The Transformational Leader: Managing Organizational Trauma Through Seasons of Change

The Transformational Leader: Managing Organizational Trauma Through Seasons of Change

David W. Gaston (Gaston Educational Consulting LLC, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-7016-6.ch003
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This chapter provides the reader with background and discussion regarding the transformational leadership model developed by James MacGregor Burns in 1978. The theory was further refined by Bernard Bass through the 1980s and 1990s and has become a hallmark for leaders who wish to embrace change and improve their organization's performance. Collaboration, empathy, trust, and a genuine concern for all employees or followers in the organization are vital to the success of the transformational leader. A comparison of the theory of instructional leadership to transformational leadership provides the reader with an understanding of the differences between these leadership models. Discussion shifts to focus on how trauma negatively affects employees and organizations and how the elements and practices of transformational leadership can work to bring healing and wholeness to school communities and weather the potentially negative effects that change has on a learning community.
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“Everything changes but change” (Israel Zangwill).

Improvement, innovation, and change must be embraced by an organization if it desires to grow, evolve, and maintain relevance. Schools and school divisions as organizations are no exception to these practices as they work to meet the unique and challenging needs and demands of learners and, more importantly, build infrastructures that encourage and support innovative learning practices. Schools and school districts have recently shifted from leadership models that have been almost exclusively focused on instructional leadership to models that closely mirror their counterparts in the business world, blend complex leadership practices with bottom-line accountability standards (Anderson, 2017). Twenty-first-century demands of equity, diversity, and inclusion—highlighted and underscored by the severe disruption to our educational programs brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic—have further stressed these systems. Local schools and districts have been scrambling to establish online learning and hybrid teaching models to meet the learning demands of students, many of whom were already experiencing significant challenges or deficits prior to the pandemic.

Organizations that attempt to redefine what they do or who they are with any degree of success are exceptionally rare (Anthony & Schwartz, 2017). Simply mentioning change within any organization sends shivers down the spines of employees as they struggle to understand why change must take place, what is driving the need for the change, and how these new actions will be implemented. While most employees realize that change, innovation, and improvement must take place to ensure the longevity of their organization, the trauma or fear that oftentimes accompanies this process produces a level of discomfort among employees that can be unsettling. These negative emotions among employees and other stakeholders in the organization discourage and threaten their chances of success. Leaders who understand and embrace change, encourage and involve individuals in this process, and inspire and lead the process of transformation often experience greater success in championing improvement and successfully moving forward.

In the wake of crises that threaten organizations, school leaders need to consider expanding their leadership capacity beyond traditional tasks of instructional leadership, hiring and evaluating teachers, community outreach, developing and managing budgets, and supporting struggling learners to embrace private sector leadership practices like strategic planning and staff support (Anderson, 2017). Preparing educational leaders to go beyond these traditional roles requires increased and continuous training in leadership theory that sets leaders up for success through times of change or trauma, whether change comes from within the organization, as enacted by the leader, or acts on it externally, such as a pandemic or safety crisis. While the negative effects of change and transformation will be felt through all layers of an organization, leaders who subscribe to the practices and behaviors of transformational leadership can mitigate the negative effects of trauma within their schools and across their school districts.


Transformational Leadership

James V. Downton, a sociologist and professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, first coined the term “transformational leadership” in 1973. The concept of transformational leadership, however, was not fully developed into a modern leadership theory until James MacGregor Burns, a presidential biographer, historian, and leadership researcher at Williams College, expanded on Downton’s work in his book Leadership (1978). Burns’ theory of transformational leadership differed markedly from other leadership concepts, most notably transactional leadership, which was based on the give and take aspects of leaders, or traditional compliance models, where the leader asks their employees to complete a task and expects compliance. Instead, Burns focused on what he termed a “transforming” leader, describing how successful leaders value the beliefs, ideals, and needs of their followers and lead change within their organizations by motivating and inspiring their followers. These leaders work with their followers to identify specific and needed changes within the organization, develop a vision for change to guide the organization through the transformation process, and successfully move through the change process with all members of the group, staying committed to successful outcomes (Burns, 1978).

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