The relationship between
followersâ€™ perceived quality of
relationship and preferred
College of Business Administration, Tarleton State University,
Stephenville, Texas, USA
Purpose â€“ Although leaders and followers are both essential elements within the leadership process,
there has been limited research regarding followers and their role in the process. The purpose of this
paper is to answer specific calls for research in the studies of followership, leadership, and the
follower/leader relationship through the examination of the relationship between followersâ€™ perception
of quality of relationship with their leaders and followersâ€™ preferred leadership style from their leaders.
Design/methodology/approach â€“ The study utilized a quantitative, correlational approach using
the LMX-7 questionnaire to measure followersâ€™ perceived quality of relationship with their leader and
the MLQ-5x to measure followersâ€™ preferred leadership style from their leader. The test sample was 105
CPAâ€™s working in the USA for companies over 1,000 employees in size.
Findings â€“ The study determined positive, significant levels of relationship between followerâ€™s
perceived quality of relationship and followerâ€™s preference for transformational leadership style.
The study additionally determined that the level of preference for transactional leadership style, at the
composite scale level, remained relatively consistent, regardless the quality of relationship.
Research limitations/implications â€“ Because of the specific characteristic of the chosen research
sample, the research results may not be generalized across other populations. Recommendations for
future studies across different samples are identified.
Originality/value â€“ This study is unique in that it adds to the body of knowledge of leadership
studies through the perspective of the follower.
Keywords Leadership, Followership, Leadership style
Paper type Research paper
The Hogg (2001) assertion that â€œleaders exist because of followers and followers exist
because of leadersâ€ (p. 185) illustrates the symbiotic nature of the relationship between
leaders and followers. Most current definitions of leadership also include both leaders
and followers with the concept that leadership is a process whereby leaders influence
followersâ€™ thoughts and/or behavior (Northouse, 2007; Yukl, 2002). Although both
leaders and followers are essential to the leadership process, there has been a division
in research oriented toward understanding leaders and followers. While there has been
a long running focus on research aimed toward understanding leaders as evidenced
through the development of leader-centric theories including trait theory (Stogdill,
1948), skills theory (Katz, 1955), behavioral theory (Blake and Mouton, 1964; Fleishman,
1953), contingency theory (Fiedler, 1967), and situational theory (Hersey and Blanchard,
1969), there has been a lesser, separate research focus on understanding followers
(Baker, 2007; Yukl, 2002). Burns (1978) noted this division between leader-centric and
follower-centric research focus in his charge that â€œone of the most serious failures in the
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at
Received 6 August 2012
Revised 8 February 2013
30 May 2013
Accepted 31 May 2013
Leadership & Organization
Vol. 35 No. 7, 2014
r Emerald Group Publishing Limited
study of leadership is the bifurcation between the literature on leadership and the
literature on followershipâ€ ( p. 3).
Researchers are increasingly recognizing the need to understand the role and
significance of followers within the leadership process. Kelley (1988) highlighted the role
of followers with his assertion â€œnot all corporate success is due to leadershipâ€ ( p. 1) in his
argument that organizational success is due in part on â€œhow well their followers followâ€
( p. 2). Hollander (1992) spoke about the â€œessential interdependence of leadership and
followershipâ€ ( p. 71) in his analysis of leadership as a process within the contextual
elements of â€œthe qualities and responsiveness of followers, with their needs, expectations,
and perceptionsâ€ ( p. 71). Uhl-Bien (2006) noted that organizations continue to become
more complex, increasing our need to develop our understanding of â€œwhat are the
relational dynamics by which leadership is formed throughout the workplace?â€ ( p. 672).
Leadership theories have progressively included leaders and followers, as well as
their relationship within the leadership process (Dansereau et al., 1975; Graen and
Uhl-Bien, 1995; Hollander, 1995, 2008). Leader member exchange (LMX), a relational
leadership theory, recognizes the elements of leader, follower, and the quality of their
relationship (Graen and Uhl-Bien, 1995). The relationship-based approach to leadership
recognizes â€œa two-way influence relationship between a leader and a follower aimed
primarily at attaining mutual goalsâ€ (Uhl-Bien, 2006, p. 656). While there is recognition
of a two-way influence, research has predominately been leader-centric with leadership
as an independent variable with a resulting follower response as a dependent variable
(Dvir and Shamir, 2003).
The focus on leader-centric research has limited the understanding of both the
follower and the relationship within the leadership process (Graen and Uhl-Bien, 1995;
Uhl-Bien, 2006). To help overcome that limitation, the objective of this research was to
test the relationship between the followerâ€™s perception of the quality of relationship
with their leader (direct supervisor) and the followerâ€™s preference of leadership style
from that same leader, which had not yet been explored in the research literature.
2. Theory and hypothesis development
Figure 1 depicts the research design model demonstrating the relationship between
followerâ€™s perception of quality of relationship with their leader and the level of followerâ€™s
preference for leadership style of that leader.
In this section, the rationale underlying the model development and theoretical
arguments supporting the hypothesized relationships is developed. This section begins
by discussing the concepts of followership and leadership. Next the concept of the
leader-follower relationship is discussed, followed by identifying several hypotheses
describing the relationship between the followerâ€™s perception of quality of relationship
with their leader and the level of followerâ€™s preference for leadership style of that leader.
