J.M. Burns is credited with coining two classifications of leadership styles (i.e. transactional vs. transformational) and is considered to be the founder of modern leadership theory. Burns’ work focused primarily on political leadership. His research was quickly applied to other disciplines of leadership theory (i.e. business, education, etc.). Briefly, transactional leadership is grounded in the concept of trading one thing for another (i.e. quid pro quo), whereas transformational leadership maintains an intentional focus on change and continual improvement.
Transactional leadership can be broken down into three sub-categories: (1) management-by-exception-passive, (2) management-by-exception-active, and (3) constructive transactional leadership.
- Management-by-exception-passive is a style of leadership that waits for major problems to occur, and then creates practices and protocols to address the issues. These types of leaders are committed to not rocking the boat and maintaining the organization’s status quo.
- Management-by-exception-active leaders do not invest much time or effort into strategic planning or the setting of organizational goals, but they do pay close attention to problems that bubble up to the surface. They are often gifted at creating protocols and practices monitoring behaviors and operational systems. Thus, their strength is also their weakness. They are also gifted in managing behaviors that do not take risks and do not support initiatives of change.
- Leaders who employ constructive transactional leadership are the most effective and successful of the transactional leadership styles. These leaders set goals and carefully identify and quantify expectations and outcomes. They establish and celebrate staff rewards and recognition for accomplishments directly related to meeting school goals. They act as coaches, providing regular feedback. Additionally, they are intentional and consistent in public praise. Perhaps the most outstanding difference between this form of leadership and the other two transactional leadership styles is that faculty and staff members are encouraged to participate in the management process.
Although constructive transactional leadership is the most effective of the transactional styles, transformational leadership has consistently proven to be the more effective form of school leadership. In fact, multiple studies have shown that transformational leadership delivers results far beyond institutional goals and targets.
For those who lead faith-based schools, transformational leadership is another way of describing the ministry of disciple-making. School leaders who exemplify a transformational leadership style are actively discipling their employees, who are in turn discipling students, who in turn become the next generation’s leaders.
The importance of the discipling role of educators in human society cannot be overstated. Their worth and work are the very foundation for influencing the society of the future. Although the fundamental influence of family, home, and church are significant, most students spend a far greater portion of their waking hours on a school campus. Therefore, their culture is largely defined by what takes place at school.
It is of utmost importance that school leaders understand and demonstrate transformational qualities of leadership, by keeping the main thing the main thing. When leaders instill the core values of the school into those whom they lead, those followers will, in turn, influence others within their network of relationships (e.g. teachers, students, parents); thus, converting followers into leaders. It is these types of trusted school leaders who are able to transform not only schools but also entire communities.
©2017 Toby A. Travis, Ed.D. All Rights Reserved
- Marzano et. al., School Leadership That Works.
- For a further discussion on transactional leadership, see B.M. Bass and B. J. Avolio, Improving organizational effectiveness through transformational leadership (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1994). Also see J. M. Burns, Leadership (New York: Harper & Row, 1978).
- Roy Edelfelt and Alan Reiman, Careers in Education (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2004).