Today’s Los Angeles Times had an op-ed piece entitled “How Obama Lost His Voice and How Can He Get It Back?” I don’t usually read this section of the paper, but a sentence caught my attention. “Abandoning the "transformational" model of his presidential campaign, Obama has tried to govern as a "transactional" leader.”
This blog is not about Obama, but about some thoughts on Leadership. I hadn’t thought about James MacGregor Burns’ concepts since my doctoral program. After all, Burns coined these terms over 30 years ago. They could be briefly summarized as transformational leadership is about changing the ‘world’ and transactional leadership is about maintaining what is. It occurred to me that there might be some relationship to type or to temperament in these terms.
Burns’ wrote his 1978 book, Leadership, as a political scientist and a historian. This book sits on my bookshelf so I opened it up. I don’t think the simple definition above does justice to his concepts so I won’t really comment on those until I reread the book.
On the surface, one might say that transactional leadership would go with the Stabilizer temperament with logistical intelligence or the Improviser temperament with tactical intelligence and that transformational would go with the Theorist temperament with strategic intelligence and the Catalyst temperament with diplomatic intelligence. Or in psychological type terms—a preference for Sensing or for iNtuiting respectively.
Either way is a risky conclusion because it ignores that we are more than a type or a temperament. These models will predict what comes naturally and what we might be inclined to do by nature. They do not limit our behavior. We can and many do develop interpersonal agility. We can gain skill in strategy, tactics, logistics, and diplomacy. We can learn to value and therefore embrace the voices of each temperament.
In addition type dynamics and type development theory tell us that even when we have a preference for Sensing (aka tangible) information, we have the capacity to access and use iNtuiting (aka conceptual) information. In my experience we do both in tandem, but one will be in the foreground and the other in the background so we may not notice what we are doing and we would still privilege our preference. As we mature, we can come to value the less preferred process more and thus make space for it. Hence, type development.
In my view, good leadership will involve being transformative when needed and transactional when needed. A leader needs to engage or at least make space for strategy, tactics, logistics, and diplomacy. If he/she does not, nothing will get done. A wise leader will recognize when an certain approach is more relevant to the situation or context. Perhaps that is the message in the article. Obama had a transformative message. Then he hit the reality of making things happen, which is incredibly challenging in a democratic, highly political system like our government. He may need to find his voice again and yet, the other perspectives have to be met.
What do you think?