By Jonathan Silk
Organizational structures have a shelf life and have to be redesigned to meet new objectives for the organization to stay relevant and competitive in the environment it is operating. But as organizations have to change their structure to be able to adapt and be successful in their operating environments, so do leaders need to change how they lead and develop others. From an organizational leadership perspective, leaders can best serve their organizations by implementing leader development models that support the structural design of the organization and enable the leadership to achieve goals and objectives. In this post, I will compare the Servant Leadership model with the Transformational Leadership model. The focus of the leader is different for each model. The purpose is to give a high-level overview of the two models and serve as a catalyst to get leaders to thinking deliberately about the organizational leadership model they select that supports their organizational structure and mission and empowers leaders to achieve outcomes.
In my journey as a leader, I have had experiences leading and developing leaders in the U.S. Army, as well as in higher education, healthcare, and business environments. One common theme I have come across is that leaders in all contexts see themselves in their respective leadership role as “serving others” and as meeting the needs of their organizations and its members. Something I frequently hear from leaders as a natural extension of the “serving others” mindset is that they are servant leaders. Let’s examine servant leadership for a moment. The servant leadership model is powerful and has positive impacts on the followers of the servant leader. A servant leader can be described as a leader whose focus is on the good of the followers above all else. Their main concern is that followers’ highest priority needs are being met, and that followers are growing and developing as individuals while being served by the leader (Greenleaf, 1970). From an organizational leadership perspective, organizations benefit from the development of its members. It builds depth, capacity, and capability in organizations. But what about achieving organizational results? An organizational leader’s main job is arguably to get results within the context of their unit/department’s mission, nested and aligned with the overall organization’s mission and purpose. As mentioned above, organizations do benefit from the development of followers by servant leaders. But it is a secondary benefit, not the prime focus of the servant leader. Servant-mindset leaders focus on development. However, thinking it naturally leads to achieving organizational objectives can be mistaken. Their focus is on the needs of the follower (Choudhary, Akhtar, & Zaheer, 2013). The servant leader approach is incredibly powerful and positive but can draw attention away from accomplishing an organization’s mission. Is there a way to accomplish both: develop followers and subordinate leaders, and achieve organizational goals and objectives? Let’s look at the Transformational Leadership model.
Transformational leaders can be described as visionaries who understand and satisfy their followers’ needs and use a unique form of charismatic influence to inspire followers to accomplish more than is expected of them (Burns, 1998). Different from the servant leader, the focus of the transformational leader is on the development of followers and achieving organizational results (Choudhary, Akhtar, & Zaheer, 2013).
The Transformational Leadership model has seven leadership factors, displayed in the chart below, that range on a continuum from laissez-faire leadership to transactional leadership, and ending with transformational leadership.
For this discussion, the focus is on transformational leadership as an organizational leader development model that can develop followers to achieve better than expected organizational results. Before we dive into the model, let’s briefly discuss culture. Organizational culture has to support leader development efforts. What is culture? Edgar Schein writes, “The culture of a group can now be defined as a pattern of shared basic assumptions learned by a group as it solved its problems of external adaption and internal integration, which has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems” (Schein, 2010, p.18).
Culture is created by interactions between leaders and other members of the organization and can be a competitive advantage when it is a common, consensual, integrated set of perceptions, memories, values, attitudes, and definitions (Cameron & Quinn, 2011). There are formal and informal methods to reinforce culture. Formal ways include training and leader development programs, internal communications, policy letters, and formal organizational events. Informal methods include leaders modeling desired behavior, informal meetings, and strong leader-subordinate connections (Katzenbach, Steffen & Kronley, 2012). Leaders influence followers and set the conditions for the organization’s culture.
To establish a culture that can be viewed as a competitive advantage, organizational leaders need to be deliberate in their efforts to develop members to lead and get results, which will build depth and sustainability, and produce the next generation of leaders. This reflects the fact that it takes a team of leaders to achieve above ordinary results and those types of results will not be a result of the actions of any one single leader in an organization (Kouzes & Posner, 2012). To get extraordinary results requires a transformational leadership culture that focuses on the development of followers and leaders aligned with the organization’s purpose and mission.
The transformational leadership model consists of four factors–idealized influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, and individualized consideration, which are summarized in the chart below. The leader’s role in exhibiting idealized influence is being a role model and exhibiting ethical and values-based behavior while also providing clear vision to followers. The leader’s role in demonstrating inspirational motivation is to inspire and motivate members to commit to a shared vision. Intellectual stimulation is shown by leaders who encourage followers to challenge their beliefs, be creative, and to innovate. Leaders that demonstrate individualized consideration act as coaches, and advise and assist each of their followers according to their potential (Northouse, 2013).
