Transformational leadership refers to charismatic individuals with a compelling vision who foster and lead their followers to success with trust and respect. Academic leadership uses many of the attributes of transformational leadership in that it inspires faculty productivity through competition for the sake of excellence rather than for personal gain. Together, the theories of transformational leadership and academic leadership form a foundation on which to study faculty research productivity and the specific leadership characteristics that may predict researcher productivity.

Transformational Leadership

In the late 1900s, James MacGregor Burns was the first to distinguish the difference between a transactional leader and a transformational leader. A transactional leader provides a social exchange of money or recognition for an employee’s labor or client’s loyalty, whereas a transformational leader “inspires followers to achieve extraordinary outcomes, and in the process, they help develop followers’ own leadership qualities” (Riggio, 2009).

While both leaders can be charismatic and have a compelling vision, the transformational leader is often more concerned with the common good and the success of others, verses his or her own self-interests. Additional characteristics associated with transformational leadership including: charisma, inspiration, and the idealized influence. The transformational leader uses a relationship of mutual trust and respect to lead their followers to success, an approach which often leads to higher levels of productivity.

Academic Leadership

Academic leadership, unlike other forms of organizational leadership, often uses persuasion rather than mandate to inspire productivity. As a result, academic leaders must reward faculty competition for excellence and productivity while, at the same time, fostering an atmosphere of “openness and trust” that supports the individuality of each faculty member while feeding the “shared value system of the group” (Fagin, 2011).

The academic leader is often a role model and mentor because they are aware of the current trends, goals, and future needs of the department, and are able to reallocate resources to support faculty in times of need. A successful academic leader should have “the personal skills to make this holistic role possible” (Fagin, 2011). In this way, a significant relationship is suggested between personality, leadership style, and academic productivity.

Research Productivity

Several characteristics of both transformational and academic leadership have also been found to have a positive correlation with high research productivity, including: a role-model academic, someone who keeps organizational goals visible, and uses assertive participative style.

A successful researcher is often someone who fills a leadership role by managing people and resources, keeping the “group’s mission and shared goals visible to all members”, and “attends to the many individual and institutional features that facilitate research productivity” (Bland, 2005). This definition has many parallels with the concept of a ‘holistic role’ mentioned in Fagin (2011).

Findings also suggest that researchers are most productive when they engage a participative leadership style which shares similarities with the transformational leadership style such as creating clear objectives, inspiring all members of the group to have a vested ownership in the project, and valuing each member’s ideas.