Leadership in context:
investigating hierarchical impacts
on transformational leadership
Heike Bruch and Frank Walter
Institute for Leadership and HR Management, University of St Gallen,
St Gallen, Switzerland
Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to empirically investigate hierarchical impacts on speciﬁc
transformational leadership (TFL) behaviors (i.e. idealized inﬂuence, inspirational motivation,
intellectual stimulation, and individualized consideration).
Design/methodology/approach – Survey data on TFL, job satisfaction, and hierarchy were
collected from 448 managers from a multinational corporation in Sweden.
Findings – Idealized inﬂuence and inspirational motivation occurred more frequently among upper
rather than middle managers, while there were no differences for intellectual stimulation and
individualized consideration. Also, idealized inﬂuence, inspirational motivation, and intellectual
stimulation were more effective in strengthening subordinates’ job satisfaction among upper rather
than middle managers, while individualized consideration was similarly effective in both groups.
Research limitations/implications – The cross-sectional research design precludes causal
conclusions and potentially allows for common method bias. With the main research interest
pertaining to hierarchical differences in TFL, however, method bias seems unlikely to fully account for
Practical implications – Study results emphasize the necessity to strengthen TFL on lower
managerial levels. Organizations might achieve this by cutting administrative constraints and
empowering lower level leaders.
Originality/value – The study addresses repeated calls for a consideration of contextual factors in
TFL research. It points to the role of hierarchy as a boundary condition of TFL.
Keywords Transformational leadership, Middle management, Sweden
Paper type Research paper
Transformational leadership (TFL) has been a crucial topic in leadership research for
more than twenty years (Bass, 1999). It has been described as charismatic and
visionary, intellectually stimulating, and individually considerate (Bass, 1985). In early
stages of the development of TFL theory, it was often assumed that such leadership
behavior is most prevalent at higher hierarchical echelons (cf. Bass, 1997). Due to
recent changes in organizations’ environment, structure, and technology, however,
TFL is increasingly demanded from leaders throughout the organization, including
middle managers (Spreitzer and Quinn, 1996). Accordingly, research has demonstrated
the applicability of TFL across managerial levels (Lowe et al., 1996). While TFL may
not be limited to upper managers, however, cross-hierarchical differences nevertheless
seem likely. Lower level managers, for instance, “are possibly limited in their ability to
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The authors thank Michael S. Cole for vetting an earlier version of this article and for his helpful
comments. They also thank Stephan Bo
hm for his support in data collection.
Leadership & Organization
Vol. 28 No. 8, 2007
q Emerald Group Publishing Limited