The Transforming Leader: A Meta-Ethnographic Analysis.
James MacGregor Burns's Pulitzer prize winning Leadership (1978) transformed our thinking about leading. Since his seminal work, a great deal has been written about the nature of leading. Roueche, Baker, and Rose (1989) focused on leadership in community colleges and identified the importance of shared vision and other factors in transformational leadership. Much has been written about the characteristics and actions that define a transforming leader, but few community college leaders have the time to study and synthesize the available literature on leadership.
This report describes a meta-ethnographic study of the leadership literature that was conducted to identify the themes, patterns, and connections that define transformational leadership. This information was developed for used by community college leaders who find themselves in the permanent whitewater of constant change as they move into the twenty-first century.
The purpose of this study was to analyze and synthesize the research literature about transformational leadership and to identify the patterns and connections that describe transformational leadership. Meta-analysis can be used for such cross-study analyses. However, it is limited to comparable quantitative studies (Wachter & Straf, 1990). This excludes qualitative research, theoretical literature, and other professional expertise. Consequently, meta-analysis was not considered an appropriate methodology for this study.
A research methodology that can be used to integrate the findings of multiple sources and methods of qualitative research is meta-ethnography. Meta-ethnography provides a way to conduct an interpretive synthesis of qualitative research and other secondary sources, as a counterpart to meta-analysis for quantitative research (Noblit & Hare, 1988):
Our meta-ethnographic approach enables a rigorous procedure for deriving substantive interpretations about any set of ethnographic or interpretive studies.... A meta-ethnography can be considered a complete study in itself. [Meta-ethnography] compares and analyzes texts, creating new interpretations in the process. It is much more than what we usually mean by a literature review. (p. 9)
Meta-ethnography evolved from meta-analysis. As an interpretive methodology, meta-ethnography is not limited to synthesizing strictly comparable studies as meta-analysis is. Meta-ethnography may be used to synthesize information regarding a phenomenon such as transformational leadership that has been extensively described in a variety of other sources including quantitative studies, qualitative studies, and professional expertise. Thus, meta-ethnography provides a way to analyze and synthesize the literature on transformational leadership.
Criteria of Soundness
To have value, research must conform to rigorous standards. The traditional standards of sampling, reliability, and validity regarding quantitative research do not apply to qualitative research. In their place, researchers have established various "criteria of soundness" for design and methods (Marshall & Rossman, 1989, p. 144). Three lists of criteria were synthesized to create the criteria for this analysis (Lincoln & Guba, 1985, p. 290; Marshall & Rossman, 1989; Miles & Huberman, 1994): Credibility shows "that the inquiry was conducted in such a manner as to ensure that the subject was accurately identified and described" (Marshall & Rossman, 1989, p. 145). Transferability refers to the generalizability of the findings. Lincoln and Guba (1985) place this responsibility on those who make the generalization. Dependability requires accounting for dynamic changes in the phenomenon of study, design, or methodology as appropriate. Confirmability reflects the degree of objectivity demonstrated by the researcher. Utilization/application/action orientation suggests whether the findings have value for practitioners.
Triangulation provided the primary technique used for ensuring the soundness of this analysis. Triangulation was accomplished by using multiple studies, multiple types of sources, and a review of the findings by two experts. The reviewers were recognized experts and leaders in the field of leadership training.
Additional features were added to enhance the soundness of the design: (a) specially designed software eased the management of large volumes of text-based data associated with meta-ethnographic research; (b) the constant comparative technique facilitated knowing when the subject areas had been thoroughly analyzed; (c) extensive triangulation due to the multi-study approach provided one of the most effective approaches in dealing with the issue of transferability; and (d) an expert panel for peer review of the results provided an additional level of confidence in those results.
The literature on transformational leadership and related sources on leadership, including sources specifically related to community college leadership, provided the sources of data for this study. After being identified by title, abstract, or reference, the documents were retrieved and reviewed for relevance to this study.
Specialty software for qualitative analysis has been developed to facilitate the coding and sorting processes. Primarily, the software serves to manage the text data from the study. This management process includes storing, coding, memoing, linking, searching, retrieving, and in some cases displaying data and graphics, conceptualizing, or developing theory (Miles & Weitzman, 1994).
