Transformational Leadership: Change and Development of Law Enforcement Personnel

Updated: Nov 14, 2019

The term “Transformational Leadership” has been in the leadership and management lexicon now for several decades. It was derived in 1978 by James MacGregor Burns when he stated that transformational leadership can be seen when “leaders and followers make each other to advance to a higher level of morale and motivation” [1]. The concept embraces the virtues of vision, inspiration, motivation, and a clear understanding of human nature, both in the workforce and in the personal lives of workers. It encompasses the capacity to look within the human resource capital of each person and strive to provide them with a sense of direction and support for their goals and accomplishments. Perhaps the greatest attribute of a transformational leader is to inspire their followers to accept changes, and properly understand the many perceptions they form on almost a daily basis. Much of this is accomplished by leading by example, which is an extremely important attribute that law enforcement officers desire to see in their leaders. Unfortunately, it is not always practiced by leaders.

Unlike “transactional leadership,” where the “gives and takes” occur between supervisors and their subordinates, transactional leadership is based on the personality of the leaders and their abilities to articulate a vision for change and meeting challenging goals. Several years after Burns hypothesized the transformational leadership concept, Bernard M. Bass (1985) extended Burns’ work by explaining the psychological mechanisms that underlie transforming and transactional leadership. Bass added to the initial concepts of Burns to help explain how transformational leadership can be measured [2]. One of the most significant measures would be the influence that leaders have on their followers. The ability to lead and influence workers is a powerful characteristic. It can shape and mold not only work performance, but the thinking and innovative skills and attributes of workers. A transformational leader can more easily persuade workers to follow, even under challenging or suspicious circumstances. Obtaining the compliance of workers can most certainly be one of the most satisfying achievements for a leader. Clearly, the feelings of trust and mutual respect are at the center of building relationships between leaders and followers.

Traits and Characteristics

According to Bass (1985), transformational leadership encompasses several different aspects, including: “Emphasizing intrinsic motivation and positive development of followers, raising awareness of moral standards, highlighting important priorities, fostering higher moral maturity in followers, creating an ethical climate, encouraging followers to look beyond self-interests, promoting cooperation and harmony, using authentic and consistent means, using persuasive appeals based on reason, providing individual coaching and mentoring for followers, appealing to the ideals of followers, and, allowing freedom of choice for followers” [3]. These characteristics and attributes work well in contemporary organizations where modernistic concepts such as self-managing teams thrive well in harmonious work environments. The importance of supervisory delegation, empowerment, and decentralization of the decision-making process are at the very foundation of the successes that self-managing teams have shown. The millennial generation, in particular, demands those attributes and they aspire to become successful through rewards and recognition throughout their careers. The aforementioned concepts and attributes coincide with the needs of millennials as they perform in the work setting, particularly in the functioning of self-managing teams.

A debate has occurred for many years as to whether or not a person’s personality traits or their learned behaviors make up their particular leadership style or acumen. Most experts tend to agree that a combination of both, along with situational factors that leaders face in their interactions with people and circumstances, can contribute to a particular leadership style. The characteristics or origin of the transformational leader tends however to be based almost solely on personality traits. It is possible for someone with an inadequacy for transforming skills to adapt over a period of time to one that can transform people and situations. The research is void however on this subject. What is important to know is that transformational leadership focuses on three behavior patterns of charisma, intellectual stimulation, and individual consideration (Bass, 1985). Tichy and Ulrich (1984) presented the transformational leader as the model for future leadership excellence. They cited three identifiable activities associated with transformational leadership: creation of vision, view of a future state, mobilization of commitment; acceptance of the new mission, and institutionalization of change; and new patterns of behavior adopted to embrace change (Ortmeier, 1996, 2002; Tichy & Ulrich, 1984).

In more specific terms, what exactly are the characteristics of a transformational leader? As previously stated, the transformational leader’s style and methods are based almost entirely on their personalities. Their traits are as follows: Extraversion, Neuroticism, Openness to experience, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness [4]. Extraversion correlates with more openness and fairness in interactions with people, and is generally seen as inspirational in nature as interactions occur with subordinates. Neuroticism happens when anxiety surfaces with production demands. This can be problematic at times for the transformational leader. Openness to experience relates to the visionary or global leader and thinker. Creative expression and emotional intelligence are linked with openness. Agreeableness is not specifically linked to transformational leadership, although it shows that a leader is naturally concerned for others. Productivity and commitment to a sense of direction are the by-products of Conscientiousness [4].

