Marble relief of the Roman Praetorian Guard c50AD (Courtesy: Louvre-Lens Museum, Lens, France)
Ideas for Leaders #547

Transformational Leadership Extra Effective When Employees Have High Self-Esteem

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Key Concept

Transformational leadership is key to helping employees reach their full potential. This is especially true, according to new research, for high core self-evaluation (CSE) employees, whose job satisfaction and organizational commitment is significantly strengthened under the influence of transformational leaders. 

Idea Summary

The core self-evaluation (CSE) assessment is an attempt to reconcile the variety of personality types assessments (e.g. Myers-Briggs) available. The CSE looks at four personality traits: self-esteem, generalized self-efficacy, locus of control (how much one feels in control of one’s life), and neuroticism (anxiety). People with high CSE see themselves as self-worthy, self-potent, in control of their lives (including work lives), and non-anxious.

Transformation leaders are charismatic leaders who articulate a vision and then successfully inspire and motivate employees and subordinates to achieve that vision. The four dimensions of transformational leadership are:

  • Idealized influence (leaders are admired role models)
  • Inspirational motivation (leaders know how to motivate subordinates)
  • Intellectual stimulation (leaders engage the brainpower of their subordinates), and
  • Individualized consideration (leaders are sensitive to the needs, concerns and abilities of each individual subordinate).

New research shows that transformational leadership can heighten the impact of high CSE. Previous research has shown how high CSE can increase job satisfaction, organizational commitment and job performance. Other research has studied the positive employee outcomes of transformational leadership. The new research is unique in considering the relationship between transformational leadership and the personality traits of employees.

The researchers, a team of academics from China Europe International Business School in China, Jinju National University and Seowon University in Korea, and the University of Illinois at Chicago, begin by explaining the relationship of CSE to the outcomes mentioned above (job satisfaction, organizational commitment and job performance). The self-esteem and self-efficacy of high CSE individuals allows them to achieve their job ambitions and consider themselves valued employees in meaningful jobs, which leads to job satisfaction. Because they feel in control of their work situation, they have a more positive view of the workplace and indeed have a more positive experience at work, which leads to greater organizational commitment. Finally, their high confidence pushes high CSE individuals to work harder to achieve their goals, leading to higher job performance.

Transformational leadership has an important direct influence on employee work outcomes. However, the new research, based on a survey of 546 matched supervisor-subordinate pairs from six major South Korean organizations, shows that transformational leadership can also influence outcomes by interacting with the characteristics of subordinates. Specifically, the four dimensions of transformational leadership — idealized influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, and individualized consideration — reinforce the behaviours of high CSE individuals based on their traits of high self-esteem, high self-efficacy, high feeling of control over life, and low anxiety.

For example, the self-esteem, self-efficacy and internal locus of control of high CSE employees help them to...

  • meet the challenge of transformational leaders who are motivating and inspiring them to perform beyond their expectations;
  • respond to the intellectual stimulation of transformational leaders seeking to inspire their thoughts and imagination;
  • take full advantage of a transformational leader’s supportive behaviour of every individual.

The result is that transformational leaders enhance the job satisfaction and organizational commitment of high CSE employees. The research did not find, however, a similar enhancement effect of transformational leadership on the job performance of high CSE employees. In other words, transformational leadership helps both high and low CSE employees to perform better. Unlike with job satisfaction and organizational commitment, high CSE employees do not get an extra boost in job performance because of their personality traits.

Business Application

There are several practical implications of the research for organizations:

  • Given the impact on job satisfaction and organizational commitment, organizations should pursue high CSE candidates
  • If leadership effectiveness is a concern, organizations should look at individual characteristics and behaviours of both leaders and subordinates. Work attitudes of employees will be strengthened through combined increases in both transformational leadership and CSE.
  • When designing leadership training programs, designers need to incorporate the reactions of different types of employees to different types of leaders.
  • The research highlights the imperative of training leaders to become transformational leaders. This training will include on-the-job training, but also needs to include a strong educational component to help these emerging leaders change some deeply held beliefs and assumptions about employees
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