After analyzing the various kinds of code-and-retrieve software designed for qualitative research, The Ethnograph software was selected for this analysis. The Ethnograph is the most referenced code-and-retrieve software, the least expensive, and highly regarded (Miles & Huberman, 1994). Its design facilitates the process of identifying patterns, themes, and categories across large volumes of text-based data. It also features immediate, automatic saving of every code entry.
Separate files were created for each of the following leadership literature groups, organized to reflect the major sources on transformational leadership, other general sources, sources specific to education, then related and supporting sources:
* James MacGregor Bums
* Bernard Bass and associates
* Kouzes and Posner
* Bennis and Nanus
* Other transformational leadership studies
* Transformational leadership in community colleges and other educational organizations
* Related leadership literature
* Gender and multi-cultural diversity effects on leadership
Each literature group or file provided a separate iteration in the analysis. The files were combined into a catalog to enable cross-file analysis.
The first step in the process was open coding. The content of each line or set of lines (segment) of a passage in the research literature was assigned a code to identify keywords, concepts, and impressions (the emic or descriptive characteristics of the passages). Up to 12 codewords per segment could be applied to the text. These codewords could overlap up to 7 levels, could be nested as subcategories, or both. This gave the researcher considerable flexibility. These codes were then entered into the software, marking the text with the codewords. The process could be interrupted any time and continued later. The results were printed for verification and correction.
Segments were sorted and retrieved by codewords, including Boolean logic. Each search provided summary information and references to (a) the source of each segment, (b) coded identifiers, and (c) nested and overlapped segments. Results were reviewed on screen or paper. To ensure that the referenced text was consistent within each code, segments with the same code were compared. Emerging nuances of interpretation of the text were used to make modifications to the codes. The software also generated lists of codes and frequency counts.
This study used the constant comparative technique (Strauss & Corbin, 1990) to assess the results of each iteration of the leadership analysis. Each literature group was analyzed, coded, and saved as a separate Ethnograph file. The code list was compared to the previous listings for similarities and differences in patterns, themes, clusters, and frequencies. To ensure consistency within each codeword, text segments were compared by code and changes were made as necessary to improve the coding scheme. Comparisons were also made to have "internal convergence and external divergence (Guba, 1978)," in other words, to be internally consistent but distinct from each other--not mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive (Marshall & Rossman, 1989, p. 116).
Axial coding was added to document relationships or linkages among categories (Strauss & Corbin, 1990). The etic or metacognitive reflection on the information was recorded on the printouts and in a journal to track what was learned, additional thoughts, possible implications, and other questions regarding contradictions and surprises that were identified (Miles & Huberman, 1994; Strauss & Corbin, 1990).
Although the constant comparative technique looks for the coding scheme to stabilize, there are no specific guidelines, other than professional judgement, to determine stability (Bogdan & Biklen, 1992). For this study, the overall pattern of codes was considered as having achieved stability after a total of three iterations with less than a 5% code change (addition or reassignment) between iterations. No attempt was made to identify a single "core category" to which all other categories relate as required by grounded theory (Strauss & Corbin, 1990). Codes that did not relate to others within the coding scheme were eliminated through "selective coding."
Beyond stabilization of the coding, five additional iterations of pattern analysis (axial and etic coding) were completed. The "internal convergence and external divergence" (Guba, 1978; cited by Marshall & Rossman, 1989, p. 116) of the themes and categories are not necessarily mutually exclusive nor collectively exhaustive. The connections may be general or specific.
The meta-ethnographic methodology produced an interpretation of the transformational leadership phenomena being studied. Selected citations are included in the text for illustrative purposes, as derived from the pattern of evidence documenting the themes and categories described below.
Transformational Leadership: A Profile
The pattern of descriptors that resulted from the analysis produced a profile of transformational leadership. The profile includes seven major themes with several components within each theme. Components were further defined with codewords that provide descriptors of that particular component. Occasionally, the descriptors fit into additional clusters within a component.
Seven major themes emerged from the analysis: (1) creating a shared vision, (2) communicating the vision, (3) building relationships, (4) developing a supporting organizational culture, (5) guiding implementation, (6) exhibiting character, and (7) achieving results. Each theme is described with elaboration in terms of the categories, clusters, and descriptors related to that theme. Connections to other themes and contradicting findings are also documented. The theme descriptions are supplemented with figures.
