In preparation for our weekly classes we are given ambitious reading lists that we (try to) consume and then regurgitate for our weekly class discussions. For this week’s Leadership and Management (L&M) class I am required to read, inter alia, Bernard M. Bass’ Harvard review article, From Transactional to Transformational Leadership: Learning to Share the Vision (1990).  In this blog I’d like to summaries the gist of the article, provide some YouTube footage to assist in understanding and end with my comments.

The ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ mentality

In his Article Bass says that most managers engage employees by explaining what is required of them and what trade-off they will receive if those requirements are met.   The trade-off includes promises of recognition, pay rises, and advancement; on the other hand, those who do not fulfill the requirements are penalised. This type of leadership is called ‘Transactional Leadership’.

Bass proposes that this leadership style leads managers to assume that if something’s not broken then it doesn’t need fixing. The use of rewards/discipline is also flawed because threats are often likely to be counter-productive and the promise of rewards can only be effective if that manager has control over the giving of those rewards, i.e., promotion based on performance rather than office politics, seniority and relationship with senior management etc.

Transformational Leadership Explained

Superior leadership performance, Bass argues, is derived when leaders look beyond the direct material needs of the company and work toward achieve three ends: 1) broaden and elevate the interests of the employee; 2) generate awareness and acceptance of the mission of the group, and; 3) motivate their employee to look beyond self-interest and towards the good of the group. This is called ‘Transformational Leadership’ and Bass says this can be achieved in one or more of the following ways:

  1. Individualised Consideration – The days of Taylorism are dead. People will no longer accept being a cog in the wheel and realise their importance to the company as well as their needs as an individual. A Transformational leader attends to each of his charge’s needs, mentors or coaches them and is an active listener, showing empathy and understanding while keeping communication channels open. The Transformational leader will celebrate success with the individual and celebrate their achievements and contributions to the team.
  2. Intellectual Stimulation – The employee will be challenged and learn from this style of Transformational leader. This leader will actively encourage creativity in their followers and nurture and develop people who think outside of the box. Learning is a mantra for success with this leader who sees challenges as opportunities to learn. In turn, the followers will gain more critical thinking and creativity to executive complex problem solving.
  3. Charismatic Leadership – This leader will articulate his or her vision that is both appealing and inspiring to his team. This type of leader will impose high standards and imbue optimism about future goals. The charismatic leader understands that strong purpose will motivate his followers to act and will provide energy that will drive the group forward. Strong communication skills will drive the vision forward through understanding, precision and engagement. The followers will be encouraged and optimistic about the future and their abilities, and be willing to invest more efforts into their tasks. For a visual description click here

The benefits of Transformational Leaders

According to Bass’ research, Companies that have Transformational leadership can make a big difference in the firm’s performance at all levels. According to Bass:

Transformational Leadership makes its presence felt throughout the organization and its activities. We have found that employees not only do a better job when they believe their supervisors are Transformational leaders, but they also are much more satisfied with the company’ performance appraisal system. (p.25)

By collating data from 228 employees of 58 managers from a large engineering firm, and ranking the managers in accordance to their leadership factor score, four stars for the top 25%, one star for the bottom 25%, Bass is able to illustrate the effect of Transformational leadership.

These findings demonstrated that between 75% to 85% of employees were willing to frequently exert extra effort for managers who held a four star rating. Only 22% to 24% of employees would exert an extra effort to managers who ranked as one star. The one star managers, Bass explains, exhibited a Transactional Management style.

Proven Success

Bass proposes that Transformational Leadership in an organisation is the difference between success and failure. He cites Transformational leaders such as Ted Turner of Turner Broadcasting Systems Inc. whose success is identified in distilling a sense of mission (Charisma) in his organisation. The shy and self-effacing Roberto Goizeuta of Coca-Cola embed trust and respect from his employees by being a considerate leader ( Individualized consideration) that made his charges take an interest in higher-level concerns. Roger Smith, the innovative CEO from General Motors Corporation, articulated a shard vision of jointly acceptable possibilities (intellectual stimulation). The new model for corporate leadership, s elucidate by Bass, presents opportunities for enhancing the Organisation’s image and for improving the organisation’s recruitment, internal HR issues, development, training, job design and assignment, and organisational structure.

Training Managers

Bass proposes (p.28) that a Manager should be given a “standardized description” of his or her Transformational Leadership performance in parallel to his or her Transactional leadership performance. This, he says, can be achieved via the ‘Multifactor Leadership questionnaire,’ whose data can be graphed showing “his or her leadership on employee satisfaction, motivation, and perception of organisational effectiveness.”

