Transformational leaders: friends or foes

Many of us take leaders for granted; most of the time we see them as king-like figures that possess all the power and control the change of the world, while we, the followers sit passively, waiting and hoping for that change to happen. I will tell you right now, in this immediate moment, that you are dead wrong: leaders are not kings and we are not ordinary spectators- leadership is a two way process between the leader and the followers, where information and resources are exchanged between the two parties and change is born from that process.

Mahatma Gandhi- Indian leader

Think about leaders as players in a network; yes they are well connected and yes, due to their position in the network, they possess high quality information- contacts+information=power- power that leaders can choose how to exercise. But remember also that leaders cannot be leaders without followers, a fact that allocates some responsibility to us, the masses, in electing/choosing our leaders. Also, since information, travel and meeting new people/making contacts is as easy as it is today, leaders with power need to think twice before they choose to exercise their power- after all they need to co-exist with other members of the community- so followers get informed and get active!!

Before going any further I would like to differentiate between transactional and transformational leadership and introduce charismatic and narcissistic leadership which many times overlap with transformational leadership.

Steve Jobs- Founder of Apple

Transactional leadership: a leadership style based on arms-length transactions- typically a superior giving an instruction to a subordinate, performance evaluated according to standards and reward allocation based on fulfilment of standards.

Transactional leadership fits only in organizations/situations of routine/standardised work, which is why it’s an inappropriate leadership style for the 21st century. It was very common during the early and mid 20th century when the A style, hierarchical organization with top down management style was predominant and and organisational form efficient for minimising the costs of mass production. Today our expectations of leadership are infinitely more complex and involve motivational, creative, and transformational responsibilities.

Chinese General- Terracotta warrior site in Xian, China

Transformational leadership: a leadership style that provides security and a positive positive plan of action at times of change and an active interest and participation from the part of the leader towards the development and personal growth of members in the community. These leaders are authentic, posses clear values in whom they believe and communicate effectively to their audience. Furthermore they are open to a discourse/exchange with their followers who are also actively involved, possess specific roles in the change/growth process

Transformational leaders encourage a learning environment within and and beyond the organisation- extending to shareholders, customers and the context in which the organisation operates. These leaders encourage skill building and creative activities that are not necessarily associated with existing working project. Since they are aware how creativity and intrinsic motivation encourage innovation, they make an effort to institutionalise them in the work place.

Margaret Thatcher- British Prime Minister

Charismatic leadership: is a leadership style where a certain individual, the leader,  possesses a remarkable and commonly acknowledged talent admired by the crowd. This talent, usually a revolutionary vision is communicated with extraordinary skill- inspiring the masses. Charismatic leaders however, do not necessarily have good intentions; sometimes they act out of self interest and pursue their own goals under the mask of a shared vision while other times their vision is authentic and the belief system corresponds that of the followers

Narcissistic leadership: usually charismatic and original, these leaders are mostly acting out of self interests. They are highly aware of their special skill and use it to control others within and out of the organisation. They are bad listeners, instructing rather than teaching/assisting others, favoring employees that show admiration towards them. They are resistant towards ideas that do not fit their vision and think they know better than anyone else.
Sir Richard Branson- founder of the Virgin Group 

Now that you have been introduced to the differences between styles of leadership, you can imagine how detrimental bad leadership is to the organisation and the people working in it. Since roles within the organisation are becoming ever more specialised, workers increasingly more individualised and strategy is ad-hoc (adjusting to the context at high speed), there is an ever increasing necessity both for leaders to understand and tweak the internal processes of the organisation such that they add more value and to mediate relationships/ encourage a positive work environments where teams can cooperate productively.

The problem of leaders and organizations for that matter is how they have always been externally oriented- in a sense that they have a separate identity from others. Organisations beyond the boundaries of the firm are seen as competitors that seek to steal a larger share of the pie. As a result, organisations are very few times process oriented, and their leaders are the same; unaware/ uncomfortable with exploring their inner selves, let alone the organisation’s inner processes.
 Sultan Suleiman- Ottoman Emperor

An organisation is a network of clashing political processes, where groups of people or teams compete with other teams to promote a certain idea/product service, and it is the job of the leader to create an environment where creativity is unhindered and teams collaborate for the greater good of the company and its immediate outer social environment.

With highest innovative potential in mind, the vision of an organization should ideally be a bottom up process where each member of the community contributes, or adds value to the greater picture. Leaders in this situation are simply communicators that bind everyone and the vision together,and possess the necessary capabilities and confidence to act rightly at times of change/and or to promote positive change within the organisation.
Anita Roddick-  Founder of the Body Shop 

Organisations are complex structures and require equally knowledgable individuals to lead them. Leading an organization doesn’t simply entail excellent communication skills and business area expertise but involves deep knowledge of the processes and the people within and without the organization.


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