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  • Writer's pictureL. Darryl Armstrong

Transformational Leadership – The Courage to Listen and Act 

Updated: Mar 20, 2022

For almost 300 years, from the late 13th century until the early 17th century, the English/Scottish Border region was in turmoil. England and Scotland were often at war during this period. The border families, including the Armstrongs, lived in the front line of this ‘war zone.’

This history is important to me because I am an Armstrong. It is equally critical to understand how clans led to leadership success.

Let us ask ourselves, what does clan membership have to do with transformational leadership? Allow me to explain.

George MacDonald Fraser, in his book The Steel Bonnets: The Story of the Anglo-Scottish Border Reivers, says this about the Armstrongs: “The Armstrongs were the most feared and dangerous riding clan on the whole frontier. … In Johnnie Armstrong’s day, they could put 3,000 men in the saddle and probably did more damage by foray than any other two families combined, both in England and Scotland.” The Armstrong Clan was such a powerful force in the borders that King James V of Scotland saw them as a threat to his authority. The Ballad of Johnnie Armstrong tells how, in 1529, James V asked Johnnie Armstrong of Gilnockie to join him at Court and promised his safety, then betrayed his trust. History records that Johnnie Armstrong was hanged at Carlenrig along with 36 of his men. (Armstrong Clan Association)

We learn from Markham (2012) that leadership was rooted in the ancient world to establish the historical foundations of leadership. The study suggested that the concept of leadership emerged in ancient extended families that represented clans.

The study also highlighted the critical role of leadership and showed that clan membership was highly demanded for success in all the social institutions. Roman legions were examples of how clan membership could and did contribute to individuals’ successes, often passed from “the senior general/consul to one of his sons.” (Ghasabeh and Provitera, (Transformational Leadership: Building an Effective Culture to Manage Organisational Knowledge)

It is not debatable that the Armstrongs were raiders, thieves, and plunders (reivers) in the “Debatable Lands” between Scotland and England. They operated an exemplary organization based on blackmail, extortion, and terrorism.

And yes, in the day, Mr. Armstrong was a transformational leader. He sought the personnel he would inspire and motivate to implement the radical changes necessary to accomplish an organizational vision to protect Scotland from invaders while maximizing revenues from his service.

Though known as a blackguard and ruffian, transformational leaders like Johnnie Armstrong of Gilnockie are charismatic, self-confident, and can motivate and inspire others to produce “better” outcomes by following their lead. For good or not, the 3000 or more followers of Mr. Armstrong shared his attitudes and values to effect organizational change in the “Borderlands” with a high degree of effectiveness couched in more than a fraction of ruthlessness.

Mr. Armstrong’s “Reiver’s” organization involved a high level of uncertainty in day-to-day operations, much as the Coterie of the Black Hand did in later centuries. He had to be self-confident with poise, creative, and innovative to lead such a band of thieves, scoundrels, malefactors, and miscreants and keep them together. He obviously zeroed in on his “employees'” individual interests to align them with his organizational goals. Most assuredly, when organizational goals align with employee goals and needs, much success can be accomplished. The Armstrong Clan derived significant wealth and land from their horrendous enterprise and took care of their operatives.

Transformational leaders are charismatic, influential, intelligent, inspirational, and motivational. They use idealized influence to incorporate a shared vision, which in turn improves relations with the employees, spurring them on to “accomplish the seemingly unaccomplishable.”

Not all transformational leaders are as scurrilous as Mr. Johnnie Armstrong of Gilnockie. Found throughout society in various positions of power and influence, other transformational leaders are benevolent and philanthropic rather than conniving, duplicitous, and scandalous.

Jesus is an example of a transformational leader, Joel Osteen and Billy Graham; Condoleezza Rice and Martin Luther King, Jr.; Napoleon and Albert Einstein all come to mind.

And then there was a Colonel I once worked for as the Executive Officer and Chief of Public Affairs. His transformational leadership, personality, and management styles were such that I would have stood alongside him to charge the Gates of Hell. Everyone looked up to his administration, and he set an admiral professional tone with clear expectations. He was focused on the big picture and empowered his employees to manage the tasks necessary to accomplish it. He exemplified transformational leadership and inspired us to practice it throughout our careers.

These leaders share common traits commendable in all successful leaders.They have integrity, are dependable, can and do often endure hardship on the road to success, and readily share their enthusiasm for the work at hand. They can influence other people to buy into their ideas, possess high ethical and moral standards, know their business, and use the precepts of behavioral psychology humanistically.

Most importantly, they have a noticeable presence; you know when they enter the room, they exude self-confidence and often pursue their goals in a team-oriented manner. They know when to give praise and use constructive criticism.

