Practices of Transformational Leadership

Salvation Army leaders are called not only to uphold the standards, principles and values of our beloved movement, but to lead an ongoing movement of transformation.

It is usually easier to sustain what is than to be a catalyst for achieving what is possible through passionate, spiritual leadership.  Hundreds of approaches to leadership are taught in books, classrooms and on-line.   I do not promote one approach to leadership above others other than recognize that bible-based spiritual leadership is required of all church leaders.  We see so much cross-over occurring among the labels that it is fun to explore and apply the wisdom each has to offer.

One such approach appears most prominently in the teaching of James McGregor Burns and is known as Transformational Leadership (see his book by that title, 1978.  It draws from Max Weber’s work on charismatic leadership.  Bernard Bass then carried Burns’ work further, with a special focus on transformation in the US military). TL focuses on creating enduring relationships between leaders and followers. It is built more on trust and commitment than the formal give and take of transactional leadership – the kind we see not only in political “jobs for votes” approaches but also in the church!   Transactional leadership requires little attention in this article.  It’s the modernist, take-charge kind of leadership that most of us have grown up with and find hard to shake.  While the practices of TL are not entirely new, they have proven their superior value in today’s climate.

Here are some of the major practices of TL.  After perusing these summary descriptors (by no means complete), take a moment to fill in the quick assessment at the end, then make copies and invite a few of your followers, fellow leaders and family members to rate you as well.  It may well become a catalytic experience to improve your leadership, much to the joy of those around you!

1. Practice of Vision – Successful leadership starts with transformation inside the leader and results in the transformation of the leader’s environment.  It begins with a God-given perspective on human need, energized by a burning passion to find an answer.  It fired up William Booth to find a way out of darkest England.  It enables the CO or ARC director to answer the question, “Where is this journey leading us?  Why are we doing this?  What’s the purpose?” It provides a sense of meaning to the myriad of programs and activities that consume us. A corps is unified when a leader gathers the little (or big) team, discusses common goals, and, together with God, develops objectives and strategies that serve the vision.  This practice of vision is continuous because, as Andy Stanley reminds us in Making Vision Stick (2007), vision has a tendency to lose its adhesive.

2. Practice of Ownership – TL attracts other people to the vision. Once the transformational leader can get the key stakeholders together in spirit, various means must be employed to spark the team. Sitting behind a desk with a “do not disturb” sign on the door won’t cut it. One of the best ways to motivate others is to invite them to co-create the visioning process, provide them with faith challenges and give them plenty of opportunity, along with all due credit for every accomplishment.  People are prone to own what they create themselves.  For lots of resources on this practice, and others, go to and browse their articles and resources, including this one (

3. Practice of Facilitating Learning – In his highly acclaimed book The Fifth Discipline Peter Senge says the main job of leadership is to facilitate the discoveries of others.  People instinctively want to improve their performance.  They also desire the best for the organizations they represent.  This innate tendency is the leader’s best resource toward solving perplexing challenges. Transformational leaders are stewards of the accumulated human assets of the people they lead.  Enlarging their capacity creates a win-win situation for them and for the Kingdom.  In tough economic times, this is one of the most mission-critical investments we can make.  Link this with adopting a coaching and mentoring leadership style and you have a winning combo.

4. Practice of Empowerment – TL enlists, equips and empowers others toward the vision. They search for eager and proven individuals with or without formal leadership responsibilities.  Passionate about building a leadership culture at all levels, they make it a practice to invite and ignite leadership throughout the corps/center. Rather than hold power to themselves, they multiply themselves by increasing the capacity of others to lead.  They resist a transactional tendency to simply issue commands.  They patiently guide reluctant followers to take small steps to accomplish more.  R. Paul Steven wrote a brilliant book in 1993 entitled The Equipping Pastor – a good resource (Alban Institute, publisher).

5. Practice of Innovation – This is the TL ability to step up to the plate and introduce prayerful changes when they are required. The Salvation Army exists today because of a refusal by its leaders to keep things just the way they are.  Status quo is nowhere to be seen in the Army’s foundational DNA.  However, our structure encourages stability and sameness to the point that opportunities for functional change are often missed.  We can talk the language of transformation but the default ruts of transaction keep pulling us back in.  This causes untold damage to the mission.  An effective and efficient organization encourages and requires its stakeholders to anticipate change and welcome prayerful, non-destructive change aimed at furthering the mission. TL both initiates and responds quickly to change. If leaders build trust within the organization, team members feel empowered to influence one another to adapt to change and become more effective.

6. Practice of Interdependence – This is the practice of perpetual learning about ourselves and those around us – both on our own and with the input of others. You’ve heard the saying, “leaders are readers”.  They are also learners, committed to a lifetime of learning. The positive change they want to see in their mission field mirrors their personal journey toward maximum impact through self mastery.  There is no other way to finish well our life calling through our mission location. TL requires on the one hand total dependence on God and on the other, flourishing relationships with fellow travelers in pursuit of personal and missional transformation. These symbiotic relationships of mutual respect and support provide an antidote to know-it-all, lone ranger leadership.

7. Practice of Endurance – TL demonstrates a high capacity to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1). TL is difficult and lonely work. Leaders have to rely on their strong sense of calling which gives courage, strength and stickability to remain focused to the finish of each day. Because transformational leaders are concerned for the development of those around them, as well as themselves, they inevitably have “weeping prophet” days when fear, fatigue and negative self-talk take over.  These are the days when transformational leaders draw from the proven wells of spiritual, emotional, and physical disciplines in order to sustain high energy commitment to the cause.

Transformational Salvation Army leaders, then, are committed to ensuring that they, and those they lead, reach their maximum potential for God and the Army. It is important that those who are already transformational leaders link together with kindred spirits to form networks of  transformation.  Leadership development needs to connect the strengths of transformational leaders to the overall strategy of the organization with a support system built on encouragement, accountability and recognition. As these leaders become increasingly successful mission movers many other who learn and achieve with them, will reach a new strength of leadership characterized by unwavering faith to transform the lives within their circle of influence.

As the Jack McDowell School for Leadership Development anticipates next year’s regional training on Leading Transformation, we will feature articles from a number of our friends and partners in upcoming issues of newsletter Leader Builder.

pdf-files Transformational Leadership Self Assess Tool.pdf
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pdf-filesLeadership Comparrision Transactional Transformational.docx
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