A Transformational Innovator: How Combining Leader-focused and Relationship-focused Theories Define a Leader Able to Identify and Implement Change

Despite being the first Executive Core Qualification (ECQ) identified by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM, 2016), leading change is not always an easy task.  A leader has to be able to sell the need for change to the workforce and to continue to model new behavior that keeps the workforce engaged in the change. Of course, OPM’s ECQ does not simply speak to leading employees to an identified change.  It also speaks to developing the strategic thinking that creates a vision of a future state that is inherently different from the current state in a way that is in the best interest of the organization. This calls for a transformational innovator–a leader who is able to motivate followers while having the creativity required to develop innovative ideas.

A Department of Defense (DoD) organization was lucky enough to have at least one such leader during the mid-2000s.  The leader, Marty (not his real name), was a senior executive who had been assigned to an office in this DoD organization that was on the brink of collapse. The office was neither respected nor understood by other senior executives who had begun to question whether the office should continue to function or have its resources (people) assigned to other areas in the organization.

Having worked in this office as a non-commissioned officer and a junior civilian employee, Marty knew the office’s core mission well and recognized that for a variety of reasons the office had allowed its skills to become dated and had developed an overly secretive culture that prevented outside stakeholders from better understanding the office’s mission and learning of the successes it had once had.

Marty immediately engaged the office’s workforce changing the conversation about the office in a way that assured the workforce that he understood their mission while demonstrating that the office could more openly discuss that mission and its successes without compromising it.  He effectively used the four elements of transformational leadership to transform the office and the individuals in it (Riggio, 2014).

  • Idealized Influence. Marty was a positive role model to the workforce.  He demonstrated the behaviors he sought to change in the organization.  He was enthusiastic and encouraging, not speaking of the past, but of a future, successful organization. (Northouse, 2016)
  • Inspirational Motivation. Marty inspired and motivated the workforce (Riggio, 2014). Marty set high expectations for the workforce talking about achieving skill levels that not only matched, but surpassed sister offices.
  • Individualized Consideration. Marty held a genuine open-door policy and provided coaching and mentoring to any of his subordinate leaders or subject matter experts (SME) who sought it (Northouse, 2016).  He was even known to seek out specific individuals (both leaders and SMEs) that he recognized as needing encouragement or direction.
  • Intellectual Stimulation. Marty challenged followers to be creative (Riggio, 2014).  He frequently engaged both leaders and SMEs to develop solutions to gaps they had identified in his vision.  For example, Marty challenged several SMEs to find ways of developing skills that the office would need to transform itself.


The office needed more than just a leader capable of engaging the workforce to transform itself. It needed a leader who had a novel vision of the office.  The workforce did not have that vision nor did the senior leaders who appointed Marty to the office. Marty on the other hand did have the vision.  Marty fit what Kets de Vries (2013) describes as the Innovator archetype of leadership.  This archetype sees the leader as an idea generator, focused on the new.

Marty’s vision made the office relevant to the DoD organization.  The office was established in the midst of the Cold War and its core mission was still defined by terms that were relevant during that time, but by 2005 were less convincing.  Marty’s vision managed to maintain the office’s core mission values, while making the office relevant in a 21st Century context.  His ideas were so novel, that other organizations across DoD and the Executive Branch would begin to reshape their related missions to more closely align with Marty’s office.

Considering a leader’s capacities to engage followers as well as his or her dominant behaviors can help us better understand the leader.  And, if we are looking for a leader who can bring creative, new ideas to an organization and actually have the ability to implement those ideas, we should look for a transformational innovator such as Marty.



Office of Personnel Management. (2016). Executive Core Qualifications. Retrieved from https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/senior-executive-service/executive-core-qualifications/

Kets de Vries, M. F. R. (2013, December 18). The Eight Archetypes of Leadership. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2013/12/the-eight-archetypes-of-leadership?cm_sp=Topics-_-Links-_-Read%20These%20First

Northouse, P. G. (2016). Leadership: Theory and Practice. (7th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Riggio, R. E. (2014, November 15). The 4 Elements of Transformational Leaders: What makes a leader great? How are parenting and leadership similar?. Pscyhology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/cutting-edge-leadership/201411/the-4-elements-transformational-leaders

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