Saturday, May 3, 2014

Transformational Leadership Defined


Leaders are often asked to facilitate change and to foster the growth of the individuals of an organization as well as the organization itself. More times than not however the sole focus is on the tangible outcomes and this is typically profit based and is deemed a success or failure based purely on that result. Any positive changes or growth of individuals is typically an indirect by-product as the focus is more greatly placed on the organization as a whole and not the individuals who reside in it. The typical relationship between leader and follower is made up of exchanging one thing for another and not mutual elevation (Burns, 1978). With a lack of this mutual benefit it creates a divide and a gap between leader and follower. It also creates a gap for the leader between who they are and what they have become. In his book, A Hidden Wholeness, Parker Palmer (2004) tells us that ‘as we become more obsessed with succeeding… we lose touch with our souls and disappear into our roles”. This internal disconnection of who a leader truly is explains why most leadership is transactional and not transformational.

Defining transformation

Transformational leadership differs from other leadership methods in that the transformational leader looks to the motives, needs, and potential of followers to elicit both personal and organizational growth as opposed to simply trying to obtain tangible results directly related to change and progress. Burns (2003) argues that facilitating change; a characteristic of transactional leadership, is simply substituting one thing for another and simply is a give and take or to simply pass from one place to another. To lead in a transformational way requires a more profound alteration and “It is to cause a metamorphosis in form or structure, a change in the very condition or nature of a thing, a change into another substance, a radical change in outward form or inner character”. Ciulla (1995) further explains that “Transactional leadership helps leaders and followers reach their own goals by supplying lower level wants and needs so that they can move up to higher needs”, while alternatively “transforming leaders raise their followers up through various stages of morality and need. They turn their followers into leaders and the leader becomes a moral agent”.

Transformational leadership is founded in morality and is focused not only on the end results but the process and journey of growth and the fulfilling potential. Carey (2010) explains that “Transforming leadership motivates followers toward end-values such as justice and equality, while transactional leadership is more concerned with honesty and loyalty”. Honesty and loyalty are certainly important attributes of both leaders and followers but transformational leadership takes these characteristics to a higher level of understanding and perspective. Burns (1978) speaks to this point further by stating that “transforming leadership ultimately becomes moral in that it raises the level of human conduct and ethical aspiration of both the leader and led, and thus it has a transforming effect on both” .

Carey differentiates transactional leadership from transforming leadership in that “The transforming leader starts with insight into the motivation of the follower, but builds on it to raise the motivation, to expand the consciousness of the follower, so that follower becomes leader”. It is with this understanding of the differences between transformational leadership and transactional leadership are found.

Are you a transformational leader or a transactional leader? Reflect on this question by examining the relationships you have and the motivations you have for building these. Are they grounded in your benefit, the benefit of the other, or are they mutual? My next post will explore the role of power and the pathway to becoming a transformational leader.

Burns, J. (1978) Leadership

Burns, J. (2003) Transforming leadership: The pursuit of happiness

Carey, M. (2010) Transcendental precepts for transforming leadership

Ciulla, J. (1995) Leadership ethics: Mapping the territory. Business Ethics

Palmer, P. (2004) A hidden wholeness: The journey toward an undivided Life

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