Examining follower responses to transformational leadership from a dynamic, person-environment fit perspective

August 2018 | Koopman, Joel

We invoke the person–environment fit paradigm to examine on a daily basis follower affective, attitudinal, and behavioral responses to transformational leadership needed and received. Results from two experience sampling method (ESM) studies suggested that positive affect was higher on days when transformational leadership received fit follower needs (compared to days when the amount received was deficient or in excess of follower needs) and on days when absolute levels of fit was higher. We also found that positive affect mediated the within-person effects of transformational leadership needed and received on subordinates’ daily work attitudes (Studies 1 and 2) and organizational citizenship behaviors (Study 2). Supplemental analyses in Study 2 revealed that subordinates need more transformational leadership when they experience more challenge stressors, face greater uncertainty at work, and perform more meaningful work.

Organizations prize leaders who can inspire followers to meet and exceed high performance standards and embrace needed change. How leaders accomplish these tasks is a primary concern of theory and research pertaining to transformational leadership, leader behavior that is designed to “influence followers’ values and aspirations, activate their higher order-needs, and arouse them to transcend self-interests for the sake of the organization” (Podsakoff, MacKenzie, & Bommer, 1996: 259–260). Empirical work generally supports predictions from transformational leadership theory. Performing behaviors from the transformational leadership repertoire—modeling idealized behaviors, articulating an inspiring vision, and offering intellectual stimulation and support (Avolio & Bass, 1991)—is associated with outcomes that are indicative of follower, team, and organizational effectiveness (Judge & Piccolo, 2004).

However, our understanding of transformational leadership’s outcomes is complicated by recent evidence suggesting that leaders’ transformational behavior can vary dramatically over time (Breevaart, Bakker, Demerouti, & Derks, 2016; Johnson, Venus, Lanaj, Mao, & Chang, 2012; Lanaj, Johnson, & Lee, 2016; Tims, Bakker, & Xanthopoulou, 2011). Because most theorizing is rooted in a relatively static conceptualization of transformational leadership as a between-leader construct, there is little theory to draw upon when it comes to explaining how followers experience within-leader fluctuations in transformational leadership behavior.

We develop a dynamic theory of transformational leadership by invoking Lambert, Tepper, Carr, Holt, and Barelka’s (2012) person–environment (P–E) fit conceptualization of leadership as an environmental supply that followers use to satisfy psychological needs. Need fulfillment is a recurring theme in transformational leadership theory and research (see Avolio, 2010; Bass, 1990; Bono & Judge, 2003; Burns, 1978) and is an inherently within-person phenomenon in the sense that, on a daily basis, employees must navigate through varied experiences of need activation and satiation. We adapt Podsakoff et al.’s (1996: 259–260) aforementioned definition of transformational leadership to define transformational leadership needed as the extent to which followers need leadership that is designed to influence followers’ values and aspirations, activate their higher order-needs, and arouse them to transcend self-interests for the sake of the organization. We extend Lambert et al.’s (2012) ideas by proposing that followers’ need for transformational leadership varies daily and influences their responses to daily variation in their leaders’ supply of transformational leadership. Our follower-centric theory (DeRue & Ashford, 2010) explains how employees make sense of and respond to transformational leadership that, on a daily basis, falls short of, meets, or surpasses needs.

The sections that follow introduce relevant features of P–E fit theory and hypotheses that speak to the dynamic effects of transformational leadership needed and received on follower affect and work attitudes. We then report the results of two experience sampling method (ESM) studies. The first utilizes daily measurements to explore follower affective and attitudinal responses to transformational leadership needed and received each day for 15 days within 65 employees (n = 747 daily observations). The second study extends the first by incorporating an important outcome variable in the form of daily citizenship behavior within 93 employees (n = 970 day-level observations) and by utilizing a more sophisticated three-point daily measurement approach. We also take the opportunity in Study 2 to explore within-person predictors of daily transformational leadership needed.



  • Bennett Tepper
  • Nikolaos Dimotakis
  • Lisa Lambert
  • Fadel Matta


Academy of Management Journal

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