Transformational Leadership vs. Transactional Leadership

“Even though ideas may begin the wonderful new initiative or inspire the amazing changes happening in your district, a lack of process will sink a leader every time.”


In a recent blog post about collaboration, I wrote, “Consensus building and collaboration are essential to success in most cases.  However there are times when collaboration can work against a leader.”

In this blog, I’ll be explaining my thoughts and reasoning about why collaboration can work against a leader.  It all stemmed from this graphic:

Transformational Leadership Transactional Leadership
Public and private acknowledgement of achievements (higher level needs) Rewards and punishments (low-level needs)
Delegate tasks for supporters to act autonomously or in small groups Micro-manages team to make sure pre-set standards are met
Encourages change and thinking outside the box Avoids change, works to keep things the same
Concerned with ideas over process Concerned with process over ideas

For years I believed that being a Transformational Leader was the right way to lead. How narrow-minded of me.  Although it is still my preferred way to lead, I have learned many invaluable lessons (some not so pleasant) that have influenced my thoughts on leadership and when to use transactional or transformational leadership characteristics.

In a leadership study in my district two years ago, we learned that flexibility was an incredibly important leadership trait for leaders to use. Flexibility did not mean that we needed to be flexible with our core values, beliefs, or needs. In this case flexibility meant that as leaders we would be called upon to work with different people in different ways.  We would have to be flexible in our approach with them, recognizing their needs and meeting those needs throughout the problem-solving process.  This approach was new for many administrators on our team however when the trait of “flexibility” rose to the forefront of our ideas about leadership, we started recognizing the needs of those around us and we could see its impact almost immediately.

So, what does flexibility have to do with Transformational vs. Transactional Leadership and why doesn’t collaboration always work?

There are times when leaders will need to stand on their own, promote their ideas, and even micro-manage teams to ensure compliance.  Again, this is not my preferred way to lead however as a leader, why should you be held responsible or accountable when those around you do not complete tasks appropriately or in a timely manner? In the end, as a leader, you will be judged. Not the organization. Not the people who work beside you or for you. It will be you who faces the music – sometimes alone.

There is also a beauty in supporting process over ideas. Even though ideas may begin the wonderful new initiative or inspire the amazing changes happening in your district, a lack of process will sink a leader every time. Be sure to create a linear system that works for your team. This is essential to ensure the success of your “idea”. The idea will never come to fruition without a step-by-step process.

Remember that character trait of flexibility! You may encounter leaders who learn and lead like you and you may not. Good leaders recognizes the needs of their people and they use flexibility to support diverse needs. Only a transformational leader can put the needs of his/her people before their own in the quest for successful completion of an idea or task.  Lead on!



Creating a Culture of Collaboration

“There was a point during our planning when we were almost premature in the roll out of our program.”

Over the last several years the Barnegat School district has worked to create a culture of collaboration.  Although this has not been successful in every area of the district, the culture of collaboration has grown significantly and I am very proud of our collective efforts.

We know collaboration has benefits, however here are some examples of how our district has utilized collaboration to benefit teaching and it’s impact on learning and decision-making.


We use collaboration for building consensus.  There are many committees in our district and they often collaborate on important topics.  Whether it’s our school safety team, our school-wide professional development committee, our district advisory committee, or the staff improvement panel, we use it most often for building consensus.

One of the ways we’ve used collaboration successfully is with our equitable hiring process. Born of a desire from a Board of Education from 2011-2012 to hire the best candidates and deflect hidden agendas, we created a collaborative process.  Over the last six years the process has evolved.  Although the current process is similar to the one from the beginning of my career in Barnegat as Superintendent, we have managed to retain its integrity from the inaugural year as well as incorporate important changes each year thereafter. This year, that process has a Standard Operating Procedure that each administrator has helped shape, mold, and influence through our collaborative efforts at administrative meetings.

Each summer we offer a Summer Institute of Learning.  This is an opportunity for teachers to turnkey new learning they have acquired during the school year.  In this model, teachers present proposals and seek approval from district administration. They are given compensated prep time to develop their workshops and are paid to present. All workshop attendees receive professional development credits for attending workshops of their choice.

Teachers have taught everything from “Using Primary Source Documents in the Classroom”, to “Flipped Classrooms”, to ” “Classroom Management Strategies”, to “Close Reading”.  Each year feedback is elicited and changes are made to incorporate the desires of attendees.  At one time the Institute was only for Barnegat teachers but has now expanded to other teachers in the county.  One summer we had over four hundred attendees at about twenty workshops we offered!

During the 17-18 school year the Barnegat School District rolled out a semi-departmentalized fifth grade model.  Our four Elementary Schools feed one middle school. In our quest for providing depth of knowledge and specific work within the standards, we created a model that could support student’s learning needs as they ascended to middle school.

Under a previous model, our fifth grade students were in “self-contained” settings, with only one teacher for the entire school year (with the exception of specials). Our desire was to have fifth grade students have two core area teachers to better prepare them for middle school.

Over eighteen months our school district utilized surveys, developed focus groups of teachers, students, and parents, and visited several schools with semi-departmentalized fifth grade. Although this was a long process the need for collaboration was essential.  There was a point during our planning when we were almost premature in the roll out of our program. Rather than being hasty, we further examined the needs of our students and continued to collaborate until all stakeholders were comfortable with the proposed model.  I am glad we did.  After a couple of months into the school year, we have heard nothing but praise for the new program.  This helped us remember that collaboration pays off and listening to all stakeholders and building consensus supported our decision with this initiative.

Consensus building and collaboration are essential to success in most cases.  However there are times when collaboration can work against a leader.  That will be discussed in a subsequent blog.