The United States Naional Institute of Health (NIH) Center for Biotechnical Information (NCBI) defines Transformational Leadership as the essential precursor thusly: “The central function of leadership is to achieve a collective purpose (Burns, 1978). Not surprisingly, leadership has been observed to be the essential precursor to achieving safety in a variety of industries (Carnino, undated), a critical factor in the success of major change initiatives (Baldridge National Quality Program, 2003; Davenport et al., 1998; Heifetz and Laurie, 2001), and key to an organization’s competitive cost position after a change initiative. In a study of hospital reengineering initiatives in U.S. acute care hospitals from 1996 to 1997, only the chief executive officer’s (CEO) involvement in core clinical changes had a statistically significant positive effect on the cost outcomes of reengineering (Walston et al., 2000). The exercise of leadership has also been associated with increased job satisfaction, productivity, and organizational commitment among nurses and other workers in HCOs (Fox et al., 1999; McNeese-Smith, 1995).
In his Pulitzer Prize–winning, seminal study on leadership, James Burns identifies the essential characteristics of leadership (as distinct from the wielding of power) and distinguishes “transactional” leadership from the more potent “transformational” leadership (Burns, 1978). He stresses that leadership, like the exercise of power, is based foremost on a relationship between the leader and follower(s). In contrast to power, however, leadership identifies and responds to—in fact, is inseparable from—the needs and goals of followers as well as those of the leader. Leadership is exercised by engaging and inducing followers to act to further certain goals and purposes “that represent the values and motivations, the wants and needs, the aspirations and expectations of both leaders and followers” (Burns, 1978: 19). The genius of leadership lies in the manner in which leaders see, act on, and satisfy followers’ values and motivations as well as their own.
Leadership therefore can be either transaction-based or transformational. Transactional leadership typifies most leader–follower relationships. It involves a “you scratch my back; I’ll scratch yours” exchange of economic, political, or psychological items of value. Each party to the bargain is conscious of the power and attitudes of the other. Their purposes are related and advanced only as long as both parties perceive their individual interests to be furthered by the relationship. The bargainers have no enduring relationship that holds them together; as soon as an item of value is perceived to be at risk, the relationship may break apart (Burns, 1978). This point is illustrated by labor strikes resulting from a change in the terms of work. The compliance of labor with management is based on an acceptable set of transactions; when the transactions are changed, the relationship may not have much to hold it together. Burns notes that in such cases, a leadership act takes place, but it is not one that “binds leader and follower together in a mutual and continuing pursuit of a higher purpose” (Burns, 1978:20). Transactional leadership is not a joint effort of persons with common aims acting for a collective purpose, but “a bargain to aid the individual interests of persons or groups going their separate ways” (Burns, 1978:425).
In contrast, transformational leadership occurs when leaders engage with their followers in pursuit of jointly held goals. Their purposes, which may have started out as separate but related (as in the case of transactional leadership), become fused. Such leadership is sometimes described as “el-evating” or “inspiring.” Those who are led feel “elevated by it and often become more active themselves, thereby creating new cadres of leaders” (Burns, 1978:20). Transformational leadership is in essence a relationship of mutual stimulation and elevation that raises the level of human conduct as well as the aspirations of both the leader and those led, and thereby has a transforming effect on both (Burns, 1978).
Transformational leadership is achieved by the specific actions of leaders. First, leaders take the initiative in establishing and making a commitment to relationships with followers. This effort includes the creation of formal, ongoing mechanisms that promote two-way communication and the exchange of information and ideas. On an ongoing basis, leaders play the major role in maintaining and nurturing the relationship with their followers. Burns notes that, most important, leaders seek to gratify followers’ wants, needs, and other motivations as well as their own. Understanding of followers’ wants, needs, and motivations can be secured only through ongoing communication and exchange of information and ideas. Leaders change and elevate the motives, values, and goals of followers by addressing their followers’ needs and teaching them about their commonly held goals. Doing so may require that leaders modify their own leadership in recognition of followers’ preferences; in anticipation of followers’ responses; or in pursuit of their common motives, values, and goals.”
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Example Transformational Leadership Programs
- Auburn University
- Northeastern U
- Penn State
- St Thomas University
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