What Makes A Leader A Transforming Leader? (Part 2)


This is the second post in a three-part series on transformational leadership. Today I will ask you to take a look at three types of leaders and assess your leadership tendencies. Only one of these leadership types can be a transformational leader.

Leadership is not tidy.
— John W. Gardner, On Leadership

Leadership, as a discipline, is a new kid on the academic block. Despite its infancy it has been readily championed, researched, discussed and debated. Some seek to bring clarity by reducing its complexity. John Maxwell is fond of declaring, "Leadership is influence, nothing more and nothing less."

While Maxwell captures the essence of leadership, taken in its entirety leadership is, as John W. Gardner notes, "not tidy." Leadership is as multifaceted as a diamond. At times it is as complicated as rocket science. For a moment, consider all the books, the definitions, the theories, and the programs that set for ideas about leadership.

The Leadership Books . . .

There were more than 1300 book on leadership published In 2015. The online giant, Amazon, offered more than 57,000 leadership titles to peruse in 2016.

One would think with so many trees sacrificed to the cause, with so much ink spilled to enlighten our minds, we would have this thing called leadership figured out. Not so. Joseph Rost penned a scholarly work entitled, Leadership for the 21st Century. Rost examined more than 600 books on leadership. His conclusion:  

Rost also noted that many of the books written about leadership never define the concept. This is true. Next time you pick up a volume on leadership see if the author defined the term or simply assumed it. 

The Leadership Definitions . . .

In their book, Leadership: Strategies for Taking Charge, Bennis and Nanus help us understand the kaleidoscopic nature of leadership:

Here is a brief sampling of attempts to define this mystery called leadership:

  • "Leadership is the process of persuasion or example by which an individual (or leadership team) induces a group to pursue objectives held by the leader and his or her followers." John W. Gardner
  • "Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character." Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf
  • "Leaders provide a mental picture of a preferred future and then ask people to follow them there." Andy Stanley
  • "Leadership is mobilizing others toward a goal shared by the leader and followers." Garry Wills.
  • "Leadership is getting others to want to do something that you are convinced should be done." Vance Packard
  • "Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it." Dwight D. Eisenhower
  • "Leadership is the influence of others in a productive, vision-driven direction and is done through the example, conviction, and character of the leader." Brady and Woodward

Despite a dizzying sample of definitions, more continue to be produced. Why? Because leadership is a constant effort in a changing context it looks similar and different every day.

The Theories Of Leadership . . .

Scholarly theories abound. This is due to the incredibly complex nature of leadership. Yes, "leadership is influence," but there are a variety of factors that summon it, a complex web of people who wield it, and a mountain of elements that have a bearing on it. Here is a sample of the various system of ideas offered to bring clarity to the subject of leadership.

Leadership Theories1.png

I have read thousands of pages on leadership. I have studied it carefully. Like you, I have attended classes and conferences in an attempt to learn from brighter minds. The more I examine the subject, the more I can appreciate the conclusion of Bennis and Nanus:

Never have so many labored so long to say so little.
— Bennis & Nanus

Leadership Programs . . .

MBA programs are ubiquitous on the college and university campus. The need for better leaders coupled with our increasing fascination with the subject of leadership has also led to a litany of leadership programs. Educational big dogs such as Harvard, Duke, Wharton, and Northwestern offer executive leadership development programs in addition to their degree and course plans.

Leadership development no longer starts nor stops at the university. GE claims the oldest corporate university in the United State. GE's Crotonville management training center has become a model for many companies. Agencies such as The Francis Hesselbein Leadership Institute are equipping leaders on various levels. Conferences abound and leadership development programs are becoming commonplace in high schools and churches.

Is it too much?

When we consider the books, the definitions, the theories, and the programs, we might be tempted to say, “Why bother! It is too complicated,” but the fact is that we know leadership when we see it.  As Warren Bennis notes:

We do know leadership when we see it. We can agree with Rost that leadership is an influencing relationship between leaders and followers who intend real changes for their organization, whether that be a church, a business, a school, or a neighborhood. But not every leader looks the same. There are three kinds of leaders.

Three kinds of leaders:

The Laissez-Faire Leader

Laissez-Faire comes from the French, “to let the people do as they choose.” Laissez-Faire leaders don’t interfere. They let things take their own course. This is rarely a good plan. Consider Eli (1 Samuel 2:12-36). Eli and his sons were responsible to serve as priests for God. Though his sons were wayward and dishonored God greatly, Eli did not chastise them. He simply let things run their course with his sons and with the nation.

