A critical analysis of the adoption of transformational leadership principles by UK policing

Research Institution / Organisation

University of Leicester

Principal Researcher

Keith Floyd

Level of Research


Project Start Date

September 2015

Research Context

Analysis of police leadership has categorised two distinct leadership styles: transactional and transformational (Burns, 1978). What is not understood is to what extent transformational leadership principles have been adopted by contemporary police leaders and whether potential benefits remain in revisiting transformational leadership as a concept which still offers solutions to current policing challenges.


The proposed research offers a unique contribution to the field of UK police leadership and management by providing an academic research approach, analysing the degree of implementation of transformational principles across a number of vital areas.


Transactional leadership was first presented as a leadership style by Burns (1978). It was characterised by a bargaining or instrumental approach. It is based on ‘legitimate authority… clarification of goals … rewards and punishments’ (Mullins, 2013: 385). This contrasts with transformational leadership, which portrays leaders as ‘visionaries’, ‘reformers’ and ‘innovators’, influencing followers to develop themselves and their allegiance to the organisation through a process of self-actualisation (Adlam and Villiers, 2003). Mullins (2013: 372) defines transformational leadership as: ‘A process of engendering motivation and commitment, creating a vision for transforming the performance of the organisation, and appealing to the higher ideals and values of followers’. Yukl (2006, as cited in Mullins, 2013: 386) illustrated transformational leadership principles through headline statements such as: ‘articulate a clear and appealing vision; explain how it can be attained’. ‘Act confident and optimistic, express confidence in followers’; ‘use dramatic, symbolic actions to emphasise key values’; and ‘lead by example’. As a doctrine, transformational leadership has featured strongly in police leadership rhetoric since the Home Office commissioned research undertaken by Dobby et. al. (2004).


Research Aims:

  1. Identify the presence of transformational styles in a range of police leadership situations.
  2. Identify potential areas of policing where the adoption of transformational leadership techniques could enhance effectiveness.

Research Methodology

Research Design 1 would explore the links between leadership styles and decision-making. Ethnographic observations of simulated real-time decision-making would seek to obtain evidence informing the extent of transformational police leadership traits. In order for data collection to be efficient, such scenarios would employ technology such as Hydra. Role-specific training such as firearms, public order and leadership training would also be considered as opportunities to analyse leadership styles in naturalistic decision-making scenarios. Slower-time decision-making could be analysed observing project meetings, offering the opportunity for longitudinal studies of corporate decision-making in specific work streams.


Research Design 2 would employ a questionnaire to officers in appropriate roles, providing a broad national picture of leadership and decision-making styles. Consideration would be given to mixed-method qualitative / quantitative analysis methods, following Transformational Leadership Questionnaire (TLQ) methodology (Alimo-Metcalfe and Alban-Metcalfe, 2000).


Research Design 3 would involve semi-structured interviews with key staff able to offer a critique of the role played by transformational leadership in the management of operations and major change projects could be analysed, again using qualitative thematic analysis methods.


The sample sizes for the research designs would be determined by the nature of the responses, given the limitations of a lone researcher.

Interim reports and publications

​Not available

Date due for completion

June 2020
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