Creating a Shared Vision
A vision provides a descriptive picture of the oranization's potential future. That vision may originate with the person at the head of the organization, but often is an articulation of a collection of ideas shared by the leader and numerous other employees. By synthesizing these ideas and elevating them in a way that touches on the needs and dreams of the employees, the leader begins to elevate the vision to a moral level (doing the right thing), a vision for the common good. "The single defining quality of leaders is the capacity to create and realize a vision" (Bennis, 1993, p. 216).
Over time the vision becomes a source of energy and even excitement for the group that gives meaning to their work. As the group embraces the vision, it begins to take on a life of its own. In the best cases it becomes a shared vision, elevated beyond the original concepts of either the leader or the led. Burns (1978) stated that "such leadership occurs when one or more persons engage with others in such a way that leaders and followers raise one another to higher levels of motivation and morality" (p. 20).
This elevated, shared vision is the touchstone theme of transformational leadership. Such a higher purpose transcends the individual. It is elevating, enduring, and transforming. Both the leader and the led elevate their sense of purpose to one that is more enduring, thus transforming each other. The shared vision is related to, but distinct from, the college mission, which is defined in terms that answer the question, "What business are we in?"
The basis for shared vision derives from shared needs, values, beliefs, and purpose(s) of the leader and the followers. These create meaning and become powerful forces shaping behavior in organizations. Thus, the organizational culture affects the vision and is affected by it.
Several characteristics are ascribed to shared vision. It provides meaning for the employees and other stakeholders. It inspires and often excites, motivating individuals to extra effort to achieve the vision. The shared nature of the vision is unifying, creating a sense of community.
Another characteristic of this theme involves change or adaptation. The shared vision provides direction and focuses attention on the proposed changes. The changes are described as opportunities, possibilities or potentialities, an adventure. The shared vision helps clarify new expectations for both leaders and followers. Individuals expect to make a difference, to create reform, to innovate.
Transforming visions are long-range, often 10 to 20 years, and may incorporate specific goals or key initiatives. Having a limited number of initiatives helps provide focus and set priorities. However, the goals or issues may also permit the college to articulate a multi-directional, but related, vision of the future.
In addition, when participants engage each other in establishing and achieving a shared vision, the dynamic nature of the process may result in an evolving vision as times and circumstances change. The enduring nature of higher purpose and shared values provides a stable foundation to assess the need for changing the vision and the direction it should take.
Communicating the Vision
The vision develops first through dialogue. To keep the dream alive, it must be repeatedly articulated in many forms. Communicating the vision instills shared meaning and purpose. Communication regarding the vision is used to excite, inspire, motivate, and unify both followers and leaders. The communication involves a two-way sharing that elevates the moral purpose of the shared vision, builds relationships, and shapes the culture of the organization.
Listening constitutes the most important component of communication for transformational leaders. "The ability to listen is key ... very key.... I think listening is more important than speaking" (Cronin, 1993; cited by Leinbach, 1993, n.a.). The transforming leader listens to fully understand the perceptions of followers, their needs, and their concerns. This requires asking probing questions and feedback, as well as thinking reflectively to enhance understanding. Such leaders display a willingness to be influenced and to use their understanding to further shape the vision, ever increasing the shared nature and support for the vision.
An important role of the transforming leader is the ability to articulate clearly the shared vision, values, and beliefs of the college--repeatedly. "In behavioral terms, managers are more likely to be perceived by their subordinates as leaders when they are clear about their values and beliefs, are able to articulate them in an exciting and enthusiastic way to others" (Kouzes & Posner, 1988, p. 530). The skilled leader inspires followers, provides encouragement, and enhances motivation. This mobilizes followers to act.
Transforming leaders clarify and illustrate the vision, values, and beliefs by using metaphors, analogies, stories, ceremonies, celebrations, rituals, and traditions. They communicate high expectations. Emotional appeals and a sense of drama may be added to help provoke, influence, and persuade others. "The world is moved by highly motivated people--people who believe very strongly or who want something very much" (Gardner, 1990, p. 183).
Sayings such as "actions speak louder than words" illustrate the power of nonverbal communication. Transforming leaders consistently lead by example. These leaders are very aware that their actions are closely watched and interpreted for consistency with the spoken word. Consistency helps build trust. Transforming leaders frequently use symbolic actions to make a point. Every action (or lack thereof) by the leader is subject to symbolic interpretation by followers.