Impact of Transformational Leadership

Today’s workforce in law enforcement tends to have a high demand for intellectual stimulation. That is, they require and have a need for challenge, use of their intellectual capacities, and can oftentimes challenge their superiors by not accepting orders or direction. Transformational leaders are more often highly capable of dealing and interacting with subordinates who may possess difficulties in their personalities and with their human relation skills. The ability for transformational leader to connect with challenging subordinates goes a long way in diffusing potentially difficult people and the circumstance they frequently present to management. The millennial generation can also show more disrespect to their authority figures. This can be problematic for a lot of supervisors in law enforcement in particular since respect is demanded within a command and control environment. Without appropriate management interventions, unattended negative circumstances within the workforce will almost lead to individual and organizational conflicts. Thus, the abilities of transformational leadership that respects and encourages participation from workers will greatly aid in reducing or even preventing adverse behaviors among certain workers.

The element of motivation among workers is a critical factor in their individual successes and in the achievements of law enforcement organizations. The collective representation of workers from all strategic levels within an organization is formed by the individuals and their behaviors. Any efforts to change elements of an organization are frequently met with resistance from primarily mid-level managers. This has a negative impact on the morale and motivation of workers in general. Perhaps the single most important reason for resistance is when workers do not see the values in proposed change. The transformational leader works harder to insure that workers have numerous opportunities to provide input into the decision-making process. Morale and motivation are thus enhanced when workers feel a sense of ownership in an organization. Additionally, they strive to work harder and engage in collaborative ways to form partnerships and build coalitions within the workforce. This is a huge benefit, not only for the organization, but for the citizens they serve.

Transformational leaders go to great distances to challenge workers to perform at the highest possible capacities of their work lives and in their commitments to work. Most workers enjoy these kinds of challenges and feel more appreciated if they have opportunities to aspire to become better workers. This trait is related to the millennial generation of workers in particular. The importance of higher order thinking is critical to the success of building the capacity of intellectual skills development for each worker. An emphasis on developing the intellectual skill capacities among workers is not practiced to the extent that it should be for most law enforcement organizations. Practical skill development, such as teaching the techniques of defensive tactics or arrest procedures, occupies most of the basic police academy curriculum. Certainly, practical skills are important for law enforcement officers, however, more attention must focus on the enhancement of important skills of critical thinking, judgment, and emotional intelligence. Again, transformational leaders understand the need and efficacy of law enforcement officers to show these traits when interacting with members of society, as well as with their peers and supervisors in their organizations.

Most everyone would agree that leaders of all types and styles must have a vision for their organizations in order to lead and build successful units of productivity and professional services. The truth of the matter is that transformational leaders place a high priority on creating visions and nurturing the tents of their visions for long-term service. They revisit their vision statements, along with their missions, goals and objectives, on a periodic basis to insure that each are current and represent the existing values that are important and relevant to all stakeholders.

Final Comments

Law enforcement organizations of all types should embrace the characteristics of transformational leadership. This begins by an examination of current leadership and managerial practices in their hierarchical structures. More emphasis should be placed on the decentralization of structure with an increase on empowerment of workers at all levels. Transformational leaders have greater capacities to lead organizations through these types of changes so they can face uncertainties in their futures. They inspire, motivate, and strive to build character and provide support for their workers. Perhaps law enforcement organizations should conduct leadership inventories of their leaders at all levels to assess the various styles that are being practiced in order to determine if those styles are relevant to each organization in the communities they represent.

Finally, law enforcement organizations should strive to engage in organizational change to insure that their work environments are conducive to new initiatives and strategies such as transformational leadership. The change process should commence at the top of their structures and involve all strategic levels in their organizations. A top-down approach is most appropriate since workers look up in their hierarchies for leadership by example. Once upper commands embrace the new philosophy of leadership, then mid-managers must aggressively pursue training and policy changes to insure there will be followership. Once that is accomplished, then followers will be more compliant and willing to accept transformational leadership as the accepted practice for future years. References [1] Transformational Leadership ( [2] Bass, Bernard M., 1985, Leadership and Performance Beyond Expectations, Free Press, New York. [3] (http: [4] Joyce E., Timothy A. Judge “Personality and Transformational and Transactional Leadership: AMeta-Analysis” Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol. 89, No. 5 (2004): 901-910. Ortmeier, P.J. (2002). Policing the community: A guide for patrol operations. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall. Ortmeier, P.J. (1996). Community policing leadership: A Delphi study to identify essential competencies. Ann Arboe, MI: University Microfilms International (Bell & Howell Information and Learning) Dissertation Services. Tichy, N., & Ulrich, D. (1984). The leadership challenge – a call for the transformational leader. SMR Forum, Sloan Management Review, 26 (1), 59-68.

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