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Transformational Leadership: Values-driven Change

Transformational Leadership

Transformational LeadershipCan there be some big ideas that underpin the emergence of others? That’s a question that James McGregor Burns tackled in much of his writing. And the answer he gives us is ‘yes’. That big idea is Transformational Leadership.

It’s not surprising that leadership is a common topic for us, here at the Management Pocketblog. There must be a dozen different models to choose from among our articles. But Transformational Leadership is one we have returned to a number of times.

We do so, because it repays careful study. It is an idea that changed my thinking and has huge value for any manager or leader in business or public or community service.

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Liz Wiseman: Multiplier Effect

Liz Wiseman is a former senior executive at the Oracle Corporation, where she ran their Oracle University. There, she became interested in leadership development and has, since leaving and setting up her own business, taken up a research-based approach. Her research into why some leaders seem to get the best from the people around them, while others equally shut down contributions, led to the powerful idea of Multipliers and Diminishers, and two best-selling books.

Liz Wiseman

Very short biography

Liz Wiseman was born and grew up in the San Francisco Bay area. She attended Brigham Young University, studying Business Management and getting her bachelors degree in 1986, followed by a master’s degree in Organizational Behaviour, in 1988. From there, she joined Oracle, where she stayed for 17 years, becoming a Vice President with responsibility for leading the Oracle University.

Wiseman left Oracle in 2005, to found her own leadership consulting business. She is currently president of The Wiseman Group (formerly known as Mindshare Learning). She cites CK Prahalad as her career mentor.

She has written three books, most notably Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter (2010 – with Greg McKeown), which was followed in 2013 by The Multiplier Effect: Tapping the Genius Inside Our Schools. Her most recent book, Rookie Smarts: Why Learning Beats Knowing in the New Game of Work (2014), introduces another interesting new idea about leadership.

The Multiplier Effect

Wiseman’s big idea, which she researched with British consultant Greg McKeown, is that some leaders seem to get vastly more from the people around them than others. She calls them Multipliers. She made this observation while at Oracle and then researched just what it is that they do differently from otherwise equally intelligent leaders, who seem to suppress the contributions of others. She calls those Diminishers.

Multipliers are able to access the intelligence of the people around them and somehow grow that intellect, making them feel (and maybe become) smarter still. They ask questions and make challenges in much the same way as Bernard Bass referred to in one of his four dimensions of Transformational Leadership: Intellectual Stimulation. They seem to see more capabilities than  other leaders and therefore make bigger asks of people.

By multiplying the intelligence of your people, Multipliers have a disproportionately positive effect on your business. They can harness under-utilised capacity of busy but bored people, by expecting more and giving them the opportunity to deliver it.

Wiseman identifies five characteristics of Multipliers, and six skills that allow those characteristics to blossom.

Multipliers are Talent Magnets

This is almost the definition of a Multiplier. They seek out and attract people with ideas and talent, and draw their genius from them.

Multipliers are Liberators

They create the kinds of environments that free people up to do their best work and contribute their most innovative and critical thinking.

Multipliers are Challengers

They are able to define a challenge or opportunity and set people the responsibility to excel themselves and meet it. This way, they get the very best from their people.

Multipliers are Debate Makers

They can drive sound decision-making by creating rigorous evaluation and thorough debate. They encourage people to apply all their intellect fearlessly by caring more about the quality of discussion, than about personal gain or loss – we all win when we make a good choice together.

Multipliers are Investors

They invest in other people’s development and growth, and allow people to feel ownership for their careers and the results they achieve.

The Six Skills

The six skills that Wiseman teaches are:

  1. Asking questions that spark innovation and intelligence
  2. Creating debate that drives the best decisions
  3. Identifying and utilizing genius in others
  4. Creating space for others to think and contribute
  5. Transferring ownership and accountability for results
  6. Generating learning from mistakes

Rookie Smarts

It is worth briefly discussing Wiseman’s other big idea, captured in her 2014 book, Rookie Smarts: Why Learning Beats Knowing in the New Game of Work. Even more so than her Multiplier Effect, this reminds us powerfully of the work of Carol Dweck on Growth Mindset.

The idea behind Rookie Smarts is simple: new people in an organisation bring a freshness and energy with them. They question the absurd and want to change things because , as an outsider, they have no allegiance to the ways of the past.

Long-serving leaders, on the other hand, easily get trapped into a mindset of ‘that’s the way we do things around here’ , and consequently lose their passion for change and drive to innovate.

