Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Transformational: My Experience

The first time I came into close contact with transformational leadership, at Fuller Theological Seminary, I didn’t know what it was. I experienced it as being highly authoritarian -- yet the talk was continually of equality, consensus, dialogue. Since then, I have found these apparent opposites explicitly described and (some might say) reconciled in the literature. Perhaps Robert Banks and Bernice Ledbetter state it most clearly. It is a leadership model which “navigates between” hierarchical (top-down) and egalitarian (leaderless team) styles. This implies that the egalitarian aspect lies in its teamwork, not in “the structure of decision-making” (Banks R and Ledbetter B M 2004:86). J. Oswald Sanders similarly states that, while leadership seeks “common purpose” among those who are led (Sanders J O 1994:27), it is nevertheless “always from the top down” (:113). Jerry C. Wofford perhaps describes it most concisely as “directive consensus building” (Wofford J C 1999:68). This surely explains how the language may appear to emphasise equality, while the experience is one of authoritarianism. QUESTION: Has this been your experience at an institution in the U.S.A.? What are the manifestations of “top-down” style? What would alternatives look like?

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