Followerâ€™s perception of quality
of relationship with leader (IV)
Level of followerâ€™s preference for
leadership style of leader (DV)
Figure 1. Low
2.1 Followership theory
Kellerman (2008) provided a current definition of followership as â€œthe response of those
in subordinate positions (followers) to those in superior ones (leaders). Followership
implies a relationship between subordinates and superiors, and a response of the
former to the latterâ€ (p. xxi). Kellermanâ€™s definition of followership includes the three
elements (leader, follower, relationship) that have come to be common to many current
studies of both leadership and followership (Bass, 1985; Bass and Avolio, 2004; Burns,
1978; Dansereau et al., 1975; Graen and Uhl-Bien, 1995; Hollander, 2008; Hollander and
Julian, 1969; Kellerman, 2008).
Passive and active followership. Baker (2007), in her development of a theoretical
foundation for a contemporary construct of followership, found that much of the
leadership studies in the twentieth century were primarily focussed on leaders and
their active roles with passive followers. This leader-centric focus may have helped to
perpetuate what Meindl et al. (1985) referred to as the romance of leadership distorting
â€œwhat leaders do, what they are able to accomplish, and the general effects that they
have on our livesâ€ ( p. 79). Much of the active-leader/passive-follower research explored
leadersâ€™ traits, behaviors, and responses within situational contexts (Bass, 1990;
Northouse, 2007; Yukl, 2002).
Other researchers recognized a variety of follower types in more active roles within
the leader-follower relationship. Burns (1978) identified passive followers who offered
â€œundiscriminating support,â€ participatory followers who offered selectively â€œbargained
support,â€ and close followers who â€œwere in reality subleadersâ€ ( p. 68). Hansen (1987)
reinforced the thought that followers were more than passive elements in his
illustration of the power of followers in their ability to â€œconfer legitimacyâ€ to the leader
by granting them authority. Kelley (1988) raised the profile of active followership
in his assertion â€œorganizations stand or fall partly on how well their leaders lead, but
partly also on the basis of how well their followers followâ€ ( p. 2). He suggested
leadership and followership are organizational roles by illustrating that most
managers act as both leaders and followers within their organizations. He introduced
the idea of effective followership through the identification of followers that would rate
high in both critical thinking and levels of active followership and be â€œdistinguished as
enthusiastic, intelligent, and self-reliant in the pursuit of the organizational goalâ€
(Kelley, 1988, p. 3).
Need for further research regarding followership. Lord and Emrich (2001) spoke to
the importance of understanding followers in their words â€œif leadership resides, at least
in part, in the minds of followers, then it is imperative to discover what followers are
thinkingâ€ ( p. 551). While the definition of leadership includes the existence of followers,
studies of leadership have paid little interest to the characteristics of followers (Dvir
and Shamir, 2003; Marion and Uhl-Bien, 2001; Yukl, 2002). Yukl addressed the lack of
research aimed toward followership in his analysis, â€œonly a small amount of research
and theory emphasizes characteristics of the followerâ€ ( p. 16). Dvir and Shamir spoke to
the lack of research using followersâ€™ characteristics as independent variables with the
propensity for research to typically include followersâ€™ characteristics as â€œdependent
variables affected by the leader [y] rather on follower characteristics, predispositions, or
attitudesâ€ ( p. 328). Vecchio and Boatwright (2002) spoke to the lack of follower-focussed
research, specifically the lack of research aimed toward understanding follower
preferences of leadership styles in their description of the state of leadership research:
â€œ[y] there are areas where our knowledge base remains deficient. One of these areas is
the topic of subordinate preferences for styles of supervisionâ€ ( p. 327).
2.2 transactional and transformational leadership theories
Burns (1978) continued to build on the concept of leader-follower relationships through
his assertion â€œleaders engage with followers on the basis of shared motives and values
and goalsâ€ ( p. 36). Burns introduced his theory of leadership bounded by the mutually
exclusive concepts of transactional leadership and transformational leadership.
Transactional leaders, in Burnsâ€™ perspective, relate to followers â€œfor the purpose of
and exchange of valued thingsâ€ ( p. 19). These exchanges, which could be economic,
political, and psychological in nature, are arrived at through a bargaining process
in which both leader and follower maintain equal standing. The bargainers (leaders
and followers) do not have an enduring, binding relationship beyond the bargained
agreement, and may go separate ways after fulfillment of the bargain. There is not
a continuing, mutual pursuit of a higher purpose. Transformational leadership, in
Burnsâ€™ perspective, transforms the follower by raising the followerâ€™s level of consciousness
about the importance and value of both outcomes and way of reaching those outcomes
through engaging with them in ways that â€œboth leader and follower are raised to higher
levels of motivation and moralityâ€ (Burnâ€™s, 1978, p. 20). The transformational leader is
able to influence the followers to transcend their own self-interest for the sake of the larger
team or organizational goal.