Similarly, the leader also communicates through physical presence-being seen by followers. She or he represents the group whenever attending a meeting or social function. Management by wandering around (MBWA), popularized by Peters and Waterman, is another form of communication through physical presence, although it is usually used as a way to engage in informal and personal dialogue with others in the college, to articulate the vision, and to build relationships.
Building relationships reflects the interactive, mutual, and shared nature of transforming leader behaviors. A web of high-quality relationships makes it possible to communicate, to effect the shared vision, and to shape the culture that supports the vision. "Transformational leaders may foster the formation of high-quality relationships and a sense of a common fate with individual subordinates while, in a social-exchange process, these subordinates strengthen and encourage the leader" (Deluga, 1992, pp. 244-245). Shared values affect the nature of the relationships and facilitate achievement of the vision.
These interactive relationships have been described as being shared, two-way, mutual, collaborative, and collegial. They cross boundaries. Transforming leaders tend to be friendly and informal. They treat subordinates as equals, give advice, help and support, and encouragement. Transforming leadership clearly involves a relationship in which the leaders and followers are fully engaged with each other in achieving the shared vision of the organization. "With such an ongoing, flowing dialectic of transformative human action, leaders become followers and followers become leaders in the ebb and flow of organizational interaction" (Watkins, 1989, p. 28).
Transforming leaders build trust through their actions. Doing what one advocates, role modeling, and setting an example describe the consistency of actions critical to building trust among followers. In addition, these leaders trust followers. The trust of followers must be earned. Trusting them first builds credibility and leads to trust of the leader.
Transforming leaders are sincere, personable, and caring. These leaders respond to the needs and interests of others. They enable, empower, and challenge followers. The mutual relationship is equitable and considerate, showing genuine concern for others. Transforming leaders provide support, and they are helpful to others, including coaching and teaching. In addition, because they challenge followers to stretch and take reasonable risks, these leaders are forgiving when efforts do not succeed as expected.
Transforming leaders emphasize recognition, intrinsic rewards, and professional development opportunities. Extrinsic rewards are de-emphasized in favor of recognition and celebrations such as thank-you notes, public and private acknowledgments, refreshments, parties, luncheons, and opportunities to engage in other projects. Such rewards build an organizational culture that supports the group and the college vision.
Developing a Supporting Organizational Culture
Organizational culture comprises the shared values and beliefs of the organization. "Edgar H. Schein has said that the only important thing leaders do may well be constructing culture" (Sashkin & Rosenbach, 1993, p. 99). Shaping culture contributes to building relationships and internalizing commitment to the shared vision. Leaders must be clear about their own values and ensure that their behavior consistently reflects those values.
Some key values identified with transforming leaders are treating people with dignity and respect, dealing with social injustice, altruism, fairness, justice, liberty, human rights, honesty, integrity, and equality. Organizational policies and programs are directly based on these shared values and beliefs.
The primary means of shaping culture is through interactive communication, including symbolic action, as described above. As followers interact with leaders and others, tell the stories and myths, and participate in the rituals and ceremonies, the values and beliefs are reinforced and institutionalized. Just as all actions of a leader can be interpreted as symbolic of the culture by followers, all actions potentially affect the shape of the organizational culture.
Leaders conduct themselves and even communicate through their actions. These actions help build relationships and shape organizational culture. Transforming leaders also guide implementation of the shared vision, rather than relying exclusively on the actions of empowered followers.
One common guiding action is to teach. "A great leader is usually a great teacher" (Parnell, 1988, p. 2). These leaders provide opportunities for their followers to learn and grow. They mentor or coach their followers. As noted above, the relationship remains friendly and informal. The leaders treat subordinates as equals, while providing encouragement for their personal and professional development. They see their role as servant leader and seek to serve their own followers, as well as other stakeholders inside and outside of the college. Transforming leaders also guide by engaging in moral reasoning and principled judgement, as well as teaching these ideas to their followers.
Symbolic actions also provide guidance for others, an indirect but powerful means of teaching. Transforming leaders are strong advocates of staff development activities, often using them as rewards for accomplishments. Scholarship provides a means of teaching as well. These leaders are scholars in their own right, but also promote scholarship among followers.
