Leadership Letters
Leadership Letters

Writings on Christian leadership and leader development by Malcolm Webber

May 2018
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Leadership Letters

Leading Transformation

Malcolm WebberMalcolm Webber

Transformation is radical change. To transform means to change in the way that a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly, or a tadpole into a frog, or a baby into a child and then into an adult. After the process is completed, it is as if the older form ceases to exist.

Transaction, on the other hand, is simple exchange. It is benefits for services, money for goods, exchange of information, this for that.

When it comes to the leadership landscape today, “transactional leaders” are much more traditional and prevalent than “transformational leaders.”

Transactional Leadership

This sort of leader provides for the meeting of his followers’ needs and desires in exchange for them meeting his objectives. At its heart, transactional leadership represents the following exchange: “You give me something and I’ll give you something.”

For example, political leaders exchange jobs, subsidies, and lucrative government contracts for votes and campaign contributions. Business leaders exchange pay and status for work effort. Traditional religious leaders exchange performing social rituals (e.g., marrying, burying, doing the opening prayer at the baseball game) in exchange for a salary, health benefits and a retirement account.

In certain contexts, transactional leadership can be quite effective. By clarifying expectations, leaders build their followers’ confidence. Satisfying the basic needs of constituents may improve effectiveness or morale. Transactional leaders excel at keeping things running smoothly and efficiently. They design an exchange system that brings stability to an organization as it continues along its course.

Transformational Leadership

Transformational leaders, on the other hand, initiate the actions that change the course of the organization. These leaders understand and attempt to meet the tangible needs of their followers, but they go beyond mere exchange by empowering their followers to fulfill their highest potentials in the calling and purposes of God.

Transformational leaders motivate followers to do more than they originally expected to do (or believed they were able to do) as they strive for higher goals. Transformational leaders focus on intangible qualities such as the will of God, vision, shared values and ideas as they build relationships and enlist followers in the cause. They engage the full person of the follower. They lead with integrity, creativity, communication, vision, passion and empowerment.

Transformational leaders could also be called “servant” leaders, since their goal is truly to serve those they lead. The servant leader’s goal is that the highest potential of the people be fulfilled – that they be transformed. His purpose is not merely the fulfillment of his own vision.

The difference is reflected in the attitude of the leader himself: is he genuinely following the calling and vision of God or is he just doing a “job”?

The Difference Between Job and Ministry

If you are doing it because no one else will, it’s a job. If you are doing it to serve the Lord, it’s a ministry.

If you’re doing it just well enough to get by, it’s a job. If you’re doing it to the best of your ability, it’s a ministry.

If you’ll do it only so long as it doesn’t interfere with other activities, it’s a job. If you’re committed to staying with it even when it means letting go of other things, it’s a ministry.

If you quit because no one praised you or thanked you, it was a job. If you stay with it even though no one seems to notice, it’s a ministry.

If you do it because someone else said it needs to be done, it’s a job. If you are doing it because you are convinced it needs to be done, it’s a ministry.

If your concern is success, it’s a job. If your concern is faithfulness, it’s a ministry. People may say “well done” when you do your job. The Lord will say “well done” when you complete your ministry.

It’s hard to get excited about a job. It’s almost impossible not to get excited about a ministry.

If God calls you to a ministry, for heaven’s sake (literally), don’t treat it like a job. An average church is filled with people doing jobs. A great church is filled with people involved in ministry.

So how do we transform jobs into ministry?

Affecting Change Through Transformation

Servant leaders transform people. They develop followers into leaders by rallying constituents around a mission and defining their boundaries. They motivate followers to take initiative and solve problems. Consistent with the true function of leadership, they produce more leaders, not just more dependent followers.

Servant leaders transform goals by focusing their efforts on the individual’s personal needs for growth, development, and fulfillment. God’s will for each person within the organization takes high priority.

Servant leaders transform motivations by inspiring followers to go beyond their own self-interests in service of others, to do more than the bare minimum. They motivate people to believe in the goals of the organization and make personal sacrifices for the higher purpose.

Servant leaders transform the organization by presenting a vision of a desired future and revealing why it’s worth the hard work and sacrifice necessary to bring it about. Great things can be accomplished when people have a sense of divine purpose as well as a clear picture of where the organization is going.

It’s worth noting that transformational leadership can be exhibited by anyone in the organization, in any position. Servant leaders don’t just influence followers, but peers and superiors as well. It can occur in the daily acts of ordinary people, but it is never ordinary or common. As Peter Drucker puts it:

“Leadership is not magnetic personality – that can just as well be a glib tongue. It is not “making friends and influencing people” – that is flattery. Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to higher sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.”

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