Bassâ€™s (1985) concept of transactional and transformational leadership, while built on
Burnâ€™s (1978) work, differs from Burnsâ€™ perspective of the relationship between transactional
and transformational styles. Bass argues that transactional and transformational leadership
are separate, complimentary concepts (as opposed to Burnsâ€™ concept of transactional and
transformational leadership being mutually exclusive), and carries this argument even
further with the claim that the best leaders are both transformational and transactional in
style (Bass, 1985, 1990, 1995, 1999). Bass (1998) suggests it is transactional leadership,
through honoring commitments of contingent rewards, creates trust, dependability,
and perceptions of consistency, which in turn form the basis of transformational
leadership. Transformational leadership, through its focus of idealized influence,
inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, and individualized consideration
augments transactional leadership by contributing to the extra effort and performance
Need for further research regarding leadership theories. There are a number
of researchers across various disciplines calling for movement toward new ways of
looking at leadership. Maintaining the leadership elements of leader, follower, and
relationship, researchers are suggesting a need to find new ways of enabling the
organization. Russellâ€™s (2003) research of leadership within educational settings as
a relational process, suggests â€œwhilst there is increasing recognition of relationships in
leadership [y] followers are too frequently treated as a single group. This suggests
leaders in the field need to be aware of the various followership groups within their
particular organization, and their relationships and motivationsâ€ ( p. 31). Uhl-Bien
(2006) declares â€œrelationships â€“ rather than authority, superiority, or dominance â€“
appear to be the key to new forms of relationshipsâ€ ( p. 672) and suggests we need to
address the question â€œwhat are the relational dynamics by which leadership is
developed throughout the workplace?â€ ( p. 672). Avolio (2007) called more integrative
strategies for leadership theory-building in which he asserted â€œleadership theory
and research has reached a point in its development of integration â€“ considering the
dynamic interplay between leaders and followers, taking into account the prior, current
and emerging context â€“ for continued progress to be made in advancing both the
science and practice of leadershipâ€ ( p. 25).
2.3 Leader-follower relationship
Foundational work researching leader-follower relationships includes vertical dyad
leadership theory (Dansereau et al., 1975; Graen and Uhl-Bien, 1995) that recognized
leaders do not use a consistent, average leadership style with all direct supports,
but rather develop differentiated, dyadic relationships with subordinates resulting
in a range of exchange processes (Dansereau et al., 1975; Liden and Graen, 1980). LMX,
based on this type of two-way influence relationship, focusses on how these relationships
develop (Dienesch and Liden, 1986; Graen and Scandura, 1987; Graen and Uhl-Bien, 1991)
and the benefits these relationships bring (Epitropaki and Martin, 2005; Graen and
Uhl-Bien, 1995; Gerstner and Day, 1997).
LMX, is considered a relational approach of leadership (Northouse, 2007; Uhl-Bien,
2006; Yukl, 2002). Relational approach theory is based in part on the concept that social
behavior is the result of an exchange process between two parties. Exchange process,
as applied in leadership studies, describes relationships existing as exchanges of
desirable outcomes between leaders and individual followers (Blau, 1960, 1986; Cook
and Whitmeyer, 1992; Homans, 1958).
Several models have been proposed to explain the process of relationship development
between leaders and members. Dienesch and Liden (1986) proposed a process-oriented
model of LMX development with steps including initial interaction, leader delegation,
member behavior and attribution, and leaderâ€™s attribution for memberâ€™s behaviors. Graen
and Scandura (1987) proposed a three-phase model of LMX development including
role-taking, role-making, and role-routinization phases.
The leadership making model (Graen and Uhl-Bien, 1991, 1995) explains the process
of relationship development across a life cycle of relationship maturity. The LMX life
cycle begins with a stranger phase in which leader and follower relations are mostly
transactional in nature in which leaders provide followers only what is required to
perform task and followers only perform as required. The second phase in the cycle is
the acquaintance phase, in which there is a mix of the transactional relations as well as
the beginnings of more mature social exchanges that include shared information and
resources. The third and last phase of the maturity cycle is the mature partnership
phase, in which exchanges between leader and follower are highly developed
and characterized by mutual loyalty, support, and are both behavioral and emotional
in nature demonstrating elements of mutual respect, trust, and obligation. Not all
relationships progress through this life cycle; and those that do progress do so at
differing speeds (Graen and Uhl-Bien, 1995).
Need for further research regarding LMX. Graen and Uhl-Bien (1995) acknowledged
the imbalance of research toward the leadership domain and issued a call for research
in their analysis â€œin leadership research to date, a plethora of studies have been
conducted on the leader, but in comparison there has been a dearth of studies in the
other two areas. Clearly, more research is needed on followers and the leadership
relationshipâ€ ( p. 222). Schriesheim et al. (1999) also issued a call for research that
extends beyond the leader in their words â€œthis review clearly indicates the need for
improved theorization about LMX and its basic processâ€ ( p. 102). Northouseâ€™s (2007)
criticism that while â€œit is suggested that leaders should work to create high-quality
exchanges with all subordinates, the guidelines for this is done are not clearly spelled
outâ€ ( p. 160) provides the basis for areas of future study to more fully understand
followers perceptions of quality of relationships with their leaders. All of these criticisms
and calls for research speak to the need for more understanding of the follower and
relationship domains within LMX leadership theory.
2.4 Research question â€“ hypotheses rationale and development
This study responded to various calls for research in the areas of followership,
leadership, and the relationship between leaders and followers. These calls include the
Graen and Uhl-Bien (1995) declaration that â€œclearly, more research is needed on
followers and the leadership relationshipâ€ ( p. 222), the Vecchio and Boatwright (2002)
notice of the lack of follower-focussed research, specifically the deficiency in â€œthe topic
of subordinate preferences for styles of 47 supervisionâ€ ( p. 327) and the Uhl-Bien (2006)
question â€œwhat are the relational dynamics by which leadership is developed
throughout the workplace?â€ ( p. 672).
