reveals that transformational leadership characteristics, which emanate exclusively from personal qualities of the leader, have a very strong positive relationship with desired organizational outcomes. Transactional leadership characteristics, which generally require the leader to regulate organizational rewards in return for follower effort, although strongly associated with organization outcomes, were generally less strongly correlated than with transformational characteristics. Problem-solving or dissociation approaches were weakly and negatively correlated respectively.

Recalling that these results pertain to a group of only 10 leaders from what is in essence a sample of convenience, our preliminary conclusion is that the concepts of transformational leadership have great promise for Cooperative Extension. We interpret the results as affirming previous decisions to eschew the delegation of formal organizational rewards as a primary means to empower work-group leaders, as it appears that the most effective forms of leadership will be appropriate combinations of both transactional and transformational leadership.

We are experimenting with a variety of workshop, personal development, seminar and retreat programs to assist our team leaders and multi-county coordinators to become aware of and to develop transformational leadership skills. Further study on larger representative leader cohorts, and with additional long- term measures of organizational outcomes, will contribute to confidence in the usefulness of transformational leadership to Cooperative Extension


Avolio, B. J., Waldman, D. A., & Yammarino, F. J. (1991). Leading in the 1990s: The four I's of transformational leadership. Journal of European Industrial Training, 15(4), 9-16.

Bass, B. M. (1985). Leadership and performance beyond expectations. New York: Free.

Bass, B. M. (1990). From transactional to transformational leadership: Learning to share the vision. Organizational Dynamics, 18(3), 19-36.

Bass, B. M., & Avolio, B. J. (1990). Multifactor leadership questionnaire. Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologist.

Boone, E. J. (1990). Crossing lines. Journal of Extension, 28(3), Unpaged.

Guilford, J. P. (1956). Fundamental statistics in psychology and education. New York: McGraw Hill.

Harris, M. M., & Schaubroeck, J. (1988). A meta-analysis of self-supervisor, self-peer, and peer-supervisor ratings. Personnel Psychology, 41, pp. 43-59.

Hutchins, G. R. (1992). Evaluating county clustering. Journal of Extension, 30(1), Unpaged.

Mabe, P. A., & West, S. G. (1982). Validity of self evaluation of ability: A review and meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 67, 280-296.

Mantz, C. C., & Sims, H. P., Jr. (1993). Businesses without bosses: How self-managing teams are building high performing companies. New York: Wiley.

Waldman, D. A., Bass, B. M., & Einstein, W. O. (1986). Effort, performance, and transformational leadership in industrial and military settings. Unpublished manuscript, School of Management, Binghamton State University of New York.

Journal Series No. 11424, Agricultural Reseach Division, University of Nebraska-Lincoln