In the past few decades, leadership literature has drawn a sharp distinction between three types of leadership, which include transactional, charismatic, and transformational. The literature offers a comprehensive view and examines the three types of leadership, their patterns from the viewpoint of the conditions within the organization and the psychological implications of these styles to the individuals affected. Virtually, as Ahlstrom and Bruton (2010) note, charismatic leadership is concerned with the ability of the leader to inspire and influence others. Contrary to earlier years, leaders in today’s society who practice this specific type of leadership combine learned skills with internal traits to be able to transform an organization. In fact, charisma leadership is sometimes associated with transformational leadership, although charismatic leaders focus on making the status quo better. Nonetheless, as Ahlstrom and Bruton highlight, with transformational leadership, leaders establish a vision with key objectives that are used to enable organization success. Practically, transformational leaders articulate a realistic vision and use their intelligence to stimulate subordinates and address any differences that may arise for the success of the organization. Consequently, as opposed to the charismatic leaders, transformational leaders focus on transforming the organization into their vision. Another notable difference is that, while both approaches are about change, not all transformational leaders are charismatic (Lussier & Achua, 2015). Compared to transformational and charismatic leadership, transactional leadership differs in that, leaders recognize follower needs and looks for ways to satisfy those needs provided the performance of the employee warrant it. Transactional leaders also use extrinsic motivators such as rewards or responding to employee personal interests to motivate them to get the job done. With this understanding, we review Travis Kalanick, the founding CEO of the ride-sharing giant Uber to get a comprehensive overview of his approach to leadership.
Does Travis meet the Definition of a Charismatic Leader?
Ideally, charismatic leadership is often viewed as the fundamental factor of a transformational process and involves the ability of the leader to have great symbolic power. According to Barbuto, this kind of leadership sometimes emanates from subordinates who perceive the leader as having exceptional skills and talents. In the case of Travis Kalanick, most people revere him as a successful business leader who knows the art of achieving success with every start-up business he focuses on. Consistent with the article by Fast Co (2015), it is easy to pick up the charisma of Travis as he fought for the rise of Uber and from his responses. Consequently, although he is no longer the Uber CEO, Sommerville (2017) notes that Travis commands a great deal authority at the firm as Uber’s foundation is based on his culture and attitude.
Does Travis meet the Definition of a Transformational Leader?
Transformational leaders focus developing a vision and key objectives and use their intelligence to raise awareness to the particular vision, raise the interest of their followers, and encourage their participation in achieving the organizational goals. As Barbuto (2005) notes, transformational leaders win the trust, admiration, respect, and loyalty of their followers, which leaders use to motivate them to perform extra-role behaviors. Leaders who apply this particular style of leadership achieve maximum performance from their followers and are also able to raise their criteria for success and nurture in them innovative problem-solving skills. In the case of Travis, the controversial CEO partly has the qualities of a transformational leader, while lacking others. For instance, Travis is admired and has won the trust of people in the world for his ability to turn around any startup business he focuses on. Despite the controversies surround him; Travis has also won his respect in the business world due to his ability to raise Uber to its current standards. Unfortunately, Kalanick has failed to win the loyalty, trust, and admiration of people who have worked with him. According to people who have worked with Travis believe that he is not the right person to lead the company towards a public offering. Others view his style of leadership as too aggressive and cult-like.
Does Travis meet the Definition of a Transactional Leader?
Transactional leadership contradicts transformational leadership in that; transactional leaders lead by first realizing the needs of their followers and working with this knowledge to motivate them for organization success. Usually, leaders who use this style of leadership apply extrinsic motivators to raise the interests of the employees and to get the job done. Unfortunately, Travis practices a cult-like style of leadership, which does not rely on appealing to employees self-interests to get the work done. In fact, as Hook (2017) notes, his style of leadership is more aggressive and believes in getting the work done, without considering the employee motivation.
Main Benefits and Drawbacks of Travis Approach to Leadership
Travis uses both the Charismatic and Transformational approach to leadership, which rely on the ability of the leader to influence or inspire followers towards organization success. Evidently, there are several advantages to this style of leadership. Such benefits include the ability to inspire people to work towards a common cause, inspire commitment to a central mission, and ensure cohesiveness among workers because they have a clear purpose (Miner, 2005). Consequently, Travis approach to leadership also has various drawbacks. For instance, as Tourish (2013) notes, leaders are likely to develop arrogance, over-dependence on the leader, which may lead to organizations suffering if the leader leaves the organization. In addition, to the above, leaders may become unresponsive to subordinates like in the case of Travis and the Uber driver.
Without a doubt, Travis should make a major change in his style of leadership. In fact, even he has personally admitted that he needs leadership help and intends to get it. Changing from his current aggressive leadership style to become a transactional leader is one of the major changes that Travis should consider doing, which will also change his values and the Travis-cult culture that he has ingrained in Uber’s company values.
Ahlstrom, D., & Bruton, G. D. (2010). International management: Strategy and culture in the emerging world. Australia: South-Western Cengage Learning.
Barbuto, J. E. (2005). Motivation and Transactional, Charismatic, and Transformational Leadership: A Test of Antecedents. Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies, 11(4), 25-40.
Fast Company. (2015). Travis Kalanick, the fall and spectacular rise of the man behind Uber. South China Morning Post. Retrieved from: http://www.scmp.com/magazines/post-magazine/article/1860723/travis-kalanick-fall-and-spectacular-rise-man-behind-uber
Hook, L. (2017). Uber: the crisis inside the ‘cult of Travis.’ Reuters. Retrieved from: https://www.ft.com/content/9b65a59a-03e1-11e7-ace0-1ce02ef0def9
Lussier, R. N., & Achua, C. F. (2015). Leadership Theory, Application, & Skill Development. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.
Miner, J. B. (2005). Organizational behavior. Armonk, N.Y: M.E. Sharpe.
Somerville, H. (2017). Uber CEO’s iron grip poses challenge in COO search. Reuters. Retrieved from: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-uber-governance/uber-ceos-iron-grip-poses-challenge-in-coo-search-idUSKBN17F1CO
Tourish, D. (2013). The dark side of transformational leadership: A critical perspective. Hove, East Sussex: Routledge.
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