There are multiple reasons for integrating both LMX and transactional/transformational
theories into this study. While LMX and transactional/transformational leadership
theories are different theories (and clearly have had separate columns of research),
integrating both theories into research studies provides the ability to yield new insight
into the concepts of followership. For example, this study utilized LMX (with its
measurement of the quality of relationship) as a tool that allowed researchers the
flexibility to construct leadership research with a follower-perspective focus into
both quality of relationship and leadersâ€™ behaviors, thus helping to develop a more
robust set of follower-centric findings in the study of followership.
There is also a level of intersection between LMX and transactional/transformational
theories that allow a natural combination of them into this study. They are both
modern theories that address leadership as processes between leaders and followers.
Both Graen and Uhl-Bien (1995), Gerstner and Day (1997), and Bass (1999) have
compared and contrasted LMX and transactional/transformational theories. Graen and
Uhl-Bien (1995) assert that â€œLMX is both transactional and transformational: it begins
as transactional social exchange and evolves into transformational social exchangeâ€
( p. 238). Gerstner and Day (1997), in their meta-analysis, found that â€œOur review
supports the suggestion made by others (Graen and Uhl-Bien, 1995) that LMX should
incorporate both transactional and transformational processesâ€ ( p. 838). Bass (1999)
describes more distinction between LMX and transactional/transformational in
â€œthe transactional/transformational paradigm is independent conceptually from the
concept of leader-member-exchange (LMX), although empirical correlation with them
may be found to some extentâ€ ( p. 13). Although there exists a level of disagreement
as to the exact areas of intersection between the theories, major researchers in the field
(Bass, 1999; Gerstner and Day, 1997; Graen and Uhl-Bien, 1995) all propose there is an
intersection between some of the elements within LMX and transactional/transformational
leadership theories, and that proposed intersection provides an additional basis for the
inclusion of those leadership theories into this study.
Given the Bass (1999) assertion that â€œLMX unfolds in several stages [y] in the first
stage, LMX is transactional. If the last stage is reached, it is transformationalâ€ ( p. 14),
then one could reasonably expect to see some level of correlated movements of
measurements using the LMX and MLQ instruments. In light of these issues and calls,
this study proposed the following hypotheses:
H1. There is a relationship between the followerâ€™s perceived quality of relationship
with their leader (direct supervisor) and that followerâ€™s preference for
transformational leadership style from that same leader.
H2. There is a relationship between the followerâ€™s perceived quality of relationship
with their leader (direct supervisor) and that followerâ€™s preference for transactional
leadership style from that same leader.
2.5 Discussion of independent and dependent variables within research design
This studyâ€™s research design construct used perception as the independent variable
and preference as the dependent variable. The questionnaire was designed to first
focus on the perceived quality of relationship (IV) and subsequently on the preference
of leadership style (DV). This design sequence reflected the thought that perception
predicates preference between two choices.
Perception is a cognitive process used to interpret and understand surroundings.
Object perception is focussed on understanding objects, while social perception is
focussed on the process of â€œhow people make sense of other people and themselvesâ€
(Kreitner and Kinicki, 2013, p. 181). The perception process can be described in a
four-stage information-processing sequence consisting of attention through conscious
awareness, interpretation through the use of schema, retention into memory, and
retrieval for judgment and decision (Lord, 1985). For example, social perception allows
one to develop an understanding of their relationships with others within organizational
contexts, and this study utilized perception allowing each respondent to develop a sense
of the level of quality of relationship with their supervisor.
Vroom (1964) provided a working definition of preference in his wording â€œpreference,
then, refers to a relationship between the strength of a personâ€™s desire for, or attraction
toward, two outcomesâ€ ( p. 15). Given that interpretation and judgments are made in the
latter stages of the perception process, it could be expected that the preference process
would utilize those social perception judgments for the development of strength of
attraction toward choices of outcomes. This study used that line of thought in designing
a research construct to determine the relationship between the independent variable
(perceived quality of relationship with their leader) and dependent variable (followerâ€™s
level of preference for leadership style from that same leader).
All 105 participants in this study were certified public accountants, employed at US
companies 41,000 employees in size, and were members of the e-Rewards Market
Research Panel. A demographic assessment of the sample revealed that the respondents
were predominantly female (61.9 percent, n Â¼ 65), and between the ages of 25-49 years
(81.9 percent, n Â¼ 86). The respondents all held college degrees, predominately at the
bachelorâ€™s degree level (58.1 percent), with most (66.7 percent) having reported to their
current leader for over one year.
Three scales were used to gather the data for this study. The followerâ€™s perceived
quality of their relationship with their direct supervisor was measured using the
LMX-7 questionnaire, which is the construct recommended by Graen and Uhl-Bien (1995)
to measure the quality of dyadic relationships. This version of the LMX questionnaire
uses seven items to measure the overall quality of relationship. This questionnaire uses
the follower as the referent to assess the quality of the relationship from their perspective
by rating the seven items using a five-point Likert scale ranging from a low level (1)
to a high level (5). The scoring reflects the perceived quality of the relationship along
a continuum within the following ranges: very high Â¼ 30-35, high Â¼ 25-29,
moderateÂ¼ 20-24, low Â¼ 15-19, and very lowÂ¼ 7-14 (Graen and Uhl-Bien, 1995).
