Transformational leaders and change

Jan 21 2013 by Duane Dike Print This Article

Could the next generation of business leaders come from the ranks of music, creative writing, and anthropology? Some business theorists are starting to suggest that they might as transactional leaders start to be exposed as what they are: kings who wear no clothes.

So could it be that one day soon, businesses will purge themselves of transactional managers who refuse to change the way they relate with employees? The finger of blame is frequently pointed at rank and file staff for being resistant to change. But in many cases, the real resistance comes from bosses who refuse to change the way they lead.

Progressive or Stagnant
Leaders in progressive businesses are changing the way they lead. For example, in the context of leader-employee relationships, bosses are beginning to see the effect of employee contact on personal psychology. The egocentric perceptions of earlier generations of business leaders were that workers were resistant to change because they mistrusted management motives. The more empathetic view of modern day transformational leaders is that reckless change threatens workers' very worth by implicitly communicating that the work they do yields no value. At one brush of an executive's pen, people can lose their jobs or be migrated elsewhere. Message sent: you're worthless.

Work Identities
Work-based identities are strong. A full-time employee can spend more hours on the job than awake at home. Over time, the lines between person-as-employee and person-as-human blur. Sadly, for whatever reasons, we identify ourselves, our worth, with our jobs and what we do for money. One of the first questions asked after meeting someone is, "So, what do you do for a living?" Our jobs are our social barometers.

Poorly executed change can threaten who our employees are, their position among friends, and their value to their families. Sadly, western culture really is an environment of castes. Sure, as Charles Dickens put so well, we are all "fellow travelers to the grave," but we tend to get there in different ways.

I've been doing my best to shake that 'job-as-identity' moniker by describing myself first as father, friend, and all around cool guy. However, eventually conversations roll around to what I do for a living. Dang it, I don't want "Duane – bureaucrat for a large company" etched on my tombstone. In reality, though, my legitimacy as a business leader and writer partly sits in my job, my education, and my experience. My personal value is inextricably related to the work I do.

Transformational Leaders
So how does this rabbit-path of thinking apply to the theme of transformational leaders? Through their behavior, transformational leaders, foster change as an element of education, growth, experimentation, and, ultimately, change acceptance. This bears fruit in the minds of our employees: psychological freedom, engagement in the thinking parts of the job, and systematic organizational approval.

Transformational leaders are intuitive experts at motivating followers to see the collective purpose of their jobs. Understanding purpose should be a sought after identifier for members of any organization, whether the boss-types comprehend it or not.

Transactional and transformational leader qualities are quite different. Transactional leadership qualities are fairly straightforward to identify because linear thinking, a transactional quality, can be demonstrated via mathematical-like models. Transformational leadership, on the other hand, is much more difficult to pin down because, as Rosabeth Kanter describes, "You don't build self-esteem by patting people on the back…. Confidence is a much more complicated phenomenon that comes from experiencing one's strengths in action. It's the human touches, combined with all the formal systems that build confidence." At all costs, be positive and avoid negativity, get to know people.

Future Leaders
So, will future leaders truly come from the ranks of music, creative writing, and anthropology?

If we want to preserve the personal value of worth, let's hope so. Lastly, a word of clarification regarding transactional-focused managers: transactional elements are necessary for organizational success (e.g., finance, marketing, legal, and industrial engineering come to mind), but rules- and process-inclined leaders should not bunch up at the top of organizational hierarchy.

Change is necessary. It's how organizations (companies, schools, sports teams, charities) compete. But, change is also dangerous, capable of destroying relationships, trust, and productivity. Tread lightly.

"You don't need anybody to tell you who you are or what you are. You are what you are!" [John Lennon].

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About The Author

Duane Dike
Duane Dike

Duane Dike is the manager of creative production for a large entertainment company in Southern California. He has a doctorate in management and organizational leadership and an MBA in management. He is a popular guest speaker for education and management groups on subjects related to innovation, leadership and thinking.

Older Comments

The tagline for this article is intriguing, but the content is all over the map & doesn't relate to the subject. I was disappointed.


Your point that 'reckless change threatens workers' very worth by implicitly communicating that the work they do yields no value' is very well made. Shame it isn't more widely understood.


Some interesting thoughts on several levels and well worth reading

Craig Leeson

The whole concept of work identity is fascinating. In reality it's no more than a label and in life we have many labels. That of a husband, wife, father, mother, lover etc. The problem is that many people over identify with their work and career labels. This can be especially true if it's something in life that they do well. But does this bring happiness or actually detract from their understanding of who they really are - their 'be- ingness' in the wider sense. What happens when they retire. Do they live out their days with the memory of who they were - based on external perceptions of their perceived value and worth in society?

Pauline UK