The Project

The Role of Leadership

Managing diversity and enhancing team outcomes: The promise of transformational leadership
E. Kearney, & D. Gebert
Journal of Applied Psychology (2009)

When research has looked at the effects of diversity on team outcomes, there have been mixed results. Both positive and negative outcomes are found and the researchers here wanted to understand some of the ways in which the positive effects can outweigh any negative outcomes.  In order to do this they looked whether a type of leadership called ‘transformational leadership’ could enhance the processes in diverse teams which lead to positive outcomes, and reduce processes which increased detrimental effects. 

Transformational leadership is characterised by leaders who are often seen as charismatic, and inspire team members to go over and above the basic requirements of their job. They take time to emotionally engage their team members and often act as role models, providing a clear vision and ensuring that each team member is valued and has sufficient stimulation. There is a huge amount of research that has looked at this type of leadership, and its effects are well documented. 

In this study, the researchers thought that the way transformational leaders behave, and how they lead their teams could enhance the in-depth processing of skills and experience that diverse teams possess which would lead to better task-related outcomes, and additionally they suggested that these leaders could reduce problematic team processes such as a lower sense of collective identity which can lead to an increase in team conflicts, as well as hinder task-related outcomes.

In order to do this they looked at 62 research and development teams in multinational pharmaceutical companies in Germany. They collected measures of diversity, team performance, and team leaders. With respect to diversity, they examined age, nationality and educational diversity. They also looked at the extent to which teams exchanged and used in-depth processing of task-relevant information, as well as the strength of each team’s collective identity.

Overall, they found that diverse teams with transformational leaders had better task-related performance outcomes than those teams without transformational leaders. Indeed, diversity of education and nationality both related to positive team performance – but only when working alongside a transformational leader. When the leader did not display transformational leadership behaviours, education and nationality had no relationship with performance. A greater range in the age of team members did not have any effect on team outcomes when the team was led transformationally, but when transformational leadership was low a greater range of ages was often associated with lower team performance.  In addition to these findings, the researchers were able to show that the way team leaders were able to improve performance was by increasing the exchange and in-depth processing of knowledge and skills throughout the team, as well as enhancing the team’s collective identity. When a team is diverse, they naturally have a greater wealth of experience and skills, and transformational leaders are better at being able to utilise this for the benefit of both the team, and team performance.

These results are important as organisations increasingly have diverse workforces. By understanding the way that leaders can access the greater wealth of knowledge possessed by diverse teams, organisations can train their leaders how to communicate, empathise, and inspire their teams to achieve greater outcomes, as well as improve team morale. 

Practical Takeaways

  • Research on the effects of diversity on team outcomes is inconclusive.
  • Transformational leadership is key for harnessing diversity for effectiveness in teams. 
  • Diverse teams that have transformational leaders are more likely make greater use of their expertise, skills and knowledge and learn from each other facilitating team performance.  
  • Transformational leaders: 
    • Inspire team members to go over and above the basic requirements of their job. 
    • Take time to emotionally engage their team members
    • Act as role models
    • Provide a clear vision and ensuring that each team member is valued and has sufficient stimulation. 


Kearney, E., & Gebert, D. (2009). Managing diversity and enhancing team outcomes: The promise of transformational leadership.
 Journal of Applied Psychology, 94(1), 77-89.

Further Reading

Greer, L. L., Homan, A. C., De Hoogh, A. H., & Den Hartog, D. N. (2012). Tainted visions: The effect of visionary leader behaviors and leader categorization tendencies on the financial performance of ethnically diverse teams.
 Journal of Applied Psychology, 97(1), 203-213.

Nishii, L. H., & Mayer, D. M. (2009). Do inclusive leaders help to reduce turnover in diverse groups? The moderating role of leader–member exchange in the diversity to turnover relationship.
Journal of Applied Psychology, 94(6), 1412-1426.

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