The full range leadership model postulates that every leadership style can be understood by its placement on two axes: one has to do with the degree of involvement by the leader, and the other has to do with the degree of effectiveness.
Leaders can either be highly involved or completely disengaged. Similarly, they can either be highly effective or completely ineffective. A specific leader’s actions can be placed along these two axes, which can then be labeled as one of three leadership styles: transformational, transactional, or laissez-faire.
For example, a leader that is very passive and fails to provide the team with instructions or direction can is very ineffective, representing the laissez-faire leadership style.
Definition of Full Range Leadership
The value of the full-range leadership model developed by Avolio and Bass (1991) is that it provides one theoretical framework that allows us to understand some very specific leadership styles.
- The transformational leader is capable of creating a shared vision that others can follow.
- The transactional style is very pragmatic and implements a highly structured system of rewards and punishments based on performance.
- The laissez-faire leadership style is relaxed and easygoing. Leaders take a hands-off approach which works well if staff are capable and highly motivated.
By placing the various styles on a two-dimensional axis, it was possible to see how different styles were related more coherently. It also allowed a clearer understanding of how a style can change over time by adapting to the organic nature of a company’s life cycle.
Full Range Leadership Strengths and Weaknesses
|Pro: Demonstrates the relationship between three types of leadership.||Con: Only articulates three of over 20 leadership styles.|
|Pro: Views types of leadership as sitting on a spectrum rather than just independent models.||Con: Doesn’t advocate for a specific type of leadership over another.|
|Pro: Explains how leadership can change and move up and down a spectrum over time.||Con: Ignores other potential axes along a spectrum, such as levels of motivation or social interaction.|
Examples of Full Range Leadership
1. Sales Quota and Bonuses
Type: Transactional Leadership
In sales, people often get rewards for exceeding sales KPIs. This is a typical example of transactional leadership.
Working in sales is not for the timid. You have to have confidence and outstanding people skills. Talking strangers into buying a car or a company into buying IT infrastructure, is not an easy feat.
This is why most companies that rely on sales implement a very rigid quota system. Members of the sales team that meet their quotas are rewarded with bonuses and a variety or perks, such as a free car service or other valued privileges.
Surpassing quotas can be quite lucrative. Those that fail to meet their quotas however, will probably be let go.
This is a perfect example of a transactional leadership philosophy. There is a clear structure of rewards and punishments in place.
2. Natural Disaster Preparedness
Type: Transformational Leadership
Leaders during natural disasters need to be transformational. They have to bring together many different departments and put in place extraordinary efforts to overcome extraordinary problems.
Many cities on the coast will have an emergency management department that is responsible for developing procedures for handling a natural disaster, such as a hurricane.
The head of that department will need to collaborate with a wide range of government agencies and private industry.
Hospitals, law enforcement, and fire departments will need to coordinate during a natural disaster to help citizens evacuate in an orderly manner and take care of patients that are immobile or disaster victims.
This coordination requires a transformational leadership style that is able to get highly experienced professionals to work together to achieve a common goal. There really is no other leadership style that could perform this function properly, despite the many weaknesses of transformational leadership.
3. The Disney Pixar Studios Partnership
Types: Transactional and Transformational
The full range leadership model helps us see how leaders can embrace aspects of both transformational and transactional leadership depending on the needs of the workforce.
Pixar is an animation studio known worldwide for creating fantastic stories. The company was started in 1979 and bought by The Walt Disney Company in 2006.
In the beginning, many predicted the partnership would be a complete disaster. In most creative ventures, egos and individualism are insurmountable obstacles. Fortunately, the two companies developed a hybrid system of leadership.
For example, each film has “personal project days” and “braintrust meetings”. These involve staff taking two days a month to work on anything they want, and meetings where people on another project give candid feedback in the form of notes.
The Pixar culture is carefully structured to induce strict adherence to accountability, a feature of transactional leadership, while also encouraging risk-taking, a transformational touch. As quoted in Fearless Culture, the CTO of the Pixar/Disney collaboration Ed Catmull believes: “It is not the manager’s job to prevent risks. It is the manager’s job to make it safe to take them.”
4. Playground Safety Scenario
In this scenario, we learn the risks of laissez-faire leadership – especially when it comes to safety!
The physical safety of students is priority number one of schools for young children. Very young learners are especially prone to accidents.
Just walking up and down the stairs is a safety hazard; the school playground even more so. For this reason, every kindergarten must have a playground safety handbook and sufficient training.
However, many teachers see recess as a time to relax. They may let their guard down with the intention of letting children enjoy their freedom to run and play. Teachers might be seen standing around together and chatting.
The principle cannot simply take a hands-off approach when it comes to the playground, which is the most dangerous place on any kindergarten grounds. The principle must accept responsibility for carefully monitoring the playground each and every day. It only takes a split-second for a serious accident to occur.
If the principle takes a laissez-faire approach, a serious accident may occur.
5. NFL Player Contracts
High-performing athletes often have transactional leadership written into their contracts. The leaders insist that they perform or they will lose their contract!
The NFL is a multibillion-dollar business. League revenue is well over 10 billion USD every year, and steadily climbing. Individual players can make 10-20 million a year.
