Evaluating the Value of the Multifactor Leadership

The Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire (MLQ) is one of the most widely used instruments to measure leadership ability and behaviour in organisations and organisational studies. However this does not mean it is without flaws. This report will describe and discuss the MLQ and its main purposes. It will analyse leadership theories and the ways in which the test resonates with and conflicts with particular theories. In particular it will look at classic and contemporary leadership perspectives and theories and how it has been applied to the development of the MLQ and the Multifactor Leadership Model the questionnaire is based on. This report will show that while there are flaws in the design, construction, validity and practical application of the MLQ, it is a reliable tool when used in conjunction with other leadership selection and development tools and offers much promise in evaluating leadership ability and behaviours, follower reactions and situational attributes.

In 1978, Burns proposed that leaders could be distinguished in terms of transactional or transformational leaders (Parry and Bryman, 2006, p 450). In his work, transactional leadership consisted of an exchange process between the leader and follower in which the leader offers a reward for compliance with his or her contract (Parry and Bryman, 2006, p 450) and is based on rewards and punishment. Transformational leadership on the other hand is the process of motivating followers or colleagues to do more than originally expected using charisma, influence and vision by “transferring followers’ attitudes, beliefs and values, as opposed to simply gaining compliance” (Parry and Bryman, 2006, p 450; Rafferty and Griffin, 2004, p 330). However, Burns proposed that a leader was either transformational or transactional, and that the two were at opposite ends of the spectrum.

In the 1980s, Bass’s approach was able to draw heavily on Burns’ work, but hypothesised that successful leaders were transformational and transactional. Bass’ theory represented a combination of transformational, transactional and non-transactional laissez-faire leadership factors (Antonakis et al, 2003, p 264). Bass propositioned that transformational and transactional leadership styles are separate and independent dimensions that appear simultaneously (Tejeda, Scandura and Pillai, 2001, p 33) and that the transactional attributes would deliver the basic needs of an organisation, while the transformational attributes would foster change and encourage commitment. He believed that every leader displays each of the styles to some extent and called this the “Full Range of Leadership Model” (Bass, 1998, p. 7). However an effective leader would demonstrate transformational attributes more frequently then transactional attributes.

Central to Bass’ research is the Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire (Hartog, Muijen and Koopman, 1997, p21). The MLQ is a leadership assessment tool that measures leadership behaviour and style. It is the primary measurement tool of research on the theory (Tejeda et al, 2001, p 34). In its most recent format, the MLQ is a “short but comprehensive survey of 45 items which measures a full range of leadership styles” (http://www.cornerstonecoaching.com.au/MLQ_Questionnaire.html, 20/09/2010). The MLQ is designed to evaluate the factors that are related to leadership and how these factors determine the efficiency and effectiveness of a leader. It assesses the transformational leadership with five scales: 1) idealised attributes, 2) idealised behaviours, 3) inspirational motivation, 4) intellectual stimulation and 5) individualised characterisation (Muenjohn and Armstrong, 2008, p 5). Three scales are identified as characteristics of transactional leadership: 1) contingent reward, 2) management by exception: active and management by exception: passive and one scale for Non-leadership, laissez-faire (Muenjohn and Armstrong, 2008, p 5). It also assesses the outcome of leadership in terms of effectiveness and satisfaction. The current version of the MLQ (Form 5X) was developed based on the results of studies of the previous versions and the feedback of leadership scholars who revised the questionnaire (XXXXX IN Antonakis, Avolio and Sivasubramaniam, 2003, p 265) and is used widely in research and across organisations in leadership assessment and development.

Leadership Theories and the Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire

The Multifactor Leadership Model has become one of the most widely cited theory of leadership, and while Bass (Bass, 1990b, in Hartog et al, 1997, p19) claims that the transactional-transformational leadership model is a new paradigm, and does not replace or explain other models, the model does in fact integrate ideas from classic and contemporary theories of leadership. Up until the late 1940s, the trait-based approach dominated leadership approaches (Parry and Bryman, 2006, p 448). These theories isolated characteristics that differentiated leaders from non-leaders based on the premise that leaders are born, to an extent, and that the skills required are innate and are not developed over time. The Multifactor Leadership Theory is not a trait based approach however it is evident that there are certain ‘traits’ exhibited that differentiate a transformational leader from a transactional leader or traits that are not considered as leadership qualities. For instance, confidence (question 25), pride (question 10), optimism (question 9), resiliance and enthusiasm (question 13) are seen as traits of transformational leaders. One question in the MLQ states “my associates and followers trust me and exhibit the values I portray…” (www.mlq.com.au, accessed 21/09/2010). In this question, trustworthiness is a trait that is perceived as important for transformational leadership. In fact, Bass’ approach is based on the concept of the trait or characteristic of charisma. However what the MLQ does not do is state that leadership traits are innate, and that leaders cannot be developed. A key advantage of the MLQ is that it is a tool to assess leadership skills and develop the leader into becoming more effective, efficient and transformational and show where development is required.

