Archive for February 2015

Week of February 16, 2015

What Do You Think . . . is an example of transformational leadership in your own experience?

The transformational approach to leadership is one that focuses on building genuine relationship and understanding that motivates and meets the needs of followers, and in the process changes people for the better. We have probably all experienced the influence of leaders like this; I know I have. What is an example of a time when you were led and influenced by a transformational leader? Please share in the comment box below.


What is Transformational Leadership?

When I was in college, I remember hearing a motivational speaker by the name of Charlie “Tremendous” Jones give a message in one of the chapel services. The only thing I can still recall from what he said was the statement that “in 20 years, you will be the same person you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read.” I am not sure how much we actually change over time, but I am certain that we do change, and I do believe that one of the factors that changes us is the influence of other people. Even in the world of education, where I have spent so much of my time, I have often seen an individual’s behavior drastically change when that individual is placed in some kind of group dynamic (in other words, it seems like children will change their behavior and become like someone else when they get around their friends, either for better or for worse).

Transformational leadership capitalizes on that concept. It can be defined as “the process whereby a person engages with others and creates a connection that raises the level of motivation and morality in both the leader and the follower” (Northouse, 2013, p. 186). Transformational leaders are people who are recognized as “change agents who are good role models, who can create and articulate a clear vision for an organization, who empower followers to meet higher standards, who act in ways that make others want to trust them, and who give meaning to organizational life” (p. 214) That description represents the four factors that characterize transformational leadership (the “4 I’s”):

  • Idealized influence: the leaders is a strong role model of behaviors and attributes, an example that followers want to emulate
  • Inspirational motivation: the ability to inspire others to be part of a shared vision
  • Intellectual stimulation: the encouragement of creativity, innovation, and problem-solving
  • Individualized consideration: a supportive approach that takes the time and effort to listen to individual needs, building connection and trust

This approach to leadership focuses on the idea that leaders need to build relationship and connection with followers in order to understand their needs and motives, and then respond or adapt in a way that best meets those needs and appeals to those motives. In the process, both the leader and the followers are changed, or transformed, in positive ways as a result of the genuine relationship that is occurring, and the end result is usually performance by the followers that exceeds expectations. The leader has established trust and provided influence and motivation that results in the desire to please and support, and motivates people to excel for their own benefit and for yours. As Northouse says, “Transformational leadership moves followers to accomplish more than what is usually expected of them” (p. 194). Unlike transactional leadership, in which people follow in exchange for personal benefit (I give you rewards, recognition, or power, and in exchange you follow me), transformational leadership moves people to follow because you, as the leader, make them better, and make them want to be better.

It seems to me that transformational leadership is strongly connected to authentic leadership and to servant leadership. In essence, when a leader is genuine and puts the needs of others first, that leader will reflect the character, influence, and consideration that changes people. I can think of leaders in my own life like that, people who have made me a better person and who have had a transformative influence on me, as I am sure you can as well. That is the type of leader I want to be. I want to be an example that others emulate, I want people to want to follow me, and I want them to feel valued and to be the best they can be. To do that requires the application of transformational leadership principles, so I believe that it is wise for the effective leader to understand, develop, and implement these ideas. Be an example of integrity, understand and encourage your people, and build them up by empowering and challenging them, and giving them the environment and opportunity to respond. Be transformational in your leadership.

Week of February 9, 2015

Quotable (Jeff McMaster, on being relational)

“Effective leadership, leadership that results in personal and organizational change, happens best within the context of relationship.”


Dr. Jeffrey S. McMaster,

Be Relational

Be Relational

This month we are focusing on relationship principles in the context of leadership. The most obvious of those is that of being relational, or building genuine, trusting, and personal relationships that enhance and improve leadership. This particular post is an expanded version of one of the first few that were published on the sight; over time, the original has been my most popular post, so in light of this month’s theme, it seemed appropriate to share it again.

