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Updated: May 22

Unveiling the Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire (MLQ) by Bruce J. Avolio and Bernard M. Bass

Effective leadership is a cornerstone of organizational success, driving performance, innovation, and employee engagement. Among the many tools available for assessing leadership effectiveness, the Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire (MLQ) stands out as a comprehensive and empirically validated instrument. Developed by Bruce J. Avolio and Bernard M. Bass, the MLQ evaluates a wide range of leadership behaviors and provides insights into transformational, transactional, and passive/avoidant leadership styles. The Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire (MLQ), is a comprehensive tool used to assess leadership styles and their impact on organizational performance.

This questionnaire is widely recognized for its ability to measure transformational, transactional, and passive-avoidant leadership behaviors, providing a nuanced understanding of how leaders influence their teams and organizational outcomes. Transformational leadership, as measured by the MLQ, includes behaviors that inspire and motivate followers to exceed their expectations and achieve higher levels of performance. These leaders are characterized by their ability to articulate a compelling vision, foster an environment of intellectual stimulation, and demonstrate a high level of individual consideration towards their team members. The MLQ assesses these qualities through items that explore how often leaders exhibit behaviors such as inspiring pride, respect, and trust, encouraging innovative thinking, and showing genuine concern for the individual needs of followers.

Transactional leadership, on the other hand, focuses on the exchanges between leaders and followers. This style is characterized by contingent reward and management-by-exception behaviors, where leaders provide clear expectations and rewards for achieving agreed-upon performance levels, while also monitoring for deviations and taking corrective action when necessary. The MLQ evaluates these aspects by examining the extent to which leaders set clear goals, provide constructive feedback, and enforce rules and standards. Passive-avoidant leadership, or laissez-faire leadership, is marked by a lack of proactive engagement. Leaders who score high on this scale tend to avoid decision-making, fail to provide necessary feedback, and often only intervene when problems become unavoidable.

The MLQ captures these tendencies by measuring the frequency of leaders avoiding taking a stand, delaying responses, and failing to take action until issues escalate. The MLQ is highly valuable for managers and leaders in business organizations as it provides actionable insights into their leadership behaviors and the effects these behaviors have on their teams and overall organizational health. By understanding their scores across the transformational, transactional, and passive-avoidant dimensions, leaders can identify areas of strength and opportunities for development. For instance, a leader who scores highly in transformational leadership can leverage this strength to foster a culture of innovation and high performance. Conversely, a leader with high scores in passive-avoidant behaviors can recognize the need to become more proactive and engaged with their team.

Additionally, the MLQ can be used in leadership development programs to track the progress of leaders over time. By administering the questionnaire at different points, organizations can monitor changes in leadership behaviors and assess the effectiveness of development initiatives. This longitudinal approach allows for the identification of persistent patterns and the evaluation of whether interventions are yielding the desired improvements in leadership effectiveness. Furthermore, the MLQ can facilitate better team dynamics and improved organizational outcomes. When leaders understand their leadership style and its impact on their team, they can make more informed decisions about how to motivate and engage their employees.

This self-awareness is crucial for creating a work environment where employees feel valued, motivated, and aligned with the organization's goals. The MLQ also serves as a useful tool for research in organizational behavior and leadership studies. It provides a robust framework for examining the relationships between different leadership styles and various organizational outcomes such as employee satisfaction, productivity, and retention.

The extensive use of the MLQ in academic research has contributed to a deeper understanding of how leadership behaviors influence organizational success and employee well-being. In conclusion, the Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire by Bruce J. Avolio and Bernard M. Bass is an essential instrument for assessing leadership styles in business organizations. Its comprehensive approach to evaluating transformational, transactional, and passive-avoidant behaviors provides valuable insights that can drive leadership development and organizational improvement. By utilizing the MLQ, managers and leaders can enhance their self-awareness, improve their leadership effectiveness, and ultimately contribute to the success and sustainability of their organizations.