The followerâ€™s preference for the use of transactional leadership behavior from their
leader was measured using the transactional leadership scale from the MLQ (Form 5X)
questionnaire, and the followerâ€™s preference for the use of transformational leadership
behavior from their leader was measured using the transformational leadership
scale from the MLQ (Form 5X) questionnaire. This study used 32 items from the MLQ
(Form 5X) to measure eight leadership behavioral factors categorized across
transformational and transactional groupings. This questionnaireâ€™s 32 items are rated
using a five-point Likert scale with anchors labeled 0 Â¼ not at all, 1 Â¼ once in a while,
2 Â¼ sometimes, 3 Â¼ fairly often, 4 Â¼ frequently, if not always (Bass and Avolio, 2004).
3.3 Data collection
The LMX-7 instrument and the MLQ (Form 5X) transactional and transformational
scales were combined into a single research instrument and administered through
an online survey tool via e-Rewardss Market Research. e-Rewards Inc. provides
permission-based digital data collection and reporting services. It offers online
sampling and survey data collection services ranging from programming and hosting
to sample delivery and scripting to online reporting for research projects; and operates
various panels that can be designed to fulfill prescriptive research sample requirements.
The survey tool included qualifying questions to ensure final participants met the studyâ€™s
requirements and accepted the first 105 completed surveys, representing 55.6 percent
of the qualified participants.
3.4 Sample size considerations
This study considered the values of significance level, effect size, and power to
determine adequate sample size (n). Using Cohenâ€™s (1992) recommendations regarding
significance level (a Â¼ 0.05), effect size (moderate Â¼ 0.30), and power (0.80) along with
Cohenâ€™s (1988) suggestions regarding sample size, the specified minimum sample size
for this study is 85 pairs of observations (Table I). The 105 usable questionnaires received
was a greater number than the required minimum of 85, allowing the ability to discard
unusable questionnaires and still be able to maintain the minimum sample size of 85
pairs of observations. Subsequent data screening using boxplots of the variable
distributions were examined, using the definition of outlier as â€œextending more than
1.5 box-lengths from the edge of the boxplotâ€ (Pallant, 2006, p. 61), and three cases were
identified as outliers (two cases for the LMX-7 scale data, one case for the transformational
scale data, and no cases for the transactional scale data). The distribution of outliers,
coupled with the fact that no one case contains more than one (scale) outlier suggests the
legitimacy of the data. Comparison of the mean vs 5 percent trimmed mean of the variables
indicated little impact to the mean from outliers and the decision was made to include all
105 cases in the data set. Including all 105 questionnaires in the study, rather than 85 as
Power Power Power
0.70 0.80 0.90
Effect 0.20 0.30 0.40 0.20 0.30 0.40 0.20 0.30 0.40
a1 Â¼ 0.01 201 88 48 247 108 59 320 139 76
a1 Â¼ 0.05 117 52 28 153 68 37 211 92 50
a1 Â¼ 0.10 82 36 20 113 49 27 163 72 39
a2 Â¼ 0.01 237 103 56 287 125 68 365 158 86
a2 Â¼ 0.05 153 67 37 194 85 46 259 113 62
Source: Cohen (1988)
per the research design, affected the study by lowering the allowable Type 2 error from 0.20
to 0.15, thus improving the power to 0.85 (Cohen, 1988).
3.5 Data analysis
The Research Questionnaireâ€™s questions 1 through 7 contain questions relating to the
respondentâ€™s perception of the quality of their relationship with their leader. The
researcher summed the scores for questions 1 through 7 within the Research Questionnaire
for each respondent. The sum of a respondentâ€™s scores can range from 7 to 35. Although
the scoring is on a continuum, the questionnaire total score may be associated with
the following groupings, indicating the perceived quality of relationship: very highÂ¼
30-35, highÂ¼ 25-29, moderateÂ¼ 20-24, lowÂ¼ 15-19, and very lowÂ¼ 7-14 (Graen and
The Research Questionnaireâ€™s questions 8 through 39 contain questions relating
to the respondents level of preference for transactional and transformational leadership
behaviors from their leader. The researcher summed the scores for both the transactional
leadership scale and transformational leadership scale for each respondent. The sum of
each respondentâ€™s scores can range from 0 to 48 for the transactional leadership scale
(with higher scores indicating a greater preference for transactional leadership behaviors
from their leader) and range from 0 to 80 for the transformational leadership scale (with
higher scores indicating a greater preference for transformational leadership behaviors
from their leader) (Bass and Avolio, 2004).
This study utilized Pearson product-moment correlation coefficient r to determine
direction and strength of all correlations between variables. Strength of relationships
were determined using the following guidelines suggested by Cohen (1988): r Â¼ 0.10-0.29
or r Â¼ 0.10-0.29 (small strength); r Â¼ 0.30-0.49 or r Â¼ 0.30-0.49 (medium strength);
r Â¼ 0.50-1.0 or r Â¼ 0.50-1.0 (large strength). This study used two-tailed t-tests to test
the significance of the sample correlation coefficient (Bluman, 2004).
