Moving from Authentic and Servant to Transformational – The Secrets to Transformational Leadership

By Mostafa Sayyadi

Leadership styles and models have been challenged by various researchers and leadership has still left executives with rudimental and anecdotal ways to lead – leaving a gap between leadership effectiveness, satisfying followers, and meeting customer needs. Transformational leadership seems to be the in-vogue leadership style for today’s uncertain business environment and will continue to be as more followers are transformed into great leaders because the demand for leadership has increased big league.


Leadership studies have remained relatively silent on how to integrate styles and concepts from diverse disciplinary domains to provide a rich basis for understanding the true leadership theoretical and applicable concepts. These studies have failed to disclose the nature of filling the leadership gaps between performance and success. In many instances, there is no direct connection between leadership styles and models, with the exception of one leadership theoretical model – transformational leadership – which has had an impact upon today’s changing situations.

Sure, there are critics of transformational leadership, but do not let that stop you from implementing it and learning how to master it. For example, two scholars by the names of Stephen Zaccaro and Zachary Horn critique the literature of leadership for having no relevance between leadership styles and today‘s changing business environment.1 However, these authors go posit that transformational leadership style unfolds results in organisations, influencing employee individual interests to align with institutional interests, and through inspiring followers to create new ideas and innovations for effective business outcomes.  The key idea from this article is to provide a leadership style that has emerged as more applicable, easy to implement, and more adaptable today than the many others that are available today.

Why Isn’t Servant Leadership Style More Prevalent?

Robert Greenleaf, first wrote an essay that later became his book title The Servant Leader. He introduced the term ‘Servant leadership’ into the business literature for the first time and caused some controversy in the corporate boardroom while added some value among the religious clergy. Greenleaf was not only a scholar, Servant leadership came out of his work experiences at organisations such as MIT and the influence of Hermann Hesse’s Journey to the East. Greenleaf largely gained his insights through the central character of ‘Leo,’ who becomes a servant leader and speaks about the Law of Service. Greenleaf recognized the main message of this story, and concluded that:

“the central meaning of it was that a great leader has experience as a servant to others, and he felt that this fact is central to his or her greatness. True leadership emerges from those whose primary motivation is a deep desire to help others.”

Servant leaders are those who turn the organisational chart upside down, putting the customers at the top. Servant leadership  can be clearly seen as rooted in the clergical leadership perspective in that Christ’s leadership when Greenleaf says that the words “service,” “to serve” and “servant” occur over 1300 times in the revised version of the St. James bible. For example, Jesus once said:

“Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to place his life as a ransom for many.”

The servant leadership style highlights Jesus as an ultimate example of a servant leader, and suggests applying the leadership insights that Jesus gives us within organisations. According to the model, only service to others, is the pathway to real significance. Michele Lawrence and Larry Spears in their book, Practicing Servant Leadership: Succeeding through Trust, Bravery, and Forgiveness, concentrate on the characteristics of a servant leader, and recommend ten fundamental characteristics:

1. Listening
2. Empathy
3. Healing
4. Awareness
5. Persuasion
6. Conceptualisation
7. Foresight
8. Stewardship
Commitment to the growth of people, and;
10. Building community.3

Greenleaf acknowledges some criticisms about servant leadership theory, and posits that:

“In a time of crisis, like the leadership crisis we are now in today, if too many potential builders are taken in by a complete absorption with dissecting the wrong and by a zeal for instant perfection, then the movement so many of us want to see will be set back. The danger, perhaps, is to hear the analyst too much and artist too little.” 4

Furthermore, this leadership style has been challenged for a lack of adequate empirical studies to substantiate its academic rigor and is often shelved as a learning tool as opposed to a leadership application. An example to this scholarly debate, Deborah Eicher-Catt, the existing literature on servant leadership servant leadership is criticized for gender bias in its theoretical perspectives.5 Also, servant leadership is criticized as being inapplicable for real-world scenarios.