Origins and Development of the Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire


The Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire (MLQ) was developed by Bruce J. Avolio and Bernard M. Bass in the 1980s as part of their pioneering research on transformational and transactional leadership. Their work was grounded in the transformational leadership theory initially proposed by James MacGregor Burns in 1978. Burns distinguished between transformational and transactional leadership, noting that transformational leaders inspire and motivate followers to exceed their own self-interests for the sake of the organization, whereas transactional leaders focus on exchanges and rewards for performance.


Avolio and Bass expanded on Burns' theory, developing the MLQ to measure these leadership styles empirically. The MLQ evaluates leadership behaviors across three primary dimensions:


1. Transformational Leadership: Leaders who inspire, motivate, and stimulate followers to achieve extraordinary outcomes and, in the process, develop their own leadership capacity.

2. Transactional Leadership: Leaders who focus on exchanges between themselves and their followers, providing rewards for performance and monitoring deviations from standards.

3. Passive/Avoidant Leadership: Leaders who are characterized by a lack of leadership activity, often avoiding decision-making and not providing guidance or feedback.


The MLQ was designed to capture the full range of leadership behaviors, providing a nuanced and comprehensive assessment of a leader's effectiveness. Over the years, the MLQ has undergone several revisions and validations, ensuring its reliability and relevance across various organizational contexts.


Today, the MLQ is widely used in leadership development, organizational research, and academic studies. Its robust framework and empirical foundation make it an invaluable tool for understanding and enhancing leadership effectiveness.


Structure and Components of the Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire


The Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire (MLQ) is structured to assess a wide range of leadership behaviors, providing a comprehensive evaluation of a leader's effectiveness. The MLQ includes several key components:


1. Questionnaire:

  • Description: The MLQ consists of a series of statements that respondents rate based on the frequency with which they perceive the leader engaging in specific behaviors. It includes both self-assessment and rater forms, allowing for multi-source feedback from peers, subordinates, and supervisors.

  • Structure: The questionnaire typically includes 45 items, divided into scales that measure transformational, transactional, and passive/avoidant leadership behaviors.


2. Leadership Styles Assessed: Transformational Leadership:


  • Idealized Influence (Attributes and Behaviors): Leaders who act as role models, earning the respect and trust of their followers. Attributes include personal charisma, while behaviors include actions that demonstrate high ethical standards.

  • Inspirational Motivation: Leaders who articulate a clear and compelling vision, inspiring followers to achieve more than they thought possible.

  • Intellectual Stimulation: Leaders who encourage innovation and creativity by challenging assumptions and promoting critical thinking.

  • Individualized Consideration: Leaders who provide personalized support and mentorship, recognizing the unique needs and potential of each follower.


Transactional Leadership:


  • Contingent Reward: Leaders who clarify expectations and offer rewards in exchange for meeting those expectations.

  • Management by Exception (Active): Leaders who monitor follower performance and take corrective action when deviations from standards occur.


Passive/Avoidant Leadership:


  • Management by Exception (Passive): Leaders who intervene only when problems become serious, often too late to prevent negative outcomes.

  • Laissez-Faire Leadership: Leaders who avoid decision-making and abdicate responsibilities, providing little to no guidance or support to followers.


3. Scoring and Interpretation:


  • Transformational Leadership Score: Calculated by averaging the scores on the items measuring idealized influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, and individualized consideration.

  • Transactional Leadership Score: Calculated by averaging the scores on the items measuring contingent reward and active management by exception.

  • Passive/Avoidant Leadership Score: Calculated by averaging the scores on the items measuring passive management by exception and laissez-faire leadership.

  • Overall Leadership Effectiveness: The MLQ also provides an overall leadership effectiveness score, derived from the combination of transformational and transactional leadership scores, highlighting the leader's impact on organizational outcomes.