4.1 Hypothesis tests
Table II presents the sample size, Chronbachâ€™s a reliability coefficient (a) for each scale,
means, standard deviation, and correlations (r) for the study variables. As shown in the
table, several of the correlations were significantly correlated at the small (i.e.
0.10oro0.290) and medium strength level (i.e. 0.250oro0.490). The strongest
correlation (0.358) was between the variables perceived quality of relationship and
preference for contingent reward.
H1 predicts there is a relationship between the followerâ€™s perceived quality of
relationship with their leader (direct supervisor) and that followerâ€™s preference for
transformational leadership style from that same leader. As shown in Table I, this
study found a positive, significant relationship between followerâ€™s perceived quality
of relationship with their leader (direct supervisor) and followerâ€™s preference for
a transformational leadership style from that same leader. This was true at both
the transformational composite scale level (0.268) and at each of the individual
transformational subscale levels (0.190, 268, 295, 240, 268). These findings provide
support for H1.
H2 predicts a relationship between the followerâ€™s perceived quality of relationship
with their leader (direct supervisor) and that followerâ€™s preference for transactional
leadership style from that same leader. As shown in Table II, this study, using the
transactional composite scale, found no significant relationship between followerâ€™s
perceived quality of relationship with their leader (direct supervisor) and followerâ€™s
preference for an overall transactional leadership style from that same leader
(0.037). However, in reviewing the individual subscale scores, a positive, significant
relationship was determined between the followerâ€™s perception of quality of
relationship with their leader and the transactional leadership subscale dimension
of contingent reward (0.352), and a negative, significant relationship was determined
between the followerâ€™s perception of quality of relationship with their leader and the
transactional leadership subscale dimension of management by exception, passive
(0.229). Bass and Riggio (2006) acknowledge â€œthe transactional factors tend to be
more independent of each otherâ€ ( p. 25), and this studyâ€™s differing strengths and
direction between transactional subscales support their assertion.
4.2 Supplemental analysis
The correlational analysis described the data from the entire sample perspective. The
followerâ€™s perceived quality of relationship can be grouped within five ranges from
very low to very high (Graen and Uhl-Bien, 1995). These groupings allow us to subgroup
our data and view it using a methodology that explains the dataâ€™s relationship within
each grouping as opposed to an overall correlation.
This study provides comparison of the results using the transformational,
transactional, contingent reward, and management-by-exception (passive) scales via
transforming the results into relative data. Using a ratio methodology, the relative
strength of preference for leadership style can be determined by the ratio actual
score/highest available score. This ratio determines the percentage of actual level of
preference as compared to the highest available level of preference. Using this ratio,
questionnaire results using different scales (and subscales) can be compared and
conclusions as to followerâ€™s relative strength of preference for leadership styles can
The scores for the followerâ€™s preference for transformational leadership style,
transactional leadership style, contingent reward, and management-by-exception (passive)
leadership behaviors were determined and the means calculated for each perceived quality
of relationship range.
Table III illustrates the relative strength of followerâ€™s preference for transformational,
transactional, contingent reward leadership, and management-by-exception (passive)
Perceived quality of relationship
Variable (scales/sub-scale) n Reliability (a) Mean SD (IV) r
Perceived quality of relationship (IV) 105 0.899 25.08 5.44
Preference for transformational style (DV) 105 0.930 54.72 12.85 0.268**
Idealized influence (attributed) 105 0.790 11.49 3.14 0.190**
Idealized influence (behavioral) 105 0.679 10.21 2.87 0.268**
Inspirational motivation 105 0.769 11.52 2.64 0.295**
Intellectual stimulation 105 0.707 10.42 2.85 0.240*
Individualized consideration 105 0.692 11.08 3.03 0.268*
Preference for Transactional style (DV) 105 0.617 22.20 5.69 0.037
Contingent reward 105 0.774 10.98 3.15 0.352**
Management by exception (active) 105 0.604 6.31 2.91 0.064
Management by exception (passive) 105 0.598 10.98 3.10 0.229*
Notes: *,**Correlation is significant at 0.05 and 0.01 level respectively (two-tailed)
Descriptive statistics and
correlation of variables
styles within ranges of followerâ€™s perceived quality of relationship with their leader.
Transformational and contingent reward leadership styles, which have both been
found to have a correlational relationship with quality of relationship, are also very
similar in their relative strength of preference profiles. The results indicate that the
relative strength of followerâ€™s preference for transactional leadership (at the composite
level) remains consistent (42.92-48.60 percent) across all levels of quality of relationship.
However, this consistency at the composite level is further explained by the relative
strength of followerâ€™s preference for contingent reward (45.00-76.50 percent) and
management-by-exception passive (42.50-26.44 percent). Both contingent reward and
management-by-exception are subscales of the composite transactional leadership
scale, but their relative strength calculations are moving in opposite directions (Table III),
thus allowing the transactional composite strength calculation to remain consistent.
Analysis of the relative strength of the subscale data provides more insight into how
the preference for contingent reward behaviors increases and the preference for
management-by-exception (passive) behaviors decreases as the perceived quality of
5.1 Summary of results
In answer to multiple calls for more research with the goal of gaining a greater
understanding of followers within the leadership process (Avolio, 2007; Graen and
Uhl-Bien, 1995; Russell, 2003; Uhl-Bien, 2006), this study utilized LMX theory,
transformational leadership theory, and transactional leadership theory to explore the
relationship between a followerâ€™s perceived quality of relationship with their leader
(direct supervisor) and that followerâ€™s preferred leadership style from that same leader.