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The practicality of servant leadership style still exists and has its roots in helping others and providing hope in an environment that seems to be not only hypercompetitive but also elusive for companies to find a stronghold. Therefore, Chris Lee and Ron Zemke evaluate this leadership style from a pragmatic perspective, and explain that while servant leadership style is about shifting away from the old paradigm of a hierarchical pyramid-shaped organisation, it “ignores accountability and the underlying fundamental aggression of people in the workplace.” 6 Therefore, this, taken at face value, all leaders should serve their organisation and its people to provide the customer and shareholder with the best possible service but the practicality of the style indicates that servant leadership cannot represent a complete answer to need for leadership in today’s global market environment.


The Hard Truth about Authentic Leadership Style

The origins and foundations of authenticity are rooted in ancient Greek history where philosophers are known for moral injunctions such as ‘know thyself’ and ‘to thine own self be true’. Julian Treasure, renowned voice and tone specialist calls being authentic as “Standing in Your Own Truth.” The prominent scholar on Authentic Leadership is Bill George who sheds light on authentic leaders as those chief executive officers who:

“Recognize their shortcomings, and work hard to overcome them. They lead with purpose, meaning and values. They build enduring relationships with people. Others follow them because they know where they stand. They are consistent and self-disciplined. When their principles are tested, they refuse to compromise.” 7

Authentic leaders truly perceive their own values and beliefs, and are highly recognized by other people as being aware of their own and followers’ values, strengths and weaknesses. As a result, these leaders are most knowledgeable about themselves and the context in which they lead. Furthermore, Michael Kernis and Brian Goldman reviewed the literature of authenticity, and found that authenticity manifested itself in “authentic functioning of people’s

1. Self-understanding,
2. Openness to objectively recognizing their ontological realities (e.g., evaluating their desirable and undesirable self-aspects),
3. Actions, and;
4. Orientation towards interpersonal relationships.8    

Authentic Leadership has not evaded the criticism by scholars that normally are associated with leadership models and theories. For example, two scholars by the names of Jackie Ford and Nancy Harding maintain that the foundations of authentic leadership are “somewhat vague,” and lack of attention to how an authentic leader can adapt to every situations and present different faces to different followers while remaining authentic.9 They also challenge authentic leadership in terms of its theoretical foundations and approach to adapting people to the collective, and argue that this leadership style failed to consider the fact that each person is full of contradictions. In addition, Rita Gardiner, an author and scholar in the area of management at Western Ontario University in Canada, critiques authentic Leadership for the lack of a theoretical rationale by which the essential role of social and historical factors can be justified, and posits that “authentic leadership is deeply problematic because it fails to take into account how social and historical circumstances affect a person’s ability to be a leader.” 10 For a leader to be completely authentic, telling the truth is not always easy. Therefore, is being an Authentic Leader a good thing? Yes. Does it work in every situation? No. Should a leader know about it and consider being as authentic as possible when determining his or her strengths and weaknesses. Yes.


Transformational leadership: The Focal Point of Executive Success

Transformational leadership is easy to understand, implement, and get followers to be one-voice and vocal throughout the organisation. Transformational leadership style is more realistic than some of the other leadership styles.

One tool for executives to use when considering on lessoning the gaps between success and possible failure, is to use transformational leadership and become a social architect. There is some overlap between transformational leadership and an academic concept called social architect. Executives may not be as interested in the concept of social architect as much as scholars are but there is a kernel worth looking it in this theoretical framework for executives. This academic concept focuses on developing relationships to create valuable resources. Many executives see organisational performance as an outcome of various factors such as leadership, interactions and communications, formal policies and rules, and a climate inspiring innovation and creativity within organisations. Furthermore, executive are encouraged to improve the bottom line and increase organisational performance. For instance, every executive is held to the grindstone of maximizing financial and non-financial measures – their careers are tied to company performance measures. Transformational leaders can act as social architects who increase organisational performance and help close the gap between success and possible failure. Therefore, transformational leaders contribute to organisational performance through developing relationships with subordinates that link follower’s individual interests to the organisation’s collective-interests. In several ways, executives can use transformational leadership to impact various aspects of financial and non-financial performance.11,12,13 This is factual. Take a look at Table 1. 