What Wiseman advocates is that we ignite our curiosity, fire-up our energy, and become Perpetual Rookies. She says that:

‘Learning beats knowing’

and in so doing, she echoes precisely the principle of the Growth Mindset.

Liz Wiseman in her own words

The 2-minute intro…

And a longer 16 minute talk…

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Bernard Bass: Transformational Leadership

Bernard Bass was a world class scholar whom the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology describes as having invented organizational psychology. His vast array of interests within his field led to over 400 scholarly articles and a huge archive of unpublished work, alongside 31 books, of which he wrote 21 and edited 10. But of all his work, Bass will be remembered for one area where his passion and persistence led him to focus for over 20 years: leadership.

Bernard Bass

Short Biography

Bernard Bass was born in 1927 in the Bronx, New York. In 1949, he gained a PhD in Industrial Psychology from Ohio State University, and started a career in academic life.

A series of academic appointments took him from Louisiana State University to Binghampton University (part of the State University of New York), via UC Berkeley, University of Pittsburg, and  University of Rochester.

In the late 1970s, he read and reviewed Leadership by James MacGregor Burns (1978), in which Burns introduced the concept of transformational leadership. Bass put these ideas together with his experience of meeting someone who had worked for a leader that had motivated him to ‘perform beyond expectations’ and started to work on transformational leadership.

In 1985, he published Leadership and Performance Beyond Expectations and this was followed by a string of other books on the topic of leadership. The fourth edition (finished shortly before he died in 2007) of The Bass Handbook of Leadership: Theory, Research, and Managerial Applications is widely regarded as the most authoritative resource on leadership.

In 1987, he founded the Center for Leadership Studies at Binghampton University, which continues to this day.

Transformational Leadership

The story of transformational leadership starts with James MacGregor Burns, but Bass moved it on in substantial ways and with a more forensic academic approach. Whilst Burns was interested in the moral dimension of leadership, Bass was more focused on its efficacy.

Bass was interested in how a leader influences their followers. Followers look to a leader because of their charisma, and  because they trust the leader. The leader transforms the followers by having these qualities. Bass wanted to understand how a leader can generate this charisma and trust.

He argued that a leader must be a role model, but must also must challenge the existing order. He saw revolutionary leaders do this and formed a morally neutral approach, unlike Burns’ more moralistic vision of leadership.  In addition to the more transactional leadership roles of getting tasks done, and focusing the team on shared goals, Bass saw the transformational role of a leader being one of appealing to people’s higher-order needs.

To do so, he developed a model of transformational leadership, with four roles for the transformational leader:

Inspirational Motivation

The leader as a visionary, who makes people feel like a part of something big and worthwhile – energising and concerned with purpose and meaning.

Individualised Attention

People-focused leadership that celebrates diversity and builds relationships. Each member of the team feels that their leader knows me, respects me, is interested in me, and helps me.

Intellectual Stimulation

The leader stretches their followers to learn, grow and perform to exceptional levels. He or she values intellect, encourages imagination, challenges the old ways. They also place emphasis on developing their people, strategic thinking, and constructive challenge. They are adept at seeing and working with different points of view.

Idealised Influence

The leader as linchpin. They are a role model who inspires respect and the desire to follow, through their personal integrity. They set and display high ethical standards, walking the talk, being honest, open, fair, and principled, and setting and living up to strong values.

Bass also engaged in research into the psychometric and personality factors that influence leadership styles. This work has mostly been pursued by others. What Bass did, however, was to give a powerful behavioural prescription of the four roles of a transformational leader that nicely compliments John Adair’s roles for a transactional team leader.

The Leadership Pocketbook is a pragmatic guide to all aspects of leadership.

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James MacGregor Burns: Transforming Leadership

I first became aware of the ideas of James MacGregor Burns in the late 1990s, and they literally transformed my understanding of Leadership. I am not alone: an earlier generation reading Burns’ 1978 book Leadership was likewise affected. His academic rigour, effortless prose and new approach led directly to the massive growth in leadership courses in business schools, first in the US, and then globally.

James MacGregor Burns

Short Biography

James MacGregor Burns was born in 1918, in Melrose, Massachusetts and grew up in Burlington. He graduated from Williams College in 1939 and went to Washington DC as a congressional intern. During America’s Second World War, he served in the pacific campaign, and documented soldiers’ stories. He was also decorated several times.

After the war, he gained his masters degree and PhD in Government from Harvard, before returning to Williams College to teach. He remained there for his whole career.

