The Full Range Leadership Model


The Full Range Leadership Model provides any leader with a good range of leadership styles. In my experience as a CEO, the Full Range Leadership Model is one of the sharpest and most useful leadership styles toolbox available today. The Full Range Leadership Model, or FRLM, is also backed by substantial research, unlike some other frameworks. Before we go into the explanation of the Full Range Leadership Model, let us present a few overview answers.

What is the Full Range Leadership Model?

The Full Range Leadership Model (FRLM) is a complete approach to leadership styles that covers low to high engagement leading to different leadership efficiency. FRLM was defined by Bass and Avolio, building on works by Burns, and includes laissez-faire, transactional, and transformational leadership.

What are the three main elements of the Full Range Leadership Model?

There are three main elements of the Full Range Leadership Model, each leading to different levels of Efficiency and Engagement. Laissez-Faire leadership is the worst, Transactional Leadership leads to medium levels, and Transformational Leadership leads to strong efficiency and high engagement.

The Full Range Leadership Model Explained

In the 1970s, James MacGregor Burns expanded on the earlier work of Max Weber with the charismatic and rational-legal, or bureaucratic, leadership styles. Burns conceptualized a set of two mutually exclusive leadership styles, namely the transactional and the transformational leadership styles. According to Burns, transforming leadership occurs when leaders develop their followers and motivate and/or inspire them to achieve extraordinary levels of success[1]. Burns also added aspects of good personal traits such as honesty, fairness, and sticking to agreements to the characteristics of the transactional leader.

Burns characterized leaders as being one of the two rather than switching between the styles according to circumstances, i.e., a behavioral model originally, although that was going to change a few years later into a contingency theory, i.e., depending on the situation and not just the leader. On the surface, the two styles can be contrasted like this:

  • Transactional leadership, which is result-focused and centered around a clear system of rewards and punishments that are exchanged for specific levels of performance
  • Transformational leadership, which is built around change, development, and an overall transformation to something better, including the development of team members

Both styles are described in more detail in their own chapters since they are two of the most mentioned leadership styles to this day. (Transformational Leadership, and Transactional Leadership.) You might recognize the pattern from earlier chapters with one task-oriented approach and one more people-oriented approach.

The model created by Burns was just the beginning. Additional steps were taken in the 80s and 90s when a team of researchers (Bass and Avolio) added Laissez-faire leadership, which is the lowest form of leadership, to Burns’s original set and named it the Full Range Leadership Model. (Laissez-Faire leadership is also part of the Lewin leadership styles). Bass and Avolio also added three separate components to transactional leadership. These components were “contingent reward”, “passive management by exception”, and “active management by exception”. Transformational leadership was defined with four components: “Individual Consideration”, “Intellectual Stimulation”, “Inspirational Motivation”, and “Idealized Influence”, all in order, starting from the least effective and most passive leadership approach as you can see in the image below.

The Full Range Leadership Model (Feel free to use the image if you link back to this page.)

The Full Range Leadership Model disregards the earlier belief that transactional and transformational leadership styles should be mutually exclusive. In fact, they stated that the same leader could use all the styles, depending on the situation at hand. Let us go through all these three styles, starting with the least effective and most passive of them all, which is laissez-faire, and then continue in a positive direction until we reach Idealized Influence of transformational leadership.

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Bass and Avolio believed that transformational leadership is the most desirable form of leadership. It turns out that they were right, at least when it comes to millennials. Beckett Frith cites[2] a study conducted by Freshminds revealing that 40.2 percent of respondents agree that transformational leadership positively impacts the motivation of junior employees. These 247 respondents ranged from entry-level and middle management to senior executives and C-suite executives. Democratic leadership followed closely behind in popularity, with 36.5 percent of the respondents believing it motivated junior employees. Autocratic leadership, however, was deemed least effective for motivating employees, with only 9.5 percent of the votes. (You can read about all these other leadership styles in our leadership styles portal.)