How do we create transformational leaders? Are they born or developed? Based on my experiences, I believe leaders are developed. If we treat the four factors of transformational leadership – idealized influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, and individualized consideration – as behaviors, then we can develop leaders to be more “transformational” in their interactions, which will achieve better than expected outcomes at organizational/ team level. Northouse defines transformational leadership 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” (2013).
The diagram below will assist the reader to develop an understanding of the behaviors associated with the individual factors of the transformational leadership process (Northouse, 2013).
Transformational leaders display behaviors associated with the four factors to varying degrees and use vision to align developmental efforts with achieving organizational results. They connect with members of the organization by articulating a clear, compelling picture of what the future looks like that will inspire organizational members to aspire to the goals and objectives pictured in the vision (Kouzes & Posner, 2012).
By being deliberate in developing organizational leaders and followers in alignment with a transformational model, a sustainable transformational leadership culture is created with leaders modeling the behaviors as they interact with each other. It takes both a focus on leaders using interpersonal skills to influence and inspire followers and a focus on achieving organizational objectives and goals. It is a balance.
Up to this point, I have provided a high-level theoretical overview of transformational leadership. As an organizational leader, you might be thinking “how can I apply this?” Let me provide an example of the transformational leadership process in action based on my experience in the Army as a company commander, which is a medium-sized organization (approximately 100 Soldiers) for readers who are not familiar with the term.
The Army has a “Mission first, Soldiers always!” motto, which can be viewed as a guiding framework for determining the balance between achieving results and developing followers. Developing subordinate leaders and organizational members to operate in accelerated and complex environments require both a focus on achieving mission results and developing soldiers in line with the mission we are tasked to accomplish. As a tank company commander, I had three maneuver platoons and needed to develop competent platoon leaders that could use their creativity and judgment to execute and accomplish their assigned tasks. This required me to develop relationships based on trust with them to establish a psychologically safe environment for development to occur (Factor 1). During training, I communicated my expectations to them and challenged them to strive for excellence in all that they did (Factor 2). Based on the psychologically safe environment I created in building relationships with my subordinate leaders, I encouraged and challenged my platoon leaders and non-commissioned officers to look for new ways to do things, to challenge the ways things have always been done. This approach enabled me to tap into the creativity of my junior leaders (Factor 3). During after action reviews and counseling session, I used coaching techniques to coach subordinate leaders into developing their own solutions that worked for them and their leaders, not my solution for them (Factor 4). Through coaching, leaders can develop junior leaders to think, reflect, and learn from an action, applying insight and lessons to future operations and improving performance (Silk & Soltwisch, 2016).
In the above example, I gave short examples of what the transformational model looks like in action in the context of a U.S. Army company commander. From an organizational leadership perspective, if leaders are developed in each of the four factors and leading in this manner at all levels of the organization, then the unit will continue to learn, and perform better over time as they reach new levels of performance. Developing leaders to be transformers and not just servants will play a critical part in the achievement of an organizations goals and objectives.
The benefits of deliberately using the transformational leadership model to develop organizational members to lead and be members of teams can produce positive outcomes in the years to come. The model has a generational leader development effect when junior leaders rise in position and responsibility within the organization and continue to develop future generations of organizational leaders and sustaining a transformational leadership culture.
Jonathan Silk is a former Army Armor Officer and a former faculty member at the United States Military Academy, West Point, NY. He is a General MacArthur Leadership Award recipient and a doctoral student in Pepperdine University’s Organizational Leadership program. He is currently the Executive Director of Leader Development at the University of North Texas Health Science Center where he oversees the leader development programs for health professional students, staff, and faculty. You can follow him on Twitter. Jon’s views are his own and do not reflect that of the US Army, Department of Defense, or the US government.
Burns, J. M. (1998). Transactional and transforming leadership. Leading Organizations, , 133-134.
Choudhary, A. I., Akhtar, S. A., & Zaheer, A. (2013). Impact of transformational and servant leadership on organizational performance: A comparative analysis. Journal of Business Ethics, 116(2), 433-440.
Greenleaf, R. K.,. (1973). The servant as leader. Cambridge, Mass.: Center for Applied Studies.
Katzenbach JR, Steffen I,Kronley C,. (2012). Cultural change that sticks. Harvard Business Review, 90(7-8)
Kouzes, James M.,, Posner,Barry Z.,. (2012). The leadership challenge : How to make extraordinary things happen in organizations. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Northouse, P. G.,. (2013). Leadership: Theory and practice. Thousand Oaks: SAGE.
Northouse, Peter G., (2016). Leadership: Theory and practice. Thousand Oaks: SAGE.
Silk, J., & Soltwisch, B. (2016, ). The Strategy Bridge. Coaching 2.0: Developing Winning Leaders for a Complex World. Retrieved from https://thestrategybridge.org/the-bridge/2016/3/3/coaching-20-developing-winning-leaders-for-a-complex-world
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