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Navigating Leadership Effectiveness: The Role of Communication Style in Transformational Leadership

The study of leadership has been a prominent focus in psychology since the emergence of trait theories in the 1900s. This attention is fuelled by the historical successes of leadership in revitalising organisations, shaping cultures, and integrating diverse leadership approaches. In our dynamic and ever-changing modern world, leadership theories have undergone adaptations to address the evolving needs of the workforce. Contemporary leaders actively embrace new advancements in leadership styles to ensure organisational success and sustainability. These ongoing developments have given rise to the recognition of a highly effective leadership phenomenon known as transformational leadership (TL).


Leadership in the Modern Context


Transformational leadership, as a conceptual framework, revolves around the profound transformation of followers’ attitudes, beliefs, and values. It transcends conventional transactional approaches by shifting the emphasis from mere exchanges to fostering teamwork and cultivating meaningful colleague relationships. At its core, transformational leadership is characterised by a leader’s ability to inspire followers to exceed their own expectations. This leadership style propels individuals beyond the confines of immediate self-interest, encouraging them to embrace a collective vision and contribute to the larger organisational goals.

The foundation of transformational leadership can be traced back to James MacGregor Burns, who introduced the concept in 1978. However, it was further expanded and refined by Bernard Bass in 1985. The theoretical underpinnings laid by Burns and elaborated upon by Bass have significantly shaped the understanding and application of transformational leadership in organisational contexts. By emphasising the transformative power of leadership, this approach has gained recognition for its positive impact on both individual and collective performance.

One notable aspect of transformational leadership is its correlation with increased job satisfaction among followers. Leaders operating within this framework tend to create an environment that goes beyond traditional motivational strategies. By encouraging employees to align their efforts with broader organisational objectives, transformational leaders contribute to a sense of purpose and fulfilment among their team members. This emphasis on shared goals and intrinsic motivation not only enhances job satisfaction but also fosters a culture of engagement and commitment within the workforce.

Transformational leadership transcends the conventional boundaries of leadership by focusing on the profound transformation of followers’ perspectives. It inspires individuals to surpass their own expectations, fosters teamwork, and elevates colleague relationships. Rooted in the foundational work of James MacGregor Burns and expanded by Bernard Bass, transformational leadership continues to be a compelling framework for leaders seeking to cultivate positive organisational cultures and drive long-term success.


Understanding Transformational Leadership


Transformational leadership, as a multifaceted and influential leadership paradigm, centers on the profound metamorphosis of followers’ attitudes, beliefs, and values. It represents a departure from traditional leadership approaches, emphasising not only task completion but also the development and empowerment of individuals within the organisational context.

At its core, transformational leadership is characterised by a compelling vision that transcends the mundane and inspires followers to reach beyond their self-imposed limitations. Leaders employing this style focus on instilling a sense of purpose and meaning, motivating individuals to exceed their own expectations. By nurturing a culture of ambition and personal growth, transformational leaders foster an environment where followers are not only committed to organisational objectives but also invested in their individual development.

One significant shift associated with transformational leadership is the move away from transactional approaches. Rather than relying solely on a system of rewards and punishments, transformational leaders place a premium on building strong interpersonal connections and collaborative relationships. The emphasis on teamwork and colleague relationships signifies a departure from a transactional mindset, fostering an environment where shared goals and mutual support become the driving forces behind success.

A noteworthy outcome of the application of transformational leadership is the observed increase in job satisfaction among employees. This positive correlation is rooted in the leader’s encouragement for individuals to move beyond immediate self-interests. By aligning personal aspirations with broader organisational goals, employees find a deeper sense of fulfilment and purpose in their work. The transformational leader, through effective communication and motivation, creates a workplace culture that values intrinsic motivation, job engagement, and a shared commitment to excellence.

The foundational work of James MacGregor Burns in 1978 laid the groundwork for the concept of transformational leadership. Burns initially conceptualised it as a style that goes beyond the transactional nature of traditional leadership, focusing on inspiring and elevating followers. Building upon Burns’ foundation, Bernard Bass expanded the theory in 1985, refining its dimensions and further emphasising the importance of charismatic leadership and individualised consideration.

Transformational leadership represents a dynamic and influential approach to leadership that transcends conventional paradigms. By inspiring followers to surpass their own expectations, emphasising collaboration over transactions, and promoting individual and collective growth, transformational leaders play a crucial role in shaping organisational culture and fostering sustained success. The contributions of Burns and the subsequent refinement by Bass have solidified transformational leadership as a significant and enduring concept in the study and practice of effective leadership.


Transformational Leadership & Communication


Communication is an indispensable facet of transformational leadership, playing a pivotal role in its manifestation and effectiveness. Early studies in the realm of leadership highlighted the importance of vision, its implementation, and the communication strategies employed by leaders. As the field evolved, subsequent research delved deeper into the nuances of communication, revealing that a leader’s communication style, encompassing the use of charisma, significantly influences how they are perceived.