In addition, as executives attempt to manage people they find that intellectual capital is the in the forefront of success – Bill Gates once mentioned that if he lost his top 50 people that he would not have an organisation anymore. For example, look at Kwang Yoon, who divides intellectual capital into four categories:

1. Human capital
2. Customer capital
3. Organisational capital, and;
4. Intellectual capital.14

Yoon argues that in order to generate value from intellectual capital organisations need to manage knowledge flows between human capital, customer capital, organisational capital and intellectual capital. Knowledge is a significant indicator of improving organisational performance. This is a fact but it happens through the way knowledge is managed by transformational leaders.


Transformational leadership improves knowledge integration through facilitating knowledge sharing throughout all levels of the organisation.

Transformational leaders can enhance knowledge acquisition and transfer. These leaders, in fact, facilitate the process of knowledge acquisition from external sources. This is known as compiling data from rivals and comparing ROI and other pertinent information and then disseminating this information to employees. Executives that act as transformational leaders can also enhance knowledge acquisition through intellectual stimulation that facilitates knowledge transfer and simultaneously explores more innovative solutions for organisational problems.

Further, executives that use transformational leadership have found that it improves knowledge integration through facilitating knowledge sharing throughout all levels of the organisation. Transformational  leaders positively impact knowledge integration through enhancing the dynamic relationships among employees and departments, but most importantly, through satisfying customer needs and adding to financial success. Executives use transformational leadership to develop trust and form the capacity among employees to develop higher functioning relationships not at the higher echelons of the organisation but between the lines of the organisational chart. Transformational leadership can, therefore, enhance knowledge sharing around the company.

Transformational leaders also improve networking with external sources through focusing on developing relationships and leading between the lines of the organisational chart to better meet the needs of shareholders. Transformational leaders inspire organisational members to network with more successful competitors by sharing successes to build alliances and not only enhance competition but communicate best practices as a way of keeping the highest standard of operation in the industry and being the go-to organisation for successful modeling of profitability, customer service, and employee satisfaction. In doing this, transformational leaders create an inspiring view of future and motivate employees to develop relationships with external environments to identify new opportunities that occur in an ever-changing hypercompetitive marketplace. Therefore, executives that act as transformational leaders can play a crucial role in enhancing performance and developing strategic knowledge management within corporations.


In Conclusion

When looking at leadership from a new perspective, executives should understand the leadership styles but place more emphasis on applying what works best for them in their current work environment. Many executives wonder what academic and leadership writers are trying to explain via models and theories. There really is not much difference except that a theoretical framework has been tried and tested while a model may be an application that leaders can learn and teach others. Newer approaches to leadership emerged leading up to the emergence of transformational leadership style. Transformational  leadership style represents how an effective leader working in today’s knowledge-based economy can develop and manage intellectual capital in corporations. Therefore, I suggest that executives embrace transformational leadership style. This leadership style influences some of the spans of control of the executive responsibility. Transformational leadership is a major factor for executive success in today‘s changing business environment. Thus, in today’s global business environments involve a high level of uncertainty, organisations will increasingly need more transformational leaders to be more effective.


About the Author

Mostafa Sayyadi, CAHRI, AFAIM, CPMgr, works with senior business leaders to effectively develop innovation in companies, and helps companies – from start-ups to the Fortune 100 – succeed by improving the effectiveness of their leaders. He is a business book author and a long-time contributor to and Consulting Magazine and his work has been featured in these top-flight business publications.

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14 Yoon, KS 2005 Testing the Firestone and McElroy Knowledge Management Model: An Empirical Study, State University of New York.


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