22 Now Eli was very old, and he kept hearing all that his sons were doing to all Israel, and how they lay with the women who were serving at the entrance to the tent of meeting. 23 And he said to them, “Why do you do such things? For I hear of your evil dealings from all these people. 24 No, my sons; it is no good report that I hear the people of the Lord spreading abroad. 25 If someone sins against a man, God will mediate for him, but if someone sins against the Lord, who can intercede for him?” But they would not listen to the voice of their father, for it was the will of the Lord to put them to death. 2 Samuel 2:22-25 ESV

Eli rebuked his sons, but he did not go far enough. He did not replace them. God asked incredulously, "Why did you honor your sons above me?" (2 Samuel 2:29). Eli let things run their course. The results were deadly. The nation suffered and God judged both Eli and his sons.

One has to question if a Laissez-Faire leader is really a leader at all. Leaders do interfere. They question. They challenge. They rally. They influence. They bring change.

The Transactional Leader

Transactional leaders accept the existing structure. Their motto: "Don’t change it. Learn to operate in it" (Gardner, 122). Transactional leaders are fond of playing “let’s make a deal.” They are like King Rehoboam. Rehoboam said to his people, “You give me your devotion and in exchange for that I am going to give you just what you need to get by." His people wanted no part of that. They rebelled. His kingdom divided. The nation was never the same.

Transactional leaders trade money for service, kindness for obedience, and employment for a task. Transactional leaders give only what they have to and only when they get what they want from those they "serve."

The Transformational Leader

Transformational leaders create a metamorphosis within the organization. They are like Nehemiah. Nehemiah set an example, challenged the status quo, gave vision, empowered and encouraged. He tackled the tough stuff, loved his people, and did not flinch when opposition arrived.

17 Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer suffer derision.” 18 And I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me. And they said, “Let us rise up and build.” So they strengthened their hands for the good work. Nehemiah 2:17-18

What was the result of Nehemiah's leadership? Transformation! Hope was renewed. Walls were rebuilt. The nation was reborn.

What kind of leader are you?”
  • Are you a Laissez-Faire Leader (Eli) — "Let's just let things run their course and see how it goes."
  • Are you a Transactional Leader (Rehoboam) — "You give me your devotion and then I will help you."
  • Are you a Transformational Leader (Nehemiah) — "I am here to serve you and together we are going to move things forward."

In reality, each of us is likely a mix of all three types. None of us always function at our leadership best. And no matter what type is predominant, each of us can become more “transformational.”

  • If you tend toward laissez-faire, you can begin to take charge.
  • If you find yourself making leadership trade-offs you can become more selfless.
  • If you are laboring to bring transformation you can get better.

In our next post we will examine five specific ways your leadership can become more transformational.

The leader should lead with passion.
— Romans 12:8 CEB

In Case You Missed It

Yesterday we looked at Winston Churchill and saw how his transformational leadership changed the course of history. Read about it here.

Coming Up

Tomorrow we will look at five ways each of us can become more “transformational.” Read it here.

Don't Want To Wait?

Read the three parts in full here.

  1. "Leadership is not tidy" from John W. Gardner, On Leadership. New York: The Free Press. 1990. Page 22.
  2. "Leadership is a lot like beauty . . ." from John Maxwell
  3. "Leadership is the process of persuasion ..." from Gardner, On Leadership, page 1.
  4. "Leadership is a potent combination of strategy ..." from Leadership Through The Ages, by Rudolph W. Giulani. New York: Miramax Books. 2003. Page 2.
  5. "Leaders provide a mental picture ... " from Launching A Leadership Revolution by Chris Brady and Orrin Woodward. Flint, MI: Obstacles Press, Inc. 2012. Page 5.
  6. "Leadership is mobilizing others ..." from Launching A Leadership Revolution, page 5.
  7. "Leadership is getting others to want to ..." from Launching A Leadership Revolution, page 5.
  8. "Leadership is the art of getting someone else ..." from Launching, page 6.
  9. "Leadership is the influence of others ..." from Launching, page 7.
  10. "Never have many labored so long ..." from Leaders: Strategies for Taking Charge by Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus.