Sunday, September 12, 2010

“The Transformational Leadership” vs. “The Transactional

: The case of President Obama's Pursuit of Leadership on the Mosque Issue in New York.:
On Friday, August 13, President Obama delivered a strong defense of a proposed Muslim community center and mosque near ground zero in Manhattan. Speaking at dinner celebrating Ramadan, known as an iftar, at the White House, President Obama said the following:

“As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country. This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country, and will not be treated differently by their government, is essential to who we are.” (“Obama Strongly Backs Islam Center,” 2010)

Regardless of President Obama’s intention, the debate concerning his support of the right to build a Muslim Community Center in New York became a heated controversy and spread throughout the country and over the world. However, I do not want to deal with this issue from the viewpoint of politics, such as the President’s strategy for the next election, or economics, such as the economic influence of building the mosque near ground zero. Instead, I want to approach this issue only from the perspective of “the leadership”: “the transformational leadership” and “the transactional leadership”, and share creative and various thoughts about it.

First, I believe President Obama’s remark about the religious right of Muslims came from his value that Men are all equal before the law and people should be treated without discrimination. This leadership style based, on moral justification, was named “the transformational leadership” by leadership theorist Burns.

“Leaders can also shape and alter and elevate the motives and values and goals of followers through the vital teaching role of leadership. This is transforming leadership. The premise of this leadership is that, whatever the separate interests persons might hold, they are presently or potentially united in the pursuit of “higher” goals, the realization of which is tested by the achievement of significant change that represents the collective or pooled interests of leaders and followers. Transformational leadership is more concerned with end-values, such as liberty, justice, equality. Transforming leaders “raise” their followers up through levels of morality, through insufficient attention to means can corrupt the ends.” (Burns, McGregor. J., 1978)

If we assume that leadership must not only meet the needs of followers but also must elevate them, we render a different judgment (Heifitz, 1998). If the stereotype regarding all Islamic people as terrorists and the Mosque as the terrorist’s advance base is not a reasonable notion, the leadership that elevates people to have a sense of common good for the United States, instead of adhering to a claptrap policy, is necessary in order to lead people to the right direction.

Second, through President Obama’s other remarks about the issue, we can discover another aspect of his leadership. The day after making his initial remarks, he hedged even further, “I was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there.” Although this remark may be translated just as a politician’s political sail-trimming (Weisberg, J., 2010), I also regarded this is an aspect of his leadership. Historically, it is hard to find a so-called “successful leader” who achieved great work sticking to only one particular leadership style. This kind of leadership style, which considers various needs from followers or society, was named “the transactional leadersip” by leadership theorist, Selznick.

“Leadership is a kind of work done to meet the needs of a social situation. Possibly there are some individuals more likely to be leaders than others, possessed of distinguishing personal traits or capacities. Whether or not this is so, we shall here be concerned with leadership as a specialized form of activity, a kind of work or function. Identifying what leaders do certainly bears on (and is perhaps indispensable to) the discovery of requisite personal attributes; but the questions are of a different kind and may be treated separately.” (Selznick, P., 1975.)

On the other hand, public polling shows the various needs of the social situation well. On Sep. 2, seventy-two percent of poll respondents said building the facility so close to the World Trade Center site was inappropriate, while 22 percent said it was appropriate. Nevertheless, the same poll indicated most Americans - 67 percent - said they thought the developers do have a right to build a mosque near Ground Zero, while 29 percent say they do not. (“Poll: Most Say “Gound Zero Mosque” Is Inappropriate,” 2010) As you see, it is very difficult to even define what the social needs are in order to pursue the transactional leadership with real issues.

About this case, do you think that President Obama should have asserted his own principles more strongly in the perspective of the transformational leadership, or that President Obama should have considered more deeply people’s feelings and the social situation after Sept. 11, 2001, in the perspective of the transactional leadership? Or, do you have a totally different perspective about his leadership in this issue? I do not want to talk about political solution of this issue, but I just hope we can think about the application of many scholar’s various leadership theories into the current situation and deeply understand what the essence of the leadership, which theorists have been researching for a long time, is.


Burns, James McGregor, “Toward A General Theory,” pp. 425-443. Leadership. NY: Harper & Row. 1978.

Heifitz, R., “Values in Leadership,” pp.13-27. Leadership Without Easy Answers. Boston: Belknap Press/ Harvard University Press. 1998.

Selznick, P. “Some Premises about Leadership,” pp.22-28. Leadership in Administration. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. 1975.)

Stolberg, S. G. (2010, August 14). Obama Strongly Backs Islam Center. The New York Times. Retrieved from =politics

Sundby, A. (2010, August 25). Poll: Most Say “Gound Zero Mosque” Is Inappropriate. CBS News. Retrieved from

Weisberg, J., (2010, September 13). Obama’s Moral Cowardice: The president needs to find his principles. Newsweek, 19.