Full Range Leadership Model: The Laissez-Faire Leadership Style

Sometimes a leader needs to back off a bit and let employees handle things on their own. That is not laissez-faire; that is just empowering others. Just because you avoid micromanaging, it does not mean you are a laissez-faire leader. Do avoid the laissez-faire leadership style and bear in mind that it is sometimes referred to as “the absence of leadership”. This is merely an extract from our in-depth article on laissez-faire leadership to provide you with a quick overview.

What is the Laissez-Faire Leadership Style?

Laissez-faire leadership is a hands-off leadership style where team members are free to make all decisions. Laissez-faire leadership leads to low productivity and a perception of a disengaged leader. Laissez-faire leadership can work with highly-skilled, capable, and self-motivated teams.

Laissez-Faire is the opposite of autocratic leadership and was first defined by Kurt Lewin and his colleagues in the late 1930s. Laissez-faire leadership is also known as hands-off leadership, free-rein leadership, the absence of leadership, or simply zero leadership.

Advantages of the Laissez-Faire Leadership Style:

  • A highly skilled and experienced team can do great when making all the decisions themselves
  • Team members get an abundance of creative freedom

Disadvantages of the Laissez-Faire Leadership Style:

  • Teams lacking the right maturity level can quickly fall apart
  • The leader is seen as uncaring or absent, leading to lower engagement and motivation
  • It can lead to confusion and often to drops in productivity

More information is available in our article on the Laissez-Faire Leadership style.

Full Range Leadership Model: The Transactional Leadership Style

Transactional leadership can be seen as the more autocratic and less visionary sibling of transformational leadership. This is merely an extract from our in-depth article on transactional leadership to provide you with a quick overview.

What is the Transactional Leadership Style?

Transactional leadership is built on a clear structure of reward and punishment for different levels of performance. It is focused on results, efficiency, and performance rather than people and relationships. Transactional leadership is often seen as the opposite of transformational leadership.

Bass, Howell, and Avolio widened the concept of transactional leadership with their three components or flavors of the leadership style. 

The three components of transactional leadership are passive management by exception, active management by exception, and contingent reward.

Passive management by exception gives team members more freedom and prompts leadership intervention only as required, even if it means that intervention comes later than in the active management by exception case. Just like in the active case, failure results in a negative reaction towards the failing employee.

Active management by exception involves controlling and monitoring activities and tasks as well as the performance and outcome in the end. The leader steps in and intervenes at an early stage prompted by signs of problems or failure. This intervention will result in negative feedback, a reprimand, or another type of punishment, although the active leader also involves in finding opportunities on how to increase productivity further.

Contingent reward is a straightforward approach to rewarding the followers depending on task fulfillment and outcome. Contingent rewards include bonuses, promotions, recognition, and appreciation for instance. (For specific details, read our article on Contingent Reward, an approach to transactional leadership.)

A transactional leader can deploy any of the above components and each of them will bring different opportunities as well as requirements.

Advantages of the Transactional Leadership Style:

  • There is a clear connection between performance and rewards
  • It can be very productive, especially when it comes to short-term results
  • Clear order, structure, and rules, enabling repetition and swift onboarding of new team members

Disadvantages of the Transactional Leadership Style:

  • The sole focus on performance can be demotivating and disengaging
  • Rewards have a limited impact on people’s performance; at some point, other factors start to matter more
  • The strict structure hampers creativity and innovation

Read more in our detailed article on this style here: the transactional leadership style.

Full Range Leadership Model: The Transformational Leadership Style

Transformational leadership is one of the most well-known and popular leadership styles available, and many articles have been written on the subject. This is merely an extract from our in-depth article on transformational leadership to provide you with a quick overview.

What is the Transformational Leadership Style?

Transformational leadership creates substantial change for team members as well as organizations. Expectations, aspirations, perceptions, and values are transformed into something better. Transformational leadership develops the team members and motivates and inspires them to reach extraordinary success.

The Full Range Leadership Model identifies four components of transformational leadership.