Burns was a prolific author, first coming to prominence as author of an influential biography of FD Roosevelt, The Lion and the Fox, in 1956. He was to follow this with a second volume in 1970, Roosevelt: The Soldier of Freedom, which won him a Pulitzer Prize the following year. He also engaged in politics directly, standing as a Democrat candidate for Congress in 1958. This is how he came to know JF Kennedy; a relationship which led to his 1960 biography, John Kennedy: A Political Profile.

Politics interested Burns deeply. His first book, Congress on Trial: The Legislative Process and the Administrative State (1949), was widely praised. However, through that medium, he became interested in the nature of leadership. He argued that it was poorly understood and needed to be studied. More than that, he said, we need to educate ourselves to become better leaders.

It was as an historian and political biographer that he first approached the topic of leadership, but his accomplishment was to develop unifying ideas about leadership that were equally valuable in the social and political arena, and in the business and managerial arena. His 1978 book, Leadership, is regarded as a classic and triggered much subsequent research, thinking, and writing.

This is so much so, that the University of Maryland renamed its Academy of Leadership after him and there is an endowed professorial Chair in his name at Harvard (Barbara Kellerman is currently the James MacGregor Burns Lecturer in Public Leadership). Of his subsequent writing on leadership (of which there is much), 2003’s Transforming Leadership: A New Pursuit of Happiness is, perhaps, the most important. My copy has an exceptionally high ‘post-it count’ meaning I have found much in it of value.

Burns continued working into his 90s. His last book, Fire and Light: How the Enlightenment Transformed Our World, was released in 2013, just a year before his death in July 2014.

Burns on Leadership

Without a doubt, Burns’ main contribution to thinking on leadership was to distinguish two patterns of leadership: transactional and transforming. This distinction is an empirical one, based on his observations. By setting it out clearly, he spurred a generation of researchers to develop the concept of what he called transforming leadership, but which has come to be better known as transformational leadership.

Transactional Leadership

This creates a relationship between leaders and their followers, based on reciprocity – the exchange of support or action by the followers for rewards like recognition, praise, ratings, pay, or status. This kind of leadership works when both sides feel they are getting a fair deal from the other. Much business and managerial leadership takes this form. So too does the run-of-the-mill political leadership, where, in democracies, politicians exchange promises for votes, and in more autocratic systems, these promises and favours are exchanged for support of the powerful and acquiescence of the masses.

Transformational Leadership

This relationship is founded on a drive in the leader to create change. Burns identified two primary sources of that drive: a lust for power, or a sense of vision or values. I suggest our perception of this difference often reflects our sympathy for the vision. Burns assesses Hitler as driven by power, but he may have argued it was a vision.

Setting aside factional arguments, transformational leaders establish their leadership by building trust with their followers that means the transactions can be more one sided: followers act or support the leader through loyalty, rather than exchange. To do this, the leader must engage both the rational and emotional concerns of their followers – hearts and minds. This allows them to link up power bases from many sources, to strengthen their cause.

Burns saw transformational leaders as using their leadership to*:

  1. establish their long-term vision
  2. empower their followers and hand over to them a measure of control
  3. coach and develop their followers to transform their capabilities
  4. challenge the prevailing culture, to catalyse change

Commentators often mis-characterise the distinction as being about change: transformational leaders create change, while transactional leaders work within the status quo. This is not how Burns saw things – certainly not by the new century when he wrote Transforming Leadership. The difference is the type of change. Transactional change substitutes parts, whilst transformational change is a wholesale change at a fundamental, structural level. It is also driven by values, rather than by pragmatism.

Perhaps the most astonishing conclusion that Burns drew was that transformational leadership will have a transforming effect on both the leader and the followers. Done properly, each will raise the others to higher levels of motivation and moral (within the compass of the leader’s vision) action.

This leads to The Burns Paradox: “If leadership and followership are so intertwined and fluid, how do we distinguish conceptually between leaders and followers?”**

The resolution that Burns offers is that we need to start to take a more subtle and complex systems view: leadership creates change, but in the right circumstances, the concepts of leader and follower melt away. Forget the current anti-capitalist overtones. This sounds very much like self-governing, collective-responsibility principle of pure anarchism to me. And I like it.


*  This list was echoed by Bernard Bass who, more than anyone, developed Burns’ ideas on transformational leadership. He was to articulate some important differences (like the possibility for co-existence of transformational and transactional leadership in one leader). He set out four roles for transformational leadership:

  1. Inspirational motivation
  2. Idealised influence
  3. Individualised consideration
  4. Intellectual stimulation

** Transforming Leadership, chapter 10.

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