The Power of Transformational Leadership
In this blog I will be discussing the power that transformational leadership has to change the direction of someone’s life. Northouse defines transformational leadership as a process that changes and transforms people, it involves emotions, values, ethics, and long-term goals (Northouse, L 10, P. 1). I will discuss a professor that had great impact of the course of my future career and ultimately the direction of my life. I will relate the characteristics of transformation leadership from the perspective of the leader, the follower, and the situation. Although initially there will be the background information needed to set up the situation.
In the late 1980’s, I had already attended two years of college, initially my major was industrial engineering. I completed my first year of college and landed a summer internship working in an engine factory on the assembly line. I met some great people and learned a great deal, but most importantly realized I could not work in a factory all day long as a career. During previous summers and in high school I worked on a golf course maintenance crew. It was physical work outside most of the time, but I enjoyed the work and the team environment. The factory and indoor industrial environment did not give me much excitement or enthusiasm for that type of work long-term. I switched my major the next year to computer science because it seemed like the career of the future at that time. I did ok in the classes but could not find any satisfaction or more importantly any passion in the field. I struggled a bit during that time, as many college students do, to find something I could really get excited about. I finally realized that I enjoyed working outside on that golf course and decided to investigate solid career options in the “green” or turfgrass industry.
I visited a small school in the Catskill mountains that had a horticulture program with turfgrass management, greenhouse management, and landscape design concentrations. The professor I met with was passionate about the industry, communicated the career opportunities effectively, discussed the small “hands-on” approach of the program, and he gave me a sense of trust through his broad industry knowledge and confident communication skills. That initial meeting was enough for me to change direction, transfer to that college, and start fresh with a new set of education and career goals. I felt for the first time some solid direction in my young adult life that I hadn’t felt before. That professor taught many of my industry specific classes and served as my advisor. I spent the next two completing my degree program and completing internships. This was the beginning of what has developed into a rewarding thirty-year career.
Transformational leaders display several characteristics, including vision, rhetorical skills, image and trust building, and personalized leadership (PSU WC, L 10, P. 3). My advisor had a full understanding of the potential career opportunities in the industry and communicated with me to provide a long-term vision for my future. He made me believe that if I put in the hard work there was excellent opportunity for success. He shared previous success stories of previous students and put me in contact with successful veteran industry professionals. He displayed excellent rhetorical skills in that regard. He was an expert in the industry and because of that displayed a high level of self-confidence, built a high level of trust within the field, and developed an image of an industry leader and innovator. He also developed strong personal bonds with his students and remained close with many as they advanced in their careers. He visited all students during their summer internships and constantly pushed us look for every available opportunity.
Transformational leadership, like many leadership models, also involves the behavior and characteristics of the follower and the situation. The lesson discusses four characteristics of followers; identification with leader and vision, heightened emotional levels, willing subordination to the leader, and feeling of empowerment. I identified with this professor as a leader because he showed me a path to a future career doing something that I enjoyed. In my previous attempts of career choices discussed above, I never encountered a leader that showed me a future that I could embrace and see myself succeeding at. He also sparked a passion in me about a field I enjoyed but never thought about as a career. The result was a heightened level of awareness and performance. I took a high credit load of classes, but because I had a vision and passion for field, I excelled. I look at this professor as a leader and put faith in his vision of what my future could be, because I believed I did well and enjoyed it. This led to a feeling of empowerment for my future and I fully committed myself to success in college as a path to long-term goals. I had never committed so fully to classwork in high school or my first two years of college as I did once I believed in my path forward. The situation I was in also played a role, in many ways I was in a crisis looking for direction toward a satisfying and viable career. The situation, my characteristics as a follower, and this professor’s transformational leader qualities came together at the right time resulting in a profound impact on my future.
Transformational leadership and charismatic leadership are sometimes referred to different topics, but sometimes they are considered the same. They are certainly very similar (PSU WC, L 10, P. 6). In the Northouse text charisma is described as a special gift that certain individuals possess to do extraordinary things resulting in being treated as leader (Northouse, 2016, p. 164). I agree that these two types of leadership theory share many similarities, but in my experience, I feel my professor was a transformational leader. He certainly was a good communicator and was able to keep a room focused, he could communicate a vision, he built trust and respect in his field, and provided leadership on a very personal level to his students. I didn’t view him as charismatic though, his influence as a transformational leader was more subtle and less grandiose as I picture a charismatic leader would be. So, I do see a difference in that regard, but the result can be the same in both dynamics, a follower with heightened goals and increased confidence to achieve those goals.
In summary, I feel this model of transformational leadership related well to my experience in college. I believe that style of leadership is what I needed at the time to give my future some better direction. It changed how I looked at my future and opened to me a possibility of a career in something I truly enjoyed, as opposed to something that would have made me employable. I have enjoyed a successful and rewarding career for over thirty years, and I feel I owe a great deal of that to this professor’s leadership skills. We remain friends and I was honored to be one of many of his previous students to speak during his retirement dinner a few years ago. I feel this story demonstrates the type of power that a transformational leader has in shaping the future of an individual or a situation.
Northouse, P. G. (2016). Leadership: theory and practice (7th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.
Pennsylvania State University World Campus (2019). PSYCH 485 Lesson 10: Transformational Leadership, Retrieved from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/2008237/modules/items/27074730