4. MLQ Reports:


  • Individual Reports: Each participant receives a detailed report comparing their self-assessment with the feedback from other raters. The report includes scores for each leadership style and specific behaviors, highlighting strengths and areas for development.

  • Group Reports: The MLQ can also generate group reports that provide an overview of leadership behaviors within a team or organization, identifying collective strengths and areas for improvement.


Applications of the Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire


The Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire (MLQ) has a wide range of applications in various organizational contexts. By leveraging the insights provided by the MLQ, leaders can enhance their effectiveness, improve team dynamics, and drive overall organizational success. Here are some practical ways to apply MLQ insights:


1. Leadership Development:


  • Personal Development: The MLQ helps leaders gain a deeper understanding of their own leadership behaviors and how they are perceived by others. This self-awareness is crucial for personal growth and development. Leaders can use their MLQ results to identify specific behaviors to strengthen and develop personalized action plans.

  • Training Programs: Organizations can design tailored leadership development programs based on MLQ insights. These programs can address areas where leaders may need improvement, such as enhancing transformational behaviors or reducing passive/avoidant tendencies.


2. Performance Management:


  • Setting Expectations: The MLQ provides a clear framework for understanding effective leadership behaviors. Organizations can use these insights to set performance expectations for their leaders, ensuring alignment with organizational goals and values.

  • Providing Feedback: The detailed assessment results from the MLQ can be used to provide constructive feedback to leaders, highlighting areas where they excel and identifying opportunities for improvement. This feedback can be integrated into regular performance reviews and coaching sessions.


3. Succession Planning:


  • Identifying High-Potential Leaders: The MLQ helps organizations identify and develop a pipeline of future leaders. By regularly assessing leadership effectiveness, companies can ensure they have capable successors ready to step into key roles when needed.

  • Targeted Development: Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of potential successors allows organizations to create targeted development plans, focusing on the specific leadership behaviors that will drive success in higher-level roles.


4. Team Building:


  • Enhancing Team Dynamics: By understanding their own leadership style and the styles of their team members, leaders can foster better communication, collaboration, and conflict resolution within their teams. This understanding helps build trust and fosters a more cohesive work environment.

  • Leveraging Diversity: The MLQ can highlight the diverse leadership strengths within a team, enabling leaders to leverage these differences to enhance team performance and innovation.


5. Organizational Development:


  • Aligning Leadership Practices: The MLQ provides a standardized measure of leadership effectiveness, allowing organizations to align leadership practices across different departments and levels. This alignment ensures a consistent leadership approach that supports organizational goals.

  • Driving Cultural Change: Insights from the MLQ can inform efforts to drive cultural change within an organization, ensuring that leadership practices support desired cultural attributes.


6. Research and Academic Studies:


  • Studying Leadership Impact: The MLQ is widely used in academic research to study the impact of different leadership styles on organizational outcomes. Researchers can use MLQ data to explore correlations between leadership behaviors and variables such as employee engagement, job satisfaction, and performance.

  • Developing Leadership Theory: The empirical data collected through the MLQ contributes to the ongoing development and refinement of leadership theories. Scholars can use this data to test hypotheses and build new models of leadership effectiveness.


Challenges and Limitations of the Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire


While the Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire (MLQ) is a valuable tool, it is not without its challenges and limitations. Some of the main concerns include:


1. Self-Report Bias:

  • Challenge: The MLQ relies on self-assessment, which can be influenced by social desirability bias and the individual’s self-perception. Leaders may overestimate or underestimate their own behaviors.

  • Strategy: To mitigate this, organizations can supplement the MLQ results with multi-source feedback from peers, subordinates, and supervisors to provide a more comprehensive view of leadership effectiveness.


2. Observer Bias:


  • Challenge: Observer feedback can be subject to biases based on personal relationships, recent interactions, or organizational politics. This can affect the accuracy and reliability of the feedback.

  • Strategy: Ensuring anonymity and confidentiality in the feedback process can help reduce observer bias. Additionally, using multiple observers can balance out individual biases and provide a more accurate picture.