Decision-making with transforming leaders is most likely to involve participatory processes to arrive at a consensus. However, Bums has expressed concern that consensus de-escalates the role and importance of conflict in transforming leadership (Rost, 1991). It is not clear whether he was referring to conflict within the organization or external sources of conflict toward which efforts could be directed to help achieve the vision and purpose of the organization. A pulling together for a common purpose in times of crisis is well documented as source of unifying group motivation.
Transforming leaders also lead by guiding the organization through strategic planning processes, even though highly structured approaches are being widely discarded. Transforming leadership is "systematic, consisting of purposeful and organized search for changes, systematic analysis, and the capacity to move resources from areas of lesser to greater productivity ... [for] strategic transformation" (Tichy & Devanna, 1986, p. viii). Scanning the environment for trends and issues that may affect the community college; designing strategies, programs, and policies to meet the needs of an array of students and other stakeholders; adapting organizational designs for increased effectiveness and efficiency; and institutionalizing changes, such as changing the reward system to include performance pay are but a few examples.
Transforming leaders encourage taking reasonable or calculated risks, experimenting, and innovating. This is particularly true in such areas as educational reforms (competency-based learning, classroom research, active and collaborative learning, creative-critical-reflective thinking, and so forth) and using technology (distance learning, interactive multimedia, and electronic admissions and registrations). At the same time, transforming leaders take care to assess the degree of risk and take steps to reduce the risk of failing by providing risk takers with the necessary resources and connections to facilitate success; they monitor progress and suggest changes to avoid traps and pitfalls.
Another important means of guiding implementation used by transforming leaders involves team building. Creating task forces, collaborating, coalition building, managing conflict and change, and preventing or moderating stress help to build team spirit and commitment toward the shared vision. Professional development can enhance team building and team-based activities. The transforming leader may also help make initial contacts with other community college professionals, thus broadening the web of connectedness.
The shared visions nearly always include high expectations for quality or excellence. Transformational leaders promote inclusion of continuous improvement, benchmarks, total quality management, and customer service. Community colleges often use these approaches to enhance student success, student services, and institutional effectiveness.
As with shared vision and values, these leaders are principle-centered, believing in and demonstrating honesty, integrity, trust, and other qualities. They are particularly noted as being ethical, "noble of mind and heart; generous in forgiving; above revenge or resentment" (Bennis, 1989, p. 118). These leaders are guided by principles of justice, equity, dignity, and respect for every individual.
The single most often referenced characteristic of transforming leaders is self-confidence. These leaders are committed and motivated by a higher purpose. Furthermore, they are centered and have an internal locus of control. Transforming leaders exhibit self-understanding and are self-disciplined. They have a need for power but use it for empowering others, rather than for their own purposes. When it is used personally, power becomes a source of energy rather than a source of control over others.
Transforming leaders also have a need for achievement, but interestingly may not have a need for affiliation. This latter finding contrasts with other findings about the nature of relationships between transforming leaders and their followers; in other words, these leaders are personable, caring, friendly, and warm.
Transforming leaders are passionate. They are focused and committed to the shared vision, a vision of the common good, a commitment to higher education as a means of improving the quality of life of society at large. So strong is this passion that they may willingly give all of their time and energy to this cause. These leaders are disenchanted with the status quo and pursue their calling with a sense of giving. Transforming leaders view themselves as servant leaders.
One of the most frequently discussed leader characteristics is charisma. Charisma among transforming leaders arouses controversy. Some sources consider charisma to be a fundamental component of transformational leadership. Others argue that charisma is a quality only attributed to the leader by followers. Evidence suggests that followers of charismatic leaders focus on the leader, whereas followers of transforming leaders focus on the shared purpose or vision. Although more research is needed on this phenomenon, it may be that charismatic and transforming leadership are not mutually exclusive. The transforming leader may also be charismatic, or not. The charismatic leader may be transforming, or not.
Intelligence, a quality that appears to be increasingly recognized as essential in a complex and ever changing world, is commonly attributed to transforming leaders. These leaders are known for having good judgment and having expertise in their industry, their profession, and leadership. Transforming leaders demonstrate cognitive complexity, the ability of the leader to understand and attend to complex and competing needs simultaneously, and approach challenges with a variety of perspectives and approaches. "Exemplary presidents saw patterns, analyzed problems at a deep level, understood nuances, and were concerned about receiving feedback" (Birnbaum, 1992, p. 181).
