Leadership does not require a great vision all the time. What is paramount is making the organisation work towards its goals and maintain such activity. According to Harvard university professor and author Joseph Nye, inspiring others is not the only function of being a leader; creating and maintaining institutions is also an important concern for leadership.
Leaders can be classified into those with hefty aspirations and those with simple goals. The former has transformational objectives and an inspirational style and the latter has modest objectives and a transactional style, Prof Nye says. At first glance, transformational leaders appear better than their transactional counterparts. The professor cites that most leadership experts regard with dismissal transactional leaders as mere “managers.” He contends that this is wrong.
To show the difference between the two leadership styles and how they are advantageous to the organisation, let us describe each first. Prof. Nye describes transformational leaders as having goals which are inspiring. These goals are good in overcoming self-interest and narrowing factionalism. Organisations which are divided by factions can use leaders who have the ability to elevate people’s vision to a common cause. Examples include Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Mao Zedong. The professor also cites that leadership theorist James McGregor Burns celebrated in his 1978 seminal work the leadership of Mao as a transformational one but the Chinese head lead the 1950s Great Leap Forward and the 1960s Cultural Revolution which resulted in the unnecessary deaths of millions.
Professor Nye relates that America had the transformational leadership of George Washington two centuries ago when colonists were newly independent. But later, the people were able to develop a different type of leadership when the US constitution was negotiated by James Madison and others who are transactional leaders. Converting everyone to a common cause was not the solution Madison thought for the conflict and faction problems. His aim was to overcome division and he thought of making an institutional framework where ambitions and factions are going to be neutralised by the same. The government’s focus shifted from leaders to laws. The law featured separation of powers, checks and balances and a decentralized federal government system. Reaching a decision on which everybody will agree is impossible, but respecting diversity can be done so that the greater group will still work together. Situations like this show that transactional leadership is the better means than imposing transformational leadership.
The author and professor compares and contrasts the two Bush presidents. When he was the president, the father shunned vision in his leadership and even called it “the vision thing.” When the son’s time came, this second generation president said that he will not “play small ball.” When results are compared especially with respect to foreign policies, the father gave one of the best performances, both morally and effectively and the son made one of the worst traces as head of state. Professor Nye points out that America did better during the time of the first Bush president who was a transactional leader than under the transformational leadership of the son.
We can learn from the Harvard university professor that good leadership is not always focused more on having a vision and inspiring people with it. For a leader to be good, one has to have the ability to create and maintain institutions which can facilitate both the moral and effective implementation. Professor Nye stands firm that leadership experts and historians should consider the difference of transformational leaders and transactional leaders and the benefits they can give before they conclude that the former is superior.
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