3. Cultural Differences:


  • Challenge: The MLQ may not fully account for cultural differences in leadership behaviors and expectations. Different cultures have varying norms and values regarding leadership, which can impact the applicability of the MLQ.

  • Strategy: Adapting the MLQ for different cultural contexts and using culturally sensitive approaches when interpreting results can help address this issue.


4. Static Nature:


  • Challenge: Leadership behaviors can evolve over time due to various factors such as experience, training, and organizational changes. The MLQ provides a snapshot of leadership effectiveness at a given time.

  • Strategy: Regular reassessment and continuous development initiatives can ensure that MLQ insights remain relevant and up-to-date.


5. Complexity of Leadership:


  • Challenge: Effective leadership is multifaceted, and the MLQ may not capture all the nuances of leadership behavior and organizational dynamics.

  • Strategy: Use the MLQ as one component of a broader assessment and development strategy that includes qualitative feedback, performance metrics, and other evaluation tools.


Integrating the Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire with Other Assessments


To maximize the benefits of the Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire (MLQ), it can be integrated with other assessments to provide a more comprehensive understanding of leadership capabilities.

Ways to combine the MLQ with other tools:


1. 360-Degree Feedback:

  • Overview: This assessment gathers feedback from a leader’s peers, subordinates, and supervisors, providing a well-rounded view of their effectiveness.

  • Integration: Combining MLQ results with 360-degree feedback can offer a more nuanced understanding of a leader's strengths and areas for improvement, validated by multiple perspectives.


2. Personality Assessments:


  • Overview: Tools such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) or the Big Five Personality Traits can provide insights into a leader’s personality and behavioral tendencies.

  • Integration: Understanding how personality traits influence leadership behavior can complement MLQ results, helping to tailor development programs to the leader's inherent characteristics.


3. Emotional Intelligence (EQ) Assessments:


  • Overview: Emotional intelligence assessments measure a leader's ability to understand and manage their own emotions and those of others.

  • Integration: Combining EQ assessments with the MLQ can enhance understanding of how emotional intelligence impacts leadership effectiveness, particularly in areas such as team leadership and communication.


4. Performance Metrics:


  • Overview: Objective performance data, such as team productivity, employee engagement scores, and project outcomes, can provide concrete evidence of leadership effectiveness.

  • Integration: Correlating MLQ results with performance metrics can validate the assessment findings and highlight areas where leadership effectiveness directly impacts organizational outcomes.


5. Values and Ethics Assessments:


  • Overview: Assessing leaders' alignment with organizational values and ethical standards can provide insights into their integrity and influence on organizational culture.

  • Integration: Integrating these assessments with the MLQ can help ensure that leadership development aligns with the organization's core values and ethical standards.


By integrating the MLQ with these complementary assessments, organizations can develop a more holistic view of leadership effectiveness, leading to more targeted and effective development initiatives.




The Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire (MLQ) developed by Bruce J. Avolio and Bernard M. Bass is a powerful tool for assessing and enhancing leadership capabilities. By focusing on transformational, transactional, and passive/avoidant leadership styles, the MLQ provides leaders with a comprehensive framework for understanding and improving their leadership behaviors.


While the MLQ presents certain challenges, such as potential biases and the complexity of leadership dynamics, its benefits far outweigh these limitations. By integrating the MLQ with other assessments and using it as part of a broader leadership development strategy, organizations can maximize its impact and drive significant improvements in leadership effectiveness.


In today’s rapidly changing and complex business environment, effective leadership is more critical than ever. The MLQ offers a valuable tool for leaders to gain insights into their behaviors, receive constructive feedback, and develop the skills necessary to lead their teams and organizations to success. By embracing the principles of transformational and transactional leadership and continuously developing their capabilities, leaders can unlock their full potential and create a positive, high-performing work environment that fosters growth and innovation.

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