Transforming leaders also practice and support lifelong learning. Such learning promotes personal renewal. On a larger scale, it also promotes organizational renewal. Transforming leaders use and promote the use of critical, creative, and reflective thinking, which supports the development of cognitive complexity. This provides a basis for multiple frames of reference or situational alternatives.
Transforming leaders also use lifelong learning to build their knowledge of their industry, such as education, community colleges, teaching and learning, educational reform, and other trends and issues. They learn about their multiple stakeholders in and out of the college itself. In addition, such leaders learn how far various constituents are willing to go before developing resistance to change, their zone of acceptance.
These leaders have a broad perspective, including an awareness of complexities, systemic connections, patterns, and situations, that helps them deal with the complexities, ambiguities, and uncertainties of the permanent whitewater through which community colleges must navigate. They are equally comfortable with the political, cultural, and technical functions inside and outside of the organization. These leaders understand organizational history, cultural sensitivity, and global issues. They are well-rounded, open, unbiased, and flexible with a tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty. Transforming leaders are altruistic, generous, and willingly sacrifice for their higher purpose. They "believe in the importance of higher education and the impact it can have on society at large ... [and are] willing to give all [their] time and energy to the achievement of the cause" (Fisher & Tack, 1988, p. 3).
To effect the shared vision, these leaders have energy, drive, and stamina. They are dynamic. These individuals persevere to achieve the shared vision. They practice wellness habits and have a contagious, positive spirit that infects followers, making them want to work hard to achieve the dream. These leaders love their work, people and life itself, exhibiting unwarranted optimism and incurable idealism.
The research and literature document that transforming leaders achieve the shared vision, as well as several other notable results. They provoke heightened levels of commitment, self-sacrifice, motivation, and performance from followers. Transforming leaders instill a sense of pride, respect, and trust. Followers exhibit significantly higher levels of satisfaction under transforming leaders. Followers become leaders.
Other identified results of transforming leadership include a positive work environment, job satisfaction, and extra effort from employees. The leaders themselves are perceived as being more effective and as giving higher performance. Workers and work units also increase in effectiveness, producing better quality and performance.
The profile of the transforming leader articulated by the results of this meta-ethnographic analysis provides a model that can guide community college leaders as they reflect on their own leadership. It also provides a guide for professional development and leadership education, when combined with research findings on effective learning (Pielstick, 1996).
Transforming leadership, although highly effective, involves a complex web of activities that engage both leaders and followers. Transformational community college leaders engage in activities three and four levels deep, as identified in the results of the analysis of the literature, not only those identified by the seven major themes. This complexity may explain, in part, why successful leadership is still more rare than prevalent (Bennis, 1989).
The opportunity for transforming community college leadership is larger than ever. Our knowledge of what is required to achieve that leadership is well documented, as this analysis shows. Transforming leaders recognize the importance of creating a shared vision, communicating the vision, building a web of relationships, developing a supporting organizational culture, guiding the implementation, exhibiting character, and, most importantly, achieving results. Principle-centered individuals who model transforming leadership and face the challenge of providing exceptional learning outcomes for diverse student populations will be able to navigate community colleges through the environment of permanent whitewater created by the demands of the twenty-first century.
Such community college leaders master the complex web of activities necessary to navigate this whitewater successfully. A clear picture of goals based on a shared vision provides meaning and purpose beyond the noise and turmoil of conflicting demands. Interactive dialogue promotes understanding and inspires followers to overcome the challenges and to enjoy the thrill of accomplishment. Strong relationships pull a team together to achieve more than can be done by individuals paddling alone. Guidance through the most challenging whitewater minimizes the chances of overturning the raft. A supporting culture of understanding and trust builds the confidence needed to overcome obstacles. Exhibiting character enhances the confidence and trust of an entire team to achieve its shared vision.
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C. Dean Pielstick coordinates the business program at Northern Arizona University's Eastern Arizona campus in Thatcher, Arizona (Dean.Pielstick@NAU.EDU). He previously served as executive dean for administrative services and planning at Yavapai College in Prescott, Arizona.
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|Author:||Pielstick, C. Dean|
|Publication:||Community College Review|
|Date:||Dec 22, 1998|
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