What is interesting is that the Manager does another questionnaire regarding his perception on how he has performed. The employees questionnaire and his or her own are then compared, which allows constructive questions to be asked, such as “[w]hy did your employee disagree with you on how rapidly you get to the heart of complex problems or the extent to which they trust you to overcome obstacles?” This enables the Manager to view areas he or she is lacking and make concerted effort to improve. In a nutshell Bass proposes that Transformational leadership can be learned and needs to be fostered at all levels within an organization in order to be effective.

Bass concludes by noting that in the flux and flow of business, uncertainty avoidance can be more greatly achieved at a higher level by ensuring that determined leaders, who can inspire their followers to work towards agreed goals, are selected and nurtured by way of effective recruitment policies, selection and promotion, and training and development. By doing so, Bass says that this will result in an environment where effective organisation performance can flourish.

Transactional Leadership: The Gunnery Sergeant Hartman way

Here is a short video clip of Transactional Leadership at play, as depicted in the opening scene of ‘Full Medal Jacket’. Yeah, it’s a bit of an extreme case but look out for Transactional characteristics such as contingent reward and management by expectation (active). I don’t think Laissez-Faire is present in this clip.

To a large degree Gunnery Sergeant Hartman is relying on his legitimate power to get things done and lays down the law, or what is expected from his men, from the start:

I’m Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, your senior drill instructor, from now on you will speak only when spoken to, and the first and the last word out of your filthy sewers will be “Sir”. Do you maggots understand that?

As can be seen by this clip, Hartman gets things done by first setting the expectation. The reward for meeting the expectation is to learn from him and become a qualified marine, only delivered in not such PC overtures:

If you ladies leave my island, if you survive recruit training, you will be a weapon. You will be a minister of death praying for war.

As described by Bass at [20], the Transactional leader tends to use disciplinary threats to bring a group’s performance up to standard. This was seen when Private Joker made a quirky one-liner, mocking Hartman with a John Wayne impersonation. On hearing this Hartman provides Private Joker with an earful of abuse and a swift punch to the gut in order to ensure that both Joker’s and the group’s performance are commensurate with his expectations:

You little scumbag! I got your name! I got your ass! You will not laugh! You will not cry! You will learn by the numbers. I will teach you! Now get up! Get on your feet! You had best unfuck yourself or I will unscrew your head and shit down your neck!

Bass says (p.21) that disciplinary threats to bring the groups performance up to scratch is an ineffective technique – “a technique that is ineffective and, in the long run, likely to be counterproductive.” By the end of the training some of the men, by fear of punishment and reward of graduation, had indeed transformed into a minister of death praying for war. However, for one recruit and for Hartman, it did not end very well at all, propping up Bass’ notion that this technique is likely to be counterproductive in the long run.

On the other hand, it is my belief that Transactional leadership is effective in certain situations. What if, for instance, you attempted to apply transformational leadership to a platoon of recruits training for war, as depicted in the movie ‘Full Medal Jacket’? The reason why they are stripped bare is to ensure that orders are followed without question so that when bullets are whizzing over there heads and fear rises up from their stomaches into their throats, the following of orders becomes instinctive and the person giving the order is not concerned about what that soldier thinks about the situation. In turn, by instinctively following orders and going through the motions of his training, the soldier is able to do the job at hand and thereby diverting his fear by way of mechanical processes learnt. This type of leadership may also be useful in other cultures whose development or cultural norms respond better to Transactional leadership.

The Transformational Leader: The Carpe Diem way

In the video clip below, an excerpt from The Dead Poet Society, a class of well-to-do english literature students meet for the first time the indelible Professor Keating, who through compassion, charisma and intellect, introduces them the magic of poetry and inspires them to reach a higher, more profound place.

Let me break this down into the individual characteristics of the Transformational leader as described by Bass. As was seen at the beginning of the clip, Professor Keating is faced by a class who, through rigid institutionalism, almost comes to attention when he enters the room. Yet Prof. Keating breaks from tradition and invites the class into the hallway, where he introduces them to the “dead poet society”. Prof. Keating provides vision and a sense of mission, “seize the day”. He instills pride, he inspires, he gains both their trust and respect but does so in a self-effacing way:

I was the intellectual equivalent of a 98-pound weakling! I would go to the beach and people would kick copies of Byron in my face!

Despite his quirkiness, Professor Keating has an intellect that challenges and grabs us. Seize the day, find yourself, embrace poetry as a vehicle of realisation.

But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen, you hear it? – – Carpe – – hear it? – – Carpe, carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary.

Professor Keating  comes across as someone who is sincerely interested in the welfare and intellectual progression of his students. He looks at them not as charges who will sit, listen and hopefully learn; he looks at them as individuals with infinite ability. He thus mentors and nurtures them to achieve his aim: to teach them poetry.

More to come….