The link between transformational leadership and communication is particularly evident in the emphasis on vision. Transformational leaders are adept at articulating a compelling vision that goes beyond immediate objectives, inspiring followers to align with broader organisational goals. The effective transmission of this vision relies on communication skills, as leaders must convey their ideas in a manner that resonates with and motivates their team. The ability to articulate a clear and inspiring vision sets the foundation for a shared understanding among followers, fostering a collective sense of purpose and direction.

Moreover, the later stages of research have shed light on the impact of communication style, with a specific focus on charisma. Charismatic communication, characterised by eloquence, enthusiasm, and the ability to connect with others emotionally, enhances a leader’s perception. Transformational leaders who incorporate charisma into their communication approach are often viewed as inspirational figures, capable of eliciting commitment and engagement from their team.

Clear communication consistently emerges as a positive attribute of transformational leaders. The ability to convey complex ideas in a straightforward manner, actively listen to the concerns and ideas of others, and provide constructive feedback contributes to the effectiveness of transformational leadership. Transparent communication establishes trust and credibility, key components in cultivating a positive organisational culture.

Communication is intricately woven into the fabric of transformational leadership. From articulating a compelling vision to employing charismatic communication styles, leaders in this paradigm recognise the power of effective communication in inspiring and mobilising their followers. Clear communication remains a constant theme, acknowledged as a fundamental and positive attribute that distinguishes transformational leaders in their pursuit of organisational success and sustained growth.


The Research Outline


The study sought to delve into the intricate relationship between communication style and the evaluation of transformational leaders, with a specific focus on the juxtaposition of ‘buzzwords’ against plain and simple communication. The hypothesis driving this investigation posited that leaders employing plain English communication will garner higher evaluations in terms of transformational characteristics. This hypothesis was built upon the foundation laid by previous studies that underscore the pivotal role of clear communication in the perception and effectiveness of transformational leaders.

The use of ‘buzzwords’—terminology that is trendy or fashionable but often vague or overused—has become prevalent in various professional settings. This study aimed to discern whether such language, laden with buzzwords, has an impact on how leaders are evaluated in terms of their transformational qualities. By contrasting this with plain and straightforward communication, the research endeavoured to shed light on the nuances that language choices can introduce into the evaluation process of leadership effectiveness.

The hypothesis posited that plain English communication will yield higher evaluations of leaders with respect to transformational characteristics. This proposition aligns with the broader understanding that clarity and simplicity in communication contribute to enhanced understanding, trust, and engagement. Leaders who articulate their vision and ideas in straightforward language are often perceived as more authentic and relatable, fostering a stronger connection with their followers.

This study’s significance extends beyond academic curiosity, holding practical implications for leadership communication in today’s dynamic business environment. As organisations navigate an increasingly complex and fast-paced landscape, the manner in which leaders communicate plays a pivotal role in shaping organisational culture, employee engagement, and overall success. If the hypothesis holds true, the findings may advocate for a recalibration in leadership communication strategies, emphasising the efficacy of plain and simple language over the allure of buzzwords.

Addressing the practical implications involves considering how leaders can tailor their communication approaches to align with the preferences and expectations of their followers. It also prompts a reflection on the potential disconnect that may arise between leaders and their teams when communication becomes laden with jargon or buzzwords. By understanding the impact of communication style on the evaluation of transformational leaders, this study contributes valuable insights to the ongoing discourse on effective leadership practices in contemporary business settings.

In essence, this research endeavoured to bridge the gap between theory and practice by investigating the real-world implications of communication style on the evaluation of transformational leaders. The outcomes of this study may guide leaders, organisational development professionals, and educators in refining communication strategies to better meet the evolving needs of today’s dynamic and diverse workplaces.


The Method


In this research endeavour, a comprehensive approach to participant recruitment was undertaken, involving a total of 283 individuals. The recruitment process was facilitated through student-recruited sampling, a method ensuring that all participants had active supervisors and were at least eighteen years of age. This approach aimed to capture a diverse cross-section of individuals with real-world work experiences, particularly those engaged in professional settings where leadership dynamics are prominent.

The participants engaged in the study were presented with carefully constructed vignettes that depicted leaders in various scenarios, each employing a distinct communication style. The differentiation lay in the leaders’ choice of language—either utilising plain English or incorporating business buzzwords. This deliberate manipulation of communication styles allowed for a controlled exploration of how language influences participants’ perceptions of leadership, specifically in the context of transformational leadership.

To gauge participants’ perceptions, the Dimensions of Transformational Leadership (DTL) scale was utilised as a robust measurement tool. The DTL scale is a recognized instrument designed to assess various dimensions associated with transformational leadership, providing a structured framework for evaluating leadership behaviours. By employing this scale, the study sought to capture nuanced insights into participants’ perceptions of leaders based on the communicated messages, differentiating between those who employed plain English and those who relied on business buzzwords.

The use of vignettes in this study allowed for a controlled and standardised presentation of leadership scenarios, minimising extraneous variables that could influence participants’ responses. This methodological choice enhances the internal validity of the study, enabling a more focused examination of the specific impact of communication style on the perceived dimensions of transformational leadership.