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From inception, the multifactor leadership model incorporated earlier behavioural approaches to leadership (Sashkin, 2004 in Antonakis, Cianciolo and Stenberg, 2004, p 175). Behaviour dimensions are actions that inspires by communicating a vision, actions that express considerations and behaviours that engage and challenge followers to think for themselves (Sashkin, 2004 in Antonakis et al, 2004, p 175). One of the best known approaches to behavioural leadership theories stems from research undertaken by a group of researchers at the Ohio State University. Stogdill and Coons identified two dimensions of leadership in their studies, referred to as consideration or employee-oriented leadership and initiating structure or production-oriented leadership (Antonakis, Cianciolo and Stenberg, 2004, p 7), not dissimilar to transactional, or task focussed leadership.

It is important to note that unlike trait based approaches to leadership which focuses on characteristics that is perceived to make a good leader, behavioural approaches emphasise that behaviour can be changed, and through training, individuals can be better leaders. The MLQ is a tool that assesses current behaviour and can be used as a tool to assist in developing individuals to better leaders.

In 1967, Fiedlar proposed a contingency model of leadership effectiveness which measured the leadership orientation of the person completing it (Fiedlar, 1967 in Parry and Byrman, 2006, p 449). The leader was either human-relations oriented, that is, considerate of the subordinate’s feelings and concerned with fostering good relations, or task-motivated (Parry and Byrman, 2006, p 449). Like Burn’s approach on transactional and transformational leadership, Fiedlar proposed that leaders were either human-relations oriented or task motivated, and could alternate depending on the situational factors. The MLQ however shows that for a leader to be effective, both task oriented attributes and transformation attributes needed to be displayed. The two were not co-dependent. The theory focuses on contingent reward as motivation, and is similar to transactional leader attributes. However, the theory highlighted that since a leader’s personality does not change, it is instead necessary to change the situational factors instead, such as task structure, position power or leader-member relations (Parry and Byrman, 2006, p 449). The MLQ is an assessment tool based on analysing a person’s behaviours and attributes and developing or changing their behaviour to transformational leaders rather than transactional or non-leaders rather than the need to change the environment or situation.

The multifactor model seems to stem from research conducted from the late 1980s onwards and the theories that became known as contemporary perspectives. One such example is leadership through emotional intelligence (EI). EI is consistently associated with good leadership and is the ability to understand and manage feelings, moods and emotions in self and others (Kupers and Weibler, 2005, p 369). The connection between emotions and transformational leadership was assessed by research conducted in 2001 by Palmer, Walls and Burgess by measuring emotional intelligence in 43 participants in managerial roles using the Trait Meta Mood Scale, and effective transformational leadership attributes were measured by the MLQ. It was found that there was a positive correlation between EI and transformational leadership, a factor that has not been missed by Bass, who declared that “leadership is as much emotional and subjective as rational and objective in effect” (1999, p 19 in Kupers and Weibler, 2005, p 369). This and other research has suggested that EI is an important component of transformational leadership, and the ability to utilise transactional attributes when required. In fact, transformational leaders would need to use emotion to communicate vision to gain a response from their subordinates. It is interesting to note that the EI model became prevalent from 1980 onwards. Perhaps for this reason Bass and team insisted that their multifactor leader model was not based on previous classic models of leadership but asserted that there was a positive relationship between EI and transformational leadership. While this report does not propose that the multifactor model does not have any similarities to classic models, it is evident that the model has more similarity with contemporary models of leadership.

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Further correlations can be made between the multifactor model and the level 5 leadership model and inspirational leadership model. The level 5 leadership model is based on the premise that an effective leader exhibits attributes effective leadership, competent management, contributing team membership and a highly capable individual and can in addition demonstrate personal humility and professional will. Inspirational leadership is a combination of level 5 leadership and EI. Inspirational leaders selectively show their own weaknesses, dare to be different, rely on intuition and ability to read interpersonal cues and practice tough empathy. Attributes of the multifactor model, including inspirational motivations, simulation and consideration are similar to the concepts presented above. Effective leaders will also be transformational and transactional, therefore showing both competent manager and highly capable individual attributes.

Strengths and Weaknesses of the Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire

Practical Application

The MLQ is essentially based on the premise that for a leader to be successful, transactional and transformational attributes need to be displayed. This has also made the test popular and valid in a variety of situations and environments, including structured, task oriented workplaces, such as manufacturing or in a professional services environment, where employee empowerment, charisma and visionary leadership are prevalent. In addition, it is essentially a 360 degree feedback tool, that is used not only to develop the leader but to identify the thoughts of subordinates, thereby increasing accuracy, acceptance, better understanding of performance and gaps in performance and indicates the leadership skills an individual needs to develop to be effective. Based on the results, ineffective leaders can be differentiated from effective leaders. Furthermore, it’s successful application in a variety of organisations is highlighted by the fact that it has been translated in other languages to decrease the language barrier or cultural implications.

