Is it Transformational and/or Transactional?
Recently I had a conversation about leadership and what it really means. As a person who was in leadership in education for thirty-six years, it got me to thinking about my own experiences in leadership in multiple settings. She came to the conclusion that she is a transformational leader. Well, what does a transformational leader really mean verses a transactional leader. The transformational leader is the big picture person who looks ahead to see what the future holds for an organization. Sometimes they are called out of the box thinkers. Many and I probably should say most leaders are transactional leaders. They tend to rise up through the ranks of the organization and understand the day-to-day operation which makes them successful in doing their job. Most will hardly ever get into problems with the higher ups in the organization but change will never come from transactional leaders.
Let me take a moment and share my own experiences in leadership. At the age of 23 I looked around at other educational leaders of schools and said to myself, “I can do that.” I began applying for principalships and because of a scarcity in that field I was hired. That career began the years of being a school leader in eight schools in two different provinces. Was I a transformational or transactional leader in my career? By now you have probably guessed that I am a transformational leader and you would be correct. My goal was always to promote excellence for students and staff. Now that is easier said than done. The day-to-day operations of running a school often gets in the way of being a transformational leader. It did not take long for reality to set in and throw up all sorts of impediments to my big dreams of promoting excellence and success for everyone. If you are going to survive as a transformational leader, you have to solve the problems and jobs that are constantly rising and have to be addressed and solved. Therefore, as a transformational leader I had to learn how to be a transactional leader. I had to learn the hard way, if I wanted to lead on the big issues, I had to learn how to succeed on the small things.
Stepping back, I have come to realize that being just a transformational leader or a transactional leader is a recipe for disappointment and possibly failure. Both are needed for a leader to be successful.
Let’s step even further back, let’s look at little children. When a child is born, he/she is a totally transformational thinker. They look around and see the world before them with all its wonder. We all remember building animals and structures with Lego Blocks. Whenever a child goes on a nature walk, they see wonderment all around them. Where in the world did their transformational thinking go as they grew up? A few of us didn’t totally give up our transformational thinking. Most children quickly learn, that if you want to fit into society’s norms, you have to learn the transactional skills of learning the material put in front of them to learn. The longer we are in school and post-secondary institutions the farther away from transformational thinking we develop. As a result, public and private groups have successfully developed a society of transactional leaders in most organizations.
What is the answer to leadership at any level and in any societal structure of our western society? Our society and that includes our schools have created individuals who fit into the role they play but successful change will never come with this mentality. In the Bible Jesus said that if you wanted to enter the Kingdom, you needed to start thinking like a child. Remember a child thinks in a transformational way. This raises the question of how. I believe we need to start with our education system needing a total overhaul to determine how and what our children should learn. Society’s challenge is to restore that transformational part of our programs so that creativity is built into every subject area. Transactional thinking can be learned but transformational thinking must be experienced.
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