Transformational Leadership

Posted by on Jul 27, 2009


*This is a reflection post required for my JHU-ISTE Leadership program.  As always, if the topic is of no interest to you, feel free to skip on by.

This reflection asked us to answer the following three questions:

How do you define transformational leadership based on your reading?
How can transformational leadership impact the way an administrator leads a school?
How can transformational leadership impact the school administrator as he/she leads integrating technology with instruction?

There are some leaders who ascribe to a “pull” style of leadership.  They stand atop the pyramid of an institution, look forward, and try to pull the pyramid along with them as they take each step toward the vision they have cast for the institution.  This is often referred to as “command” leadership, and while it can certainly be an effective way to move an institution in increments, it is not always the most empowering method for the constituents working within the walls of the pyramid.

There are other leaders who find themselves standing at the bottom of an inverted pyramid.  It is their goal to see the needs of the constituents, as well as the needs of the institution as a whole, and push each individual in a manner that effectively moves both the person within and the institution as a whole.  This is often referenced as servant leadership, and it often dismantles the notion of “leader as manager” and instead fosters leadership with the multitude of constituents in the pyramid.

Servant leadership can also directly lead to “transformational leadership.”  Leonard Burrello speaks directly to the idea of transformational leadership in his book, Educating All Students Together.  Burrello states that transformational leaders need to be less concerned with leading for the sake of compliance and linear system stability and equilibrium, but rather, such leaders should look to increase constituent’s investment and enrollment in the institution’s vision.  Michael Fullan has also written a great deal on this subject, and he states that transformational leaders should build the whole of the institution into each individual.  All people have a voice and input in the direction and execution of the institution’s vision.

When applying this concept to education, one can readily see how an atmosphere of networked learning can occur.  The overall investment and health of the educational institution will be experienced throughout as all members of the community are involved in decision making and implementation of specified goals.  If a building administrator seeks transformational leadership, learning will likely take the lead, and opportunity will abound for all in the system to grow and learn together.

I believe a transformational leader will also allow the institution to adapt as culture and educational practices adapt to better engage the process of learning.  The leader will allow new practices to emerge, and I would postulate that utilizing Argyis’s model of double loop learning for an institution would be an excellent opportunity for organizational learning and growth.  This model would certainly be an impetus for change, and given the present resources emerging and established technologies present, the members of the institution would find themselves tapping into the potential power that technology proffers.  The leader will also focus on the pedagogical questions of implementing technology, and he or she will not seek to implement technology for any contrived mandate or false pretense of doing so solely for the sake of the implementation.

I believe this sort of transformational leadership is exactly the way I want to lead an institution I might have the honor of leading in the future.

Thanks to Bluedrakon for the use of the Flickr image.


  1. Melissa Varley
    July 27, 2009

    Ben, I’m impressed. What a well written and presented blog. Networked learning is imperative for all to feel that they have a “voice” in the organization.

  2. KarenJanowski
    August 2, 2009

    Not annoyed at all, in fact, I find your post enlightening.

    You state “such leaders should look to increase constituent’s investment and enrollment in the institution’s vision” as stated by Burello in his book about transformational leadership. This seems to be an essential starting place but it’s not easily achieved. How do leaders get buy-in from those they lead? To put this in practical terms, how does a new principal or superintendent achieve constituent investment in their vision?

    Having never heard of Argvris, I appreciated your inclusion of a link to his work. Fascinating. This whole topic is not one that I have as yet explored so I’m grateful that you tweeted this post and shared your thoughts. I look forward to learning more from you. Any book suggestions to delve further into this topic without entering a leadership program?

  3. Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach
    August 2, 2009

    Great minds think alike. I too have been thinking about transformational leadership.

    The Fabric of Community- The Key to Transforming Education

    Great post in response to mine on Tcher Mag

  4. monika hardy
    August 2, 2009

    i like it. hire me.

  5. Deven Black
    August 2, 2009

    I’d also ask you to hire me except that I already work with a principal who is aso-far successful transformational leader. Notice I said I work with him, not for him. That is a testament to the nature of transformational leadership; my colleagues and I are part of the transformation, we have a say on how it works and a stake in its success. Our principal asks important questions and listens as we discuss the possible responses.We all learn and feel valued in the process.

    I wish you good fortune on your process of establishing yourself as a transformational leaderr.

  6. Ben Grey
    August 10, 2009

    Melissa- Thanks for the feedback.

    Karen- The question about getting constituent buy-in is, in my opinion, a compelling cause to work toward creating a shared vision. Involve everyone in the building as you create a vision that serves the group. Employ the democratic process (which can be very difficult, something I’m going to write about in the near future) and invoke the leadership of the individuals in the building. Collectively, the institution is much smarter and more effective than taken as many individuals.

    I would also recommend The Jossey-Bass Reader on Educational Leadership by Michael Fullan. That is the book I’ve most enjoyed and been most challenged by thus far.

    Sheryl- I read your post just prior to your comment, but hadn’t read Anthony’s response. Thanks for sharing. Both good reads.

    Monika- If I could, I’m sure I would.

    Deven- I love the “work with him” statement. I’m certainly going to strive to make that a key part of any leadership role I take.

  7. Jef Menguin
    September 16, 2010

    Thank you Ben. I am one of the many too.


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