I believe that effective leadership, leadership that results in personal and organizational change, happens best within the context of relationship. In any situation or environment, there are leaders and followers; while those players can change, both – whether they be individuals or groups – are necessary. You cannot eliminate or ignore the fundamental fact that there is a relationship that exists between leaders and subordinates, therefore the effective leader will intentionally build and nurture relationships that benefit the leader, the followers, and the organization.

During my first year as the head of a school, initially I kept getting annoyed with the fact that necessary tasks were constantly interrupted by people and their needs. In the course of that year, as I developed in my leadership, I realized that I needed to allow time for people. At first, I thought I could simply do this by budgeting a certain amount of time for tasks and the rest of my time for people. I quickly learned that I couldn’t really budget specific time for people; rather, I needed to make people and relationships the priority. Over the next few years, my own research validated for me the importance of relationship in leadership development, affirming the “value of relationship for effective leadership and its importance to leadership development . . . [and affirming] its importance for components such as building trust, communicating effectively, resolving conflict, impacting perceptions, and effecting change.” (McMaster, 2013, p. 78)

Current leadership views have also drawn the same conclusion, evident in a number of leadership theorists who have highlighted or indicated the importance of relationship as a characteristic of effective leadership. For example, Margaret Wheatley (1999) includes as one of her leadership principles the focus on building and nurturing relationships that benefit the culture. Michael Fullan (2001) includes relationships as one of the five factors that leaders must manage in order to lead through change, and specifically says, “It is time . . . to alter our perspective to pay as much attention to how we treat people – co-workers, subordinates, customers – as we now typically pay attention to structures, strategies, and statistics. . . . there is a new style of leadership in successful companies – one that focuses on people and relationships as essential to getting sustained results” (p. 53). Kouzes’ and Posner’s The Leadership Challenge (2002) describes “five practices of exemplary leadership” and their application to leading through change, including the practices of “model the way”, “enable others to act,” and “encourage the heart,” all of which are instrumental in relationship building. And the Leader-Member Exchange (LMX) theory of leadership, as explained by Graen and Uhl-Bien, “makes the leader-member relationship the pivotal concept in the leadership process” (Northouse, 2013, p. 182).

Even beyond these few examples, as modern leadership theories and concepts have shifted in emphasis from transactional style (leadership is based on an exchange process between the leader and follower) to transformational style (leadership appeals to the moral fiber of the followers to enlist their support and involvement for their own benefit), the relationship between leaders and followers has become a focal point. I have learned this lesson clearly over the time of my leadership in the last few years, and I have now come to truly understand the importance of developing relationships with those whom I am directly leading or trying to impact. In my leadership roles, I have focused on building a culture of relationship between myself and my subordinates and superiors in order to facilitate an environment of greatest impact. Relationship has become pivotal to my practice of leadership.

As a result, what has changed for me is the intentional focus I place on cultivating relationships and investing in people.  In my early leadership, I focused on the organization and management of tasks, and people were secondary.  I have since reversed those components: I focus on people and relationships as primary, and the management of tasks as secondary.  Don’t misunderstand me, the tasks are still necessary and vital to the success of the organization, but I don’t let them get in the way of people (as opposed to the other way around). I believe that an organization’s success is directly connected to the people within that organization, therefore leadership needs to invest in those people; however, I feel even more strongly that people matter (and that they matter to God), and so I believe that I must care about and invest in people for that reason more than any other.

The clear conclusion for an effective leader as that you must take time for and invest in people, because people matter.  When people believe that they matter, and the leader builds a culture of relationship, the organization will benefit, and people will grow. That makes sense.


Fullan, M. (2001). Leading in a culture of change. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2002). The leadership challenge (3rd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

McMaster, J. S. (2013). The Influence of Christian Education on Leadership Development. The Journal of Applied Chrisitan Leadership, 7(1), 17.

Northouse, P. G. (2013). Leadership: Theory and practice (6th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

Wheatley, M. J. (1999). Leadership and the new science: Discovering order in a chaotic world (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.