What it does not take into account however, is other cultural implications such as preferred or required leadership style or social factors, and research has revealed that different cultures place value certain leadership styles and behaviours to a greater extent than others. Certain cultures for instance, may not value individualise d consideration for instance as much as the cultural norms of collectivist societies in China or India for instance, so attributes valued in the multifactor model may not be ideal in certain cultures. In a study by Shahin and Wright (2004), they highlighted that cooperation and coordination were important for social integration among people in Egypt, stemming from social culture and its dependence on Islam (Shahin and Wright, 2004, 9 203). The MLQ does not take into account social culture and cultural implications and for this reason further questions were added measuring social integration. Shahin and Wright (2004) also noted that the form in which charismatic leadership portrayed in the Egyptian context has a strong element of authoritarianism (p 504). The leadership style exhibits strong elements of transactional leadership behaviours, where contingent reward and management by exception are required to ensure subordinates perform (Shahin and Wright, 2004, 9 504). Therefore the ideal measurements of the MLQ needed to be customised to suit the context.

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In addition

Validity and Design

As noted above, key to the multifactor model is based on the premise that the theoretical background stems from classic and contemporary leadership, and is based on developing leaders, not that leaders are born. The MLQ is widely accepted and used and extensive research has been conducted that highlights its validity and reliability to measure management behaviour and performance (Agle, 1993; Carless, Mann and Wearing, 1995; Lowe, Kroek and Sivasubramaniam, 1996). It has emerged from a through and rigorous research process over the past fifteen years (Whitelaw, 2001, p 1).

Part of its success in implementation in today’s business world is its success in integrating emotional intelligence into the attributes of transformation leaders. Based on the results, training, support, mentoring and coaching can be provided to the leader.

It would be very difficult in criticising the MLQ in terms of its application, as the multifactor leadership questionnaire (MLQ) is widely used in academic research and also a broad range of different organisations across many cultures (Anatonakis et al, 2003; Krickbride, 2006). The evidence of this is the fact that the MLQ has been translated into ten different languages, and has extensively been used in organisations globally in the following sectors in many sectors such as training, consulting, financial and insurance institutes, law firms, hospitals, mining and manufacturing businesses, media, government, marketing, gaming industry, defence, retail, property businesses, education etc. However, research (House, 1997) reveals that different cultures vary immensely in the value they give to certain leadership styles and behaviours. This may lead to a problem in the potential application of the MLQ as leadership behaviour that is valued by the MLQ (e.g. individualised consideration towards subordinates) might violate certain cultural norms of collectivist societies e.g. India and Japan. Furthermore, a research conducted by Connelly, Zaccharo, Threlfall, Marks and Mumford (2002) reveals that questionnaires like MLQ in which subordinates and peers provide evaluation, fail to measure certain types of leadership skills, as they might be less observable e.g. knowledge, problem-solving and judgement capabilities. 

The ***** provides valuable insights into the effectiveness of public organizations, especially on the point that the criteria are multiple, shifting, and conflicting (Rainey, 2003)

The MLQ is capable of measuring the extent to which leadership is ***** considerate, providing the ***** with support, mentoring, ***** coaching (*****, p. 5). Established ***** (Bass). In addition, the MLQ:

*****. Differentiates effective and ineffective leaders ***** all organizational levels;

2. Assesses the effectiveness ***** an entire organization’s leadership;

3. Is valid ***** cultures ***** types of organizations;

*****. Is ***** to administer, requires 15 minutes to complete;

5. Has ***** extensively ***** and validated;

6. The MLQ provides the best relationship ***** survey data to organizational outcome; and, 7. The MLQ has become ***** benchmark measure of Transformational Leadership (***** & *****) The data developed from the ***** to date have been shown to highly correlate with ***** with effectiveness, performance, ***** satisfaction (Bass, p. 83). In addition, the feedback of MLQ results can also be used for mentoring, counseling, coaching, and training; MLQ scores might also be used profitably to identify executives to head ***** ventures (Bass, p. 84).

Theoretical background is based on developing leaders, not that leaders are born

EI aspects present in MLQ

Plenty of research and used widely, accepted

360 degree feedback, tool to identify the thoughts of subordinates

– practical application

– design

– validity

Weaknesses of Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire

Cultural factors e.g. org culture

Environmental factors, economy (crisis)

Type of organisation e.g. manufacturing organisation might need diff style of leadership to professional services firm

Reliance on honesty


Does not consider variance in thought or ideology

Some questions may not apply in certain situations

Opportunities and Threats of the Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire

– practical application

– design

– validity


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