The game is also a tough sport to play. Not only is it physically demanding, but at any moment during a game, a player’s career can be completely wiped-out. So, how do team owners and coaches make sure that players stay motivated to play hard in games?
The answer is simple: by utilizing a transactional leadership philosophy. Players’ contracts are full of incentives and quotas. If a player fails to perform, then they don’t get on the field. If they don’t get on the field, then they can catch the number of passes they need to earn the $2 million stipulated in their contract.
NFL coaches are masters of transactional leadership: performance is directly tied to rewards, or sitting the bench.
6. The Big Bang Theory
Type: Laissez-faire Leadership
While laissez-faire leadership has a bad reputation, sometimes it can be helpful, especially in highly creative environments.
The Big Bang Theory had a remarkable run, lasting for 12 seasons. A feat unheard of in the sit-com genre. It just isn’t that easy to be funny for 12 years.
Like most TV shows, writing and producing a show is a massive exercise in collaboration. If you have any doubt, just take a look at the list of the credits at the end of any show.
Churning out show after show, week after week, can be very stressful if the wrong kind of leadership is at the helm. Stress and pressure are certainly not conducive to being funny.
Creating a fun atmosphere and letting people express themselves freely is the laissez-faire leadership style adopted by director Mark Cendrowski. As he stated in an interview with The Michigan Daily, “We play games all the time. We don’t just come in and make it the drudgery of work and make it like a factory…If you’re having fun, it’s easier to make people laugh.”
7. Dwight D. Eisenhower
Type: Transformational and Laissez-faire
President Dwight D. Eisenhower had an interesting mix of transformational and laissez-faire leadership. He implemented each style at different times during his efforts to construct national infrastructure.
The US President Dwight D. Eisenhower initiated the construction of the nation’s interstate highway system on June 29, 1956 by signing the Federal Aid Highway Act.
The legislation expanded the highway system by over 40,000 miles. At the time, it was the largest public works in the history of the country.
At first, Eisenhower persuaded congress to pass the legislation with this inspiring speech, which in part stated:
“Together, the uniting forces of our communication and transportation systems are dynamic elements in the very name we bear—United States. Without them, we would be a mere alliance of many separate parts.”
Once the legislation passed, Eisenhower then implemented a hands-off approach by delegating responsibility to contractors, civil engineers and state governments.
Achieving this monumental accomplishment required a unique combination of both transformational and laissez-faire leadership styles.
8. Entrepreneurial Endeavors
Type: All Three
Entrepreneurs often need to use all three different leadership styles within the full range leadership model at different periods of their business’s growth.
Although it would be easier to ascribe one leadership style per leader, it turns out that is a bit simplistic. In a lot of situations, a leader needs to utilize aspects of different styles.
For example, with entrepreneurial endeavors, it may be best to use the visionary abilities of the transformational leadership style to inspire and motivate the team.
However, as things progress and the team grows and diversifies, a more hands-off approach may be better suited. The founders may not have the technical skills necessary to provide a great deal of oversight, so a laissez-faire leadership style is best.
This is the advantage of the full-range leadership model. It provides a framework for understanding how circumstances and leadership styles change over time.
9. Project Based Learning
Type: Laissez-faire Leadership
A teacher may be laissez-faire when students are working on their own projects. However, it takes a lot of strong leadership and training to get to this point where you’re hands-off and the students learn unguided.
Project based learning involves letting students work independently on a project over an extended period of time, from just a week to perhaps even an entire semester.
The project is usually centered on trying to solve a real-world problem or examining a complex issue. The project will often culminate in a public poster or oral presentation.
After providing the basic guidelines and structure of the project, the teacher steps-back and allows the students to do most all of the work themselves. This includes allowing them to make mistakes, and learn from them, which provides a richer and more meaningful learning experience.
This kind of a laissez-faire leadership style is a great way for students to learn practical skills and how to take responsibility and ownership for their work.
As parents, we move through all three types of leadership. We may be transactional with infants who need rewards and punishments, transformational with our teenagers, and laissez-faire when our kids become adults.
In many ways, a marriage is the perfect platform to understand the full-range model. In the early stages of romance, two partners are focused on a vision, working together to achieve a common goal, and producing something magical; a perfect example of transformational leadership.
After the honeymoon comes starting a family, parenting and raising children. Making sure a child learns to be responsible and become a self-functioning human being is a long-term project that involves setting clear boundaries and invoking discipline. The transactional leadership style is in full effect as parents establish rules and apply rewards and punishments over an 18-year period.
Once the child has left the nest, parents may adopt a laissez-faire leadership style. The child no longer needs supervision. They can embark on life on their own and may only occasionally need support. Meanwhile, the couple can resume pursuit of other dreams in retirement and inspire each other to enjoy life.
The full-range leadership model identifies a leadership style as existing on a two-dimensional axis of participation and effectiveness. Each axis is a continuum that explains how a leader may display a degree of involvement in the work of their team, or how their style translates into a degree of success or failure.
In reality, leadership styles can change over time, as a project, company or industry evolves. What was once a needed and effective leadership style in the early stages of a start-up, may become destructive as the company grows and takes on a more diverse team of skill-sets and personalities.
The full-range model has proven to be a very useful framework for understanding the dynamic nature of leadership.
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