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An empirical exploration of the relationship between transformational leadership and stages of ego development

Kirsty K Spence, University of Massachusetts Amherst


In recent years, leadership training programs have addressed various needs at the executive level. In such programs, facilitators teach with the expectation that participants will adopt a transformational leadership (TL) mindset and enact commensurate behaviours within the home organizational environment. This is a short-term solution when addressing leadership needs. Instead, a deep understanding of one's personal level of development is necessary to unlock potential TL abilities. The purpose of this case study was to explore the relationship between TL and stages of ego development. The TL framework and constructivist developmental theory were used to explore this relationship. Accordingly, the primary research question posed was what relationship exists between a leader's TL ability and his or her stage of ego development? Four secondary research questions were also posed, relating the “4 I's” of the TL theory (e.g., intellectual stimulation, individualized consideration, inspirational motivation, and idealized influence) to stages of ego development. This exploratory case study was conducted within a non-profit sport organization in the Northeast US. Four leaders and their direct reports (n = 20) comprised the purposive sample. A mixed methods case study design was implemented whereby the Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire (MLQ) and the Washington University Sentence Completion Test (SCT) provided quantitative data, and in-depth interviews provided a rich trove of qualitative data. As the results yielded significantly different “snapshots” of leadership behaviours, it was found that a wide variety of relationships exist between TL ability and these leaders' respective stage of ego development. While the results were mixed, conceptual, quantitative, and qualitative relationships established helped provide a platform from which to further explore the complexities of TL theory. These findings lend a beginning understanding to how one's TL effectiveness may or may not be related to one's stage of ego development. Moreover, a deeper understanding is reached of why various TL behaviours may exist and/or why others may be compromised when connected to manifest behaviours of one's stage of ego development. As the sole empirically based study exploring such a relationship, these findings help address the theoretical gap existing in the management literature. Future research initiatives, limitations, delimitations are presented herein.

Subject Area

Management|Developmental psychology

Recommended Citation

Spence, Kirsty K, "An empirical exploration of the relationship between transformational leadership and stages of ego development" (2005). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3179928.