Transformational Leadership for Affiliate Program Management

I have been comparing different theories of leadership over the past few weeks, and while many — if adjusted and adopted to the affiliate program management context — do fit, it is the transformational leadership that, in my opinion, is best suited for new affiliate program managers to keep in mind.

Just as the name implies, transformational leadership is one that provides for a process of change and transformation. This transformation happens not only with those who are lead, but also with the leader (him)/(her)self under the influence of the followers.

Bass singles out the role of the leader’s charisma as one of the key elements of transformational leadership (Hersen, Thomas, Segal, 2005, p. 350). Not all researchers share his view, and in looking into ways in which the transformational leadership can be applied in the context of affiliate program management, I believe we should exclude the element of charisma. The main reason for the exclusion being that charismatic leadership is not something that can be learned, but rests heavily on the leader’s individual traits, whereas all other elements of the transformational approach exist and function irrespectively of whether the leader is capable of, and followers are accepting the practice of idealized influence (aka charisma).

The other three elements of transformational leadership — (i) inspirational motivation, (ii) intellectual stimulation and (iii) individualized consideration — can greatly improve the work of affiliate program managers in a way that would facilitate productive transformation in both affiliates and the manager.

The essence of inspirational motivation is both in communicating high expectations to followers, and “inspiring them through motivation” to become continuously inspired and committed. This can be done through (a) appealing to affiliates’ emotions, and (b) communicating of the “integral role they play in the future” of the affiliate marketing campaign (Northouse, 2007, p. 183). Appealing to emotions, affiliate program managers can demonstrate successes of other affiliates (keeping names, and other sensitive information discrete), as well as underscore the role affiliates play both in building up the industry as a whole (examples of tax legislation bills freezing in Minnesota, Maryland and Hawaii due to affiliates’ efforts would make good illustrations), and the particular affiliate program.

The second transformational leadership technique that affiliate program managers should employ is that of intellectual stimulation. Traditionally, this approach “consists of encouraging employees to think for themselves, to challenge cherished assumptions about the way in which work takes place, and to think about old problems in new ways” (Snyder & Lopez, 2002, p. 721). In the affiliate program management context, managers should shape this method in light of the situational variables (see slides 10 through 23 here), stimulating affiliates intellectually respective of the level on which each affiliate currently is. Affiliates that are just starting with affiliate marketing will require more instructional and educational participation from the affiliate manager, whereas more professionally and psychologically mature affiliates can have higher and more complex level tasks discussed with them.

Finally, individualized consideration, when a special attention is paid “to each individual’s needs for achievement and growth” and the leader acts “as coach or mentor” is truly one of the cornerstones of successful affiliate program management. The key elements of this technique are: (i) creating new learning opportunities in a “supportive climate”, (ii) recognizing “individual differences in terms of needs and desires” and accepting these individual differences, (iii) providing for a “two-way exchange in communication” and managing “by walking around”, (iv) personalizing interactions with affiliates, (v) practicing effective listening, (vi) delegating tasks when the affiliate level allows for it, and (vii) closely monitoring “to see if the followers need additional direction or support” (Bass & Avolio, 1994, pp. 3-4). Just as it was mentioned while describing the previous transformational leadership factor, the key is in intertwining situational leadership with the practice of individualized consideration.

There is much more to be written on how the principles of transformational leadership can be applied in the context of affiliate program management, and maybe I will do an article on it one day. For now, enjoy implementing the above-quoted! It will undoubtedly yield fruit.



  • Bass, B.M. & Avolio, B.J. (1994). Improving organizational effectiveness through transformational leadership. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  • Hersen, M., Thomas, J.C. & Segal, D.L. (2005). Comprehensive handbook of personality and psychopathology. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
  • Northouse, P.G. (2007) Leadership theory and practice (4th Ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  • Snyder, C.R. & Lopez, S.J. (2002). Handbook of Positive Psychology. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

2 thoughts on “Transformational Leadership for Affiliate Program Management”

  1. Hi Geno,

    Thanks for the post. I got one question regarding the individualized consideration part. I think it is very nice of communicating with affiliates for the related things at their levels. But I am managing a program with more than 1000 publishers.

    1. it is hard to know the affiliates real level
    2. even I know their level, how can I communicate with so many affiliates based on their needs?

    What do you advise?

    Thanks a lot.


  2. Naia,

    Good question. I manage several affiliate programs with 1,000+ publishers/affiliates on board, and I can certainly identify.

    1) To figure out the level of maturity of an affiliate, view their website(s), analyze their stats (hits, sales volume, conversions), and then categorize them. You can group affiliates within your merchant interface, which will help you manage your approach better.

    Once you have introduced the different groups (note: remember to move affiliates between the groups as they grow), practice the individualized consideration on the group level.

    2) Here are a few examples of how you can practice individualized consideration on a truly individual level:

    * Personalized recruitment e-mails

    * Individualized e-mails with advice on how they can improve their performance (you’ll want to carefully analyze what they are already doing, and propose truly constructive, concrete and hands-on solutions on things to improve)

    * Development of personal relationships with affiliates (in informal settings: from Twitter to IM chats, from drinks at a conference to fishing trips, etc)

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