This study advances prior theoretical research by investigating the influence of cultural forces in our understanding of leadership. The research provides new insights by linking transformational and transactional leadership to the Malaysian cultural environment. Using a quantitative approach by administering the multifactor leadership questionnaire MLQ-5x-short, 138 usable responses were analysed. Findings indicate that cultural foundations contribute significantly to transformational leadership behaviours to facilitate the creation of a harmonious leader–subordinate relationship. Furthermore, this study contributes to an understanding of how specific leaders' behaviours are affected by cultural forces, and reveals leadership attributes that are contingent upon dynamic environmental conditions. The study extends beyond the obvious, and reveals subtle yet important culture-specific differences. The Malaysian managers, regardless of gender, show a preference for leading within the transformational leadership framework. This has led us to infer that cultural forces do indeed play an important role in determining leadership styles.