  1. Individual Consideration (IC)
  2. Intellectual Stimulation (IS)
  3. Inspirational Motivation (IM)
  4. Idealized Influence (II)

1.      Individualized Consideration (IC) – Caring

Each team member has unique needs and experiences a wide range of emotions. A transformational leader understands this and demonstrates genuine concern. When team members feel like their leader genuinely cares about them, they are more likely to perform at their best. This requires the transformational leader to have highly developed emotional skills and lots of empathy.

Individual Consideration also includes personalized feedback and praise, as well as recurring two-way communication between the leader and each member. The leader also acts as a mentor as well as a coach to the team members to challenge them and help them to develop themselves further. (This part is also the case in Coaching Leadership, which you can find in our leadership styles portal.)

2.     Intellectual Stimulation (IS) – Thinking

Intellectual stimulation involves challenging the team to question the status quo, stimulating creative thinking, and encouraging risk-taking. This is a big step towards finding new and improved ways of doing things – a core part of transformational leadership. A transformational leader taps into the ideas among team members and learns from them.

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3.     Inspirational Motivation (IM)

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To reach higher performance, the transformational leader needs to provide the followers with an inspiring vision. The transformational leader communicates convincingly and with optimism about the vision and puts the short-term activities into a larger context. A strong sense of purpose and great inspiration is a big part of obtaining the increased performance of transformational leadership. Everyone feels like they are a part of the vision and that their contributions are essential to fulfill it.

4.     Idealized Influence (IF) – Influencing

The team admires who the leader is and what he or she stands for. There are no double standards and the leader acts as an ethical role model; team members won’t be asked to do something that is wrong or that the leader wouldn’t do him or herself. Trust is the thread that binds the organization.

These four components of transformational leadership all need attention and focus if you want to become a good transformational leader. I suggest you reflect every now and then over which components you use the most and how you can improve further. It might even be a good idea to discuss the four components with your team and seek their feedback on the current state as well as their wished state for each of them. Transformational leadership involves everybody learning and improving, including the leader him or herself. (You can read our article about transformational leadership examples, for some real-life stories.)

Advantages of the Transformational Leadership Style:

  • It is excellent for change management and growth
  • High transparency and strong communication build participation and engagement
  • The shared vision results in inspiration, motivation, and collaboration

Disadvantages of the Transformational Leadership Style:

  • Transformational leadership can be very time consuming and long term
  • It does not work well without a strong change element or vision
  • Can result in too much risk-taking and overlooking short-term requirements

Want to know more? Read our article on the transformational leadership style.

Further Reading

The Full Range Leadership Model is an excellent approach to leadership that I encourage you to learn and use. I personally use the six leadership styles by Daniel Goleman, which I feel lead to a similar impact and has an equally wide approach but builds more on six tools to combine in different proportions, rather than the more sequential approach of the Full Range Leadership Model.

I recommend you have a look at the six leadership styles by Goleman, and read more about transactional leadership, laissez-faire leadership, and transformational leadership. You can also have a look around in our extensive leadership styles portal which contains the Lewin styles, the Situational Leadership Model, and many, many others.

Sources

https://online.stu.edu/articles/education/what-is-transformational-leadership.aspx#benefitshttps://www.langston.edu/sites/default/files/basic-content-files/TransformationalLeadership.pdf

https://online.stu.edu/articles/education/what-is-transactional-leadership.aspx

“A Handbook of Leadership Styles”, Cambridge Scholars Publishing

“Full Range Leadership Development”, Bruce J. Avolio


[1] Full Range Leadership, Jeanne M. Holm Center https://www3.nd.edu/~jthomp19/AS300/1_Fall%20Semester/27%20Sep/Full_Range_Leadership_V1.pdf

[2] Millenial workers prefer transformational leaders, Becket Frith, Hr Magazine (hrmagazine.co.uk)

Carl Lindberg

Carl is a global business leader that has led 1-2000 people and had financial responsibility of 200-500 MUSD. During his career, he has led employees in twenty different countries and has lived in three continents.

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