This study found a positive, significant relationship between followerâ€™s perceived
quality of relationship with their leader (direct supervisor) and followerâ€™s preference for
a transformational leadership style from that same leader. This study also found
positive, significant relationships between followerâ€™s perceived quality of relationship
with their leader and preference for transformational leadership subscale factors of
idealized influence (attributed and behavioral), inspirational motivation, intellectual
stimulation, and idealized consideration.
No significant relationship was found between followerâ€™s perceived quality of
relationship with their leader (direct supervisor) and followerâ€™s preference for an overall
transactional leadership style from that same leader as measured at the composite
level. However, a positive, significant relationship was determined between the
followerâ€™s perception of quality of relationship with their leader and the transactional
Follower preference for leadership style (DV)
Transformational Transactional Contingent reward M.B.E. (passive)
Mean Strength Mean Strength Mean Strength Mean Strength
Range of quality
of relationship (IV) n
Very high 21 60.33 75.41% 23.00 47.92% 12.24 76.50% 4.23 26.44%
High 43 53.90 67.38% 21.51 44.81% 11.18 69.88% 4.40 27.50%
Moderate 27 53.30 66.63% 22.59 47.06% 10.37 64.81% 5.92 37.03%
Low 9 55.33 69.16% 23.33 48.60% 11.00 68.75% 4.77 29.81%
Very low 5 44.60 55.75% 20.60 42.92% 7.20 45.00% 6.80 42.50%
Mean scores of preference
for leadership behaviors
by range of quality
leadership subscale dimension of contingent reward, and a negative, significant
relationship was determined between the followerâ€™s perception of quality of
relationship with their leader and the transactional leadership subscale dimension of
management by exception (passive).
The findings suggest that followerâ€™s preferences for transformational leadership
behaviors, which involve building trust, inspiring a shared vision, encouraging creativity,
and recognizing accomplishments, are correlated to the followerâ€™s perception of the
quality of relationship with their direct supervisor. The highest correlation,
r(103)Â¼ 0.295, po0.05 (Table II) is with the leadership factor inspirational motivation,
which includes the behaviors of talking optimistically about the future, talking
enthusiastically about what needs to be accomplished, articulating a compelling vision of
the future, and expressing confidence that goals will be achieved (Bass and Avolio, 2004).
The leadership behaviors within the contingent reward subscale include: first,
provides assistance in exchange for efforts; second, discusses in specific terms who is
responsible for achieving performance targets; third, makes clear what one can expect
to receive when performance goals are achieved; and fourth, expresses satisfaction
when follower meets expectations (Bass and Avolio, 2004). The study results for
contingent reward r(103) Â¼ 0.352, po0.05 (Table II) suggests that supporting and
clarifying behaviors supporting achievement and/or rewards are the type of behaviors
most correlated with the followerâ€™s perceived quality of relationship.
The findings also suggest that followerâ€™s preferences for management-by-exception
(passive) leadership behaviors, which involve waiting until there are significant
problems before interfering, are inversely correlated, r(103) Â¼ 229, po0.05 (Table II),
with the followerâ€™s perception of the quality of relationship with their direct supervisor.
LMX quality can be viewed within ranges from very low to very high (Graen and
Uhl-Bien, 1995). This study indicates followers in very low quality relationships have
the lowest preference (mean Â¼ 44.6) (Table III) for transformational leadership styles;
followers in the mid-range levels (low, moderate, and high ranges) all have a very
similar level of preference (meanÂ¼ 54.9-55.33) (Table III) for transformational leadership
behaviors; and followers within very high quality of relationships have the highest
preference (mean Â¼ 60.33) (Table III) preference for transformational leadership
behaviors. These findings suggest that the followersâ€™ preferences for transformational
leadership behaviors are more tiered rather than simply following a continuously
upward sloping line.
This study indicates that followerâ€™s preference for transactional leadership subscale
contingent reward behaviors follows a similar three-tiered scoring as demonstrated
for preference for transformational leadership. The study indicates followers within
very low-quality relationships have the lowest preference (meanÂ¼ 7.2) (Table III) for
contingent reward behaviors; followers in the mid-range levels (low, moderate, and high
ranges) all have a very similar level of preference (mean Â¼ 10.37-11.18) (Table III) for
contingent reward behaviors; and followers within very high quality of relationships
have the highest preference (mean Â¼ 12.24) (Table III) for contingent reward behaviors.
