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!



Author: karenwoodedu

Karen Wood is the Superintendent of Schools in Barnegat, NJ. With twenty-three years in education, Ms. Wood's career has been spent primarily in administration. She enjoys mentoring novice administrators and being connected to inspirational educators and leaders across the country.

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