The Mission or The People? A Leader's Quandary

I come to you this month with yet another look at a complex, continuing problem. Many times over the past several years, I have received e-mail, letters and telephone calls that have dealt with boss-related problems. It would seem to me, as a somewhat...


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Transactional Leadership

There is a different approach to the leader-follower relationship in the transactional leadership mode. The concern is with shaping the people to the jobs to be done. This is a concept similar to fitting round pegs into square holes. I am certain that I have oversimplified this for you, but that?s all right. Many of you have been loyal readers for many years now. You should know that I am a people-oriented person.

In his book Leadership, Pulitzer Prize-winning scholar James McGregor Burns lays out this argument as simply as any person I have ever seen in my entire fire service and academic careers. He states, ?Some define leadership as leaders making followers do what followers would not otherwise do, or as leaders making followers do what the leaders want them to do; I define leadership as leaders inducing followers to act for certain goals that represent the motivations ? of both leaders and followers.?

However, I would urge you to remember that leadership cannot be separated from ?follower-ship.? In the transactional situation, power forms the basis for any interaction. The leader has the power to require an action. The followers acknowledge the right of the leader to exercise that power. They then act in a manner consistent with the demands of the leader.

The followers do what they are required to do for a reason. Usually that reason is financial in nature, but in other cases the relationship occurs because the leader controls an activity that the follower dearly wishes to do. This can describe the fire service equation in many cases. Burns goes on to say that this is not an enduring relationship, but merely one of convenience. These are not the type of relationships that bind people together and make for a stronger, more productive organization.

Sadly, far too many fire officers view their role as nothing more than a series of transactions where people are expected to do as they are told. The leader in this instance has no desire to create a situation where the wants and needs of the follower are met. The result is a situation that does not fulfill the needs of the follower. These are the situations where conformance is minimal. The follower does just enough to get the job done and stay out of trouble.

Many among you may choose to liken this style to McGregor?s Theory X style of management wherein followers are thought to need to be tightly controlled in their activities. This requirement was thought to come from the feeling that workers are lazy and do not want to work. However, McGregor noted that this style of supervision and leadership would never work because it ignores the facets of human behavior that seek to demonstrate a willingness to accept responsibility and a desire to be productive members of society.

Transformational Leadership

Many researchers believe that leadership cannot be separated from the followers? needs and goals. They believe that the greater chance for success comes when people feel that they have an interest in the tasks to be accomplished. Transformational leadership aims for an even higher level of achievement. There are those who suggest, like Burns, that ?such leadership occurs when one or more people engage with others in such a way that leaders and followers raise one another to higher levels of motivation and morality,? Burns speaks of a binding together of the interests of the leader and follower into something greater than the acts of the individuals.

Other researchers such as Taly Dvir of Tel Aviv University and his colleagues suggest that their research has shown transformational leadership theory to be a prominent representative of the new theories that have occupied center stage in leadership research in the last two decades. Follower development and follower performance are the targeted outcomes of such leadership.