Transactional vs. Relational Leaders

Transactional leaders exchange what they do for you for what you can do for them, e.g., politicians – ‘if you vote for me I’ll do this for you.’

Relational leaders prefer to give more than they receive.

Transactional leaders measure success or failure by metrics.

Relational leaders see their success in transformed individuals and social systems.

Transactional leaders motivate with rewards and punishments.

Relational leaders motivate with higher ideals and moral values.

Transactional leaders set the goals.

Relational leaders help followers set their own goals.

Transactional leaders cast vision.

Relational leaders create a shared vision.

Transactional leaders view followers as subordinates.

Relational leaders engage followers as partners in a common mission.

Transactional leaders put the welfare of the organization first.

Relational leaders put the welfare of their people first.

In business, transactional leaders want to make the sale.

Relational leaders want to keep customers coming back.

For transactional leaders ends justify the means – whatever works.

For relational leaders the means are primary – whatever is right.

Transactional leaders seek benefits and bonuses.

Relational leaders serve causes greater than themselves.



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5 Responses to Transactional vs. Relational Leaders

  1. Greg Allen says:

    Great list! Presume we could exchange “relational” with “transformational” per Burns, Bass, and Bass and Avolio.

    • Tom Nees says:

      Hi, Greg

      Thanks for taking time to read and comment. I know most of the contrasts to ‘transactional’ are to ‘transformational’ – as you mention with Burns and others that I cite in the links. It seems to me that ‘relational’ speaks more the to quality of the leader’s connections while ‘transformational’ is more to the result of servant leadership. In this I am trying to get at how leaders interact with those around them.

  2. Newell Smith says:

    Thank you for helping me realize who I am as a leader.

  3. David W Bowser says:

    Love the contrasts and the implications for creating and nurturing
    “followers” in this culture. Thanks for your continued influence!

  4. Gene Gabbard says:

    I like it! I will never forget when five of us in 1971 started Digital Communications Corporation out of Comsat which became Hughes Network Systems. The goal was to do something great and to be the first to provide cheaper, more efficient digital satellite communications replacing analog. Money was a byproduct not focused on except to “not run out of operating money”. The “earn out money” came as result of bringing something better to the users and having a “customer first” mentality.

    Helping Wallace Bailey was from the same frame of mind! And he always wanted to do the right thing and to help others. His example is engraved in my mind. What a wonderful individual. And at work he had a “team”, not a fiefdom!

    As venture capitalists when we evaluate startups today, as to whether to invest in them or not, motivation of the team is one of the most important things we look at. If the focus is “we will have a big exit soon” and they are living is fancy quarters and driving fancy company cars – forget it! Almost guaranteed to fail. They are focusing on the wrong things.

    Trying not to brag, but to validate what you are postulating. Having a written value system right from the beginning really helps. Things like. It is “we” not “I”. “We are easy to do business with”. “We are fair in our dealing with others”. The customer comes first, etc. Go to . Cam Lanier from West Point, Georgia, worked on our team at SouthernNet which became Telecom*USA and was sold to MCI in 1990. After that sale I have supported Cam for decades helping to start more that 20 successful businesses using this value system. It was almost always printed on the back of our business cards. Cam Lanier is the man who derived the list and fostered its use. Cam is truly a “relational leader”. I am still involved as an investor and as a board member of two companies with Cam, Tower Cloud ( ) and Talon ( ). To this day, every board meeting starts with prayer and asking for God’s wisdom – not the most popular idea for everyone these days – but that doesn’t matter. Start with prayer. Do what is right and honorable.

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