5.2 Managerial implications
The study found that the followerâ€™s preference for transformational leadership
behavior was positively correlated, r(103) Â¼ 0.268, po0.05 (Table II) with the followerâ€™s
perception of quality of relationship. These findings suggest followersâ€™ levels of
preference for transformational leadership varies and leaders desiring to reflect
followerâ€™s preference for leadership styles may wish to include less transformational
behaviors in lower quality relationships and more transformational behaviors in higher
The studyâ€™s findings that the followerâ€™s preference for transactional leadership
behavioral factor contingent reward, with its supporting and clarifying behaviors, had
the highest positive correlation, r(103) Â¼ 0.352, po0.05 (Table II) with the followerâ€™s
perception of quality of leadership. These findings suggest that contingent reward
behaviors are more strongly correlated to followerâ€™s perceived quality of relationship
than transformational leadership behaviors are, and leaders desiring to reflect followerâ€™s
preference for leadership styles may wish to include less contingent reward behaviors in
lower quality relationships and more contingent reward behaviors in higher quality
The study found that the followerâ€™s preference for management-by-exception
(passive) leadership behavior was negative correlated, r(103) Â¼ 0.229, po0.05
(Table II) with the followerâ€™s perception of quality of relationship. These findings
suggest followersâ€™ levels of preference for management-by-exception (passive)
leadership varies and leaders desiring to reflect followerâ€™s preference for leadership
styles may wish to include more management-by-exception (passive) behaviors in
lower quality relationships and less management by exception, passive behaviors in higher
The studyâ€™s findings in support of a relationship between followerâ€™s perception of
quality of relationship and preference for certain leadership behaviors
(transformational, contingent reward) may be interpreted in terms of expectancy
theory. House (1971), in his analysis of expectancy theories of motivation, identified
the common central concept as â€œa person will engage in certain behaviors because of
his expectancy that satisfaction will followâ€ ( p. 322). The finding of a preference for
specific behaviors may be explained by: first, the expectation of the follower that these
behaviors will have certain outcomes (expectancy); and second, the level of desirability
of these outcomes to the follower (valence). It is the interaction of expectancy and
valence that yields force, the followerâ€™s level of effort for a specific endeavor (Vroom,
1964). Leaders may view this studyâ€™s findings through the lens of expectancy theory as
a strategy to understand and react to the followerâ€™s factors of expectancy and valence
in order to impact the followerâ€™s level of effort.
5.3 Limitations and future research directions
Several limitations of this study pertain to the population, sample, and the statistical
test used to examine the relationship between variables. The sample consists of
Certified Public Accountants that are physically located in the USA, working for US
organizations with more than 1,000 employees, and are members of e-Rewards
Research Panel. One limitation of this study is the inability to generalize the results
across other work groups due to the unique requirements of the professional group
(CPAâ€™s) used as the test population and sample. One recommendation is to construct a
similar study, using a different population type to explore the research question across
different types of work groups.
One limitation of this study is the inability to generalize the results across cultures
due to the uniquely western culture of the group used as the test population and
sample. One recommendation is to construct a similar study, using a different
population and sample to explore the research question across different cultures.
Studies can be constructed using both congruent and noncongruent cultures of the
leaders and followers.
One finding of the study was that followerâ€™s level of preference for transformational
leadership varies in correlation with followerâ€™s perceived quality of relationship.
One recommendation is to construct a study to examine individual and organizational
consequences resulting from followers having or not having their level of preference for
transformational leadership behaviors met.
One implication of the study is that the finding of a preference for specific behaviors
may be explained by the expectancy theory factors of: first, the expectation of the
follower that these behaviors will have certain outcomes (expectancy); and second, the
level of desirability of these outcomes to the follower (valence). One recommendation is
to construct a study to explore the followerâ€™s expected outcomes of leadership
behaviors leading to their preference of transformational and contingent reward leadership
These limitations notwithstanding, the present study makes two important
First, this study is significant in that it addressed identified gaps in the existing
literature and responded to calls for research. The studyâ€™s focus from the perspective of
the follower addressed researchersâ€™ assessments that research in leadership studies has
been predominately leader-centric and there exists a need for research aimed toward
followers (Graen and Uhl-Bien, 1995; Uhl-Bien, 2006; Vecchio and Boatwright, 2002).
The use of the followerâ€™s perception of their relationship with their leader as the
independent variable addressed Dvir and Shamir (2003) concern about the lack of
research using followerâ€™s characteristics as independent variables. The studyâ€™s research
question and findings directly addressed the Vecchio and Boatwright (2002) assessment
that our knowledge is deficient in the topic of subordinate preferences for styles of
leadership, and this study expanded the knowledge in the topic. The studyâ€™s research
design, in its use of followerâ€™s perceptions as the independent variables, followerâ€™s
preferences as the dependent variable, and the employment of the LMX-7 to measure the
quality of relationship directly responded to the Graen and Uhl-Bien (1995) call for more
research on followers and the leadership relationship.
Second, these findings are significant to researchers in that they demonstrate the
relationship between that followersâ€™ perception of quality of relationship with their
leader and the followerâ€™ preferences for transformational and transactional behaviors,
which had not been previously addressed in research. These two contributions provide
a pathway for future research toward gaining a greater understanding of followers,
leaders, and their relationship.
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About the author
Dr David Notgrass (PhD, Dallas Baptist University) is an Assistant Professor of Management in
the College of Business Administration at the Tarleton State University. He has previously
served as Assistant Professor of Management and Associate Dean for the College of Business
at the Dallas Baptist University. His research interests include leadership studies from the
perspective of the follower. Teaching specialties include leadership studies, organizational
development and change, and organizational behavior. Prior to entering academia, he spent 24
years with TXU including various management capacities in customer care and information
technology. Dr David Notgrass can be contacted at: [email protected]
To purchase reprints of this article please e-mail: [email protected]
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