Leadership Today

By Bill Long on November 7, 2018

Beginning in the 1970s, three powerful and somewhat contrasting theories of leadership entered American life. They all have eager proponents today. Almost all articles you read or talks you hear on leadership are indebted to one of the three. They are: 1) Servant Leadership; 2) Transformational Leadership; and 3) Transactional Leadership.

Servant leadership grew out of a 1970 article so entitled by Indiana native Robert Greenleaf (1904-
90). Concerned that an authoritarian or fear-based leadership model that was so prominent in his earlier days was not what American business needed for the future, he emphasized that the primary role of the leader was to serve others, to focus on their needs and desires. A servant leader believes that you get the best out of others through collaboration, trust, empathy, ethical behavior and community building.

Coming out of the same decade was Presidential Historian James McGregor Burns’ (1918-2014) theory of transformational leadership. According to Burns, a transformational leader is one who is able to articulate a vision that inspires people to act together to realize that vision. The leader him/herself must be fully committed to that vision and be able to motivate, engage, and provide the energy that leads a group forward. Followers will invest more effort if they are motivated by a clear picture of a positive future.

Finally, the theory of transactional leadership is one that focuses not on leadership as providing motivation or serving people, but as understanding the incentives that people need in order to do a good job and then providing those incentives. Transactional leadership focuses more on providing employees tangible rewards for performance than on having them buy into a vision or adopt a philosophy of team-building. This type of leadership emphasizes smooth operation of a business day-by-day, believing that managing the tasks of the day is the best assurance of success, both in the short and long term.

As Alleah and Lance point out well in their articles, none of these theories was either developed with
agriculture primarily in mind or is fully useful for our industry. Yet, joining in this “great conversation” on leadership as you both ponder and put into effect your own understanding of leadership will give you insight, and hopefully success, for the future.