The decision to focus on individuals with active supervisors and who were at least eighteen years of age adds an element of relevance and applicability to real-world work environments. This targeted approach ensures that the study’s findings are reflective of the experiences and perceptions of those actively engaged in professional settings, where leadership communication is a crucial aspect of daily interactions.

The recruitment of 283 participants through student-recruited sampling, the use of carefully crafted vignettes, and the application of the Dimensions of Transformational Leadership scale collectively form a robust methodology for investigating the impact of communication style on the evaluation of transformational leaders. This approach not only contributes to the academic understanding of leadership dynamics but also holds practical implications for leadership communication strategies in diverse professional contexts.


Key Findings


The exploration of communication styles and their impact on transformational leadership represents a significant contribution to the understanding of effective leadership practices. This study, which specifically compares the use of plain English and business buzzwords, reveals compelling findings that advocate for the efficacy of plain English in garnering higher evaluations of transformational leadership. This aligns seamlessly with the insights presented by Flores (2015), who emphasises the importance of concise communication in leadership effectiveness.

The consistency of these findings with theoretical works further strengthens the study’s implications. Echoing the sentiments of Hackman and Johnson (1999), the study underscores the vital role of clear communication in effective transformational leadership. Similarly, the alignment with Oppenheimer’s (2006) work, where plain terminology correlated with higher evaluations of transformational characteristics, reinforces the notion that simplicity and clarity in communication are paramount in shaping positive leadership perceptions. The participants’ expressed preference for simpler language further emphasises the significance of clear communication as a driving force in the evaluation of transformational leadership.

A noteworthy aspect of this study is its methodological parallels with Oppenheimer’s work, utilising participant evaluations of vignettes to explore the impact of communication styles. However, a deliberate deviation in variables distinguishes this study from Oppenheimer’s focus on ‘complex’ words, as it specifically delves into the realm of business buzzwords. This nuanced approach adds depth to the understanding of how language choices, particularly the use of buzzwords, can influence perceptions of transformational leadership. The call for further research in this area acknowledges the need for a comprehensive analysis of buzzword complexity and the potential manipulation of language by non-transformational leaders.

The study’s findings contradict Cluley’s (2013) assertions that using buzzwords in management is beneficial. Instead, it asserts that plain English communication is more effective in significantly influencing perceptions of transformational leadership. This contradiction highlights the complexity of the impact of communication styles on leadership evaluations and calls for a nuanced understanding that goes beyond broad generalisations about the efficacy of certain language choices.

Caution is warranted when interpreting buzzwords as indicators of transformational leadership, as warned by Karakitapoğlu-Aygün and Gumusluoglu (2013). Their cautionary note links buzzwords to potential negative traits and emphasises the need for a discerning approach in evaluating leadership communication. This nuanced perspective prompts a reevaluation of the assumption that buzzwords inherently convey transformational leadership qualities.

As with any study, it is crucial to acknowledge its limitations. The call for further research on buzzword complexity and potential manipulation by non-transformational leaders underscores the need for a more comprehensive exploration of these factors. This study lays a valuable foundation for future investigations into the intricacies of leadership communication, providing a springboard for more nuanced analyses that consider a broader array of variables.

This study makes significant strides in unraveling the impact of communication styles on the evaluation of transformational leadership. The findings, rooted in theoretical alignment and methodological rigour, present a compelling case for the efficacy of plain English over business buzzwords. However, the nuanced nature of language and its potential implications in leadership communication necessitate ongoing research efforts to deepen our understanding of these dynamics and refine our interpretations of leadership language choices.



In conclusion, this study provides compelling evidence that business buzzwords are ineffective for enhancing the perception of transformational leaders, highlighting the importance of clarity and conciseness in terminology for favourable evaluations. The findings underscore the need for future research to delve deeper into the nuances of buzzword complexity perception. Distinguishing between the complexity of language and a general aversion to certain terms will be crucial for a more comprehensive understanding of how language influences leadership evaluations. Moreover, further exploration is warranted to scrutinise the potential negative manipulations of buzzwords, offering valuable insights into the intentional versus manipulative aspects of leader communication.

The implications of this research align seamlessly with established theories emphasising the significance of clear communication in the context of transformational leadership. By advocating for plain English as a beneficial communication style for managers seeking favourable evaluations, the study contributes not only to academic discourse but also offers practical insights for leadership communication strategies in real-world organisational settings. The call for ongoing research serves as a catalyst for refining our understanding of leadership communication, acknowledging the dynamic nature of language and its impact on leadership perceptions.

As organisations continue to navigate complex and dynamic environments, effective leadership communication remains a cornerstone for success. The insights gained from this study not only shed light on the limitations of certain communication styles but also pave the way for future investigations that can inform the development of more nuanced and context-specific communication strategies. In essence, this research invites scholars and practitioners alike to engage in a continued exploration of the intricate relationship between language, leadership, and perception, with the ultimate goal of advancing our understanding and application of effective communication in transformative leadership contexts.


By Shay Donovan