Transformational leadership is conducive to the proactive, disruptor management leadership model and is essential in an ever-evolving and changing society.

Transformational leaders understand the concept of using the Collaborative Informed Consent model of communications and engagement. This leadership style encourages communication amongst all parties, seeks high levels of emotional intelligence, doesn’t fear feedback or productive criticism, understands the need for collaboration, and balances short-term vision and long-term goals.

Such leaders inform, listen, educate, and then engage their employees in seeking a path to the goals and ultimate vision success.

There are several chief characteristics of transformational leadership. These leaders value constructive and productive feedback, are transparent and flexible in the decision-making process, understand the difference between cooperation and collaboration, and seek opportunities to excel.

James MacGregor Burns, a political scientist, contended that transformational leadership requires a motivational management approach, with employees feeding on the leadership example and the leader’s personality. It is in direct contrast to transactional leadership, which focuses on supervision, performance, and organization, using discipline and incentives to drive performance.

Transformational Leaders Use Motivational Tools

One, they seek to understand their employees and what motivates them professionally and personally. They help employees define their personal and professional goals and collaborate with them to help fulfill the objectives. An employee who is considered this critical by their leader develops loyalty and commitment.

“Over the past 50-years years, one of my goals when leading teams was to find out what my secretary and other strategic employees wanted and needed to develop their careers professionally,” says Dr. L. Darryl Armstrong, Principal in ARMSTRONG and associates Behavioral Public Relations LLC. “Once we had mutually identified such needs, I sought to ensure they were met or exceeded. I’m pleased to say several of my employees distinguished themselves.”

Few things are more demotivating for an employee than the feeling they will not advance their careers within your organization. Employees will always be thinking about what their next move is – it benefits both of you to have that next move be within your organization. To help make this a reality, it is good to clarify what future responsibilities can be in store for each employee. The failure to understand this concept can and does lead employees to abandon you.

For example, the Department of Energy’s management declared I was much too important in my position at a national laboratory to advance my career, which led me to start my own business three decades ago.

Two, transformational leaders understand how to use friendly competition amongst employees to meet the organizational goals without pitting one employee against another.

At the same laboratory, I challenged my science writers to produce and publish in national journals and publications 52-strategic science stories over one year. This accomplishment was the first time in the 50-year history of the lab that the institution received such recognition.

Three, they don’t micromanage their employees. Instead, they provide the autonomy for the employee to determine the best approach to reaching a stated objective.

Four, such leaders create a positive work environment that keeps employees in the best possible mood to accomplish the various tasks necessary to reach the defined goals.

Five, there must be ongoing communications up and down the line. The last thing you want to have in the organization are employees feeling like “mushrooms.” As one employee once said to me about his previous manager, “Just like the mushroom, they feed us b.s. and keep us in the dark.”

Six find out what the employee wants and give it to them. Not all employees want more money; some want more authority, others prestige of titles, and others the freedom to be innovative. Find out what motivates the employee and provide it to the best of your ability. Do so across the board; never play favorites.

Finally, transactional leaders focus on day-to-day operations; transformational leaders strategically guide their organizations to achieve longer-term goals and visions.

The best of the best managers understand the importance of combining transformational leadership and as-needed transactional leadership. The balancing act is critical in this author’s opinion.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Transformational Leadership

Right Thing in the Right Way

Transformational leaders are honest with high integrity; they are ethically driven and focus on authenticity and transparency. Unlike transactional leaders, who focus on completing a task without seeing why it’s essential, transformational leaders focus on doing the right thing in the right way. By employing this management style, you encourage employees to stay focused on the task at hand while always acting in the best interests of the company and its wider communities.

Employee Turn-over is Reduced

Transformational leaders are charismatic figures and make people feel valued and respected – a key driver of morale and retention in any workplace. Employees understand this and seek to follow such leadership.

Transformational Leadership Encourages Change

To evolve, develop, and grow, an organization and its leadership must adapt, improve, and expand. Transformational leaders are ideal for bringing on board when introducing a new vision. Such leaders are passionate, sell changes quickly, and make continual improvements. They recognize issues readily and make adjustments to accomplish goals accordingly.

Effective Form of Leadership in Business

Google, Apple, Priceline, Ford, and Netflix are among the most successful companies globally; countless studies find that transformational leadership is one of the most influential management styles. Through strong communication and collaboration, transformational leaders inspire their staff, establish challenging goals, promote creativity, and increase morale.


There are disadvantages to transformational leadership; such leadership focuses on the “bigger picture” and not details. Therefore, an organization must have team members who are detail-oriented to engage the necessary processes and protocols to meet administrative needs. Such leaders must carefully choose their secretary, administrative assistant, and deputy to efficiently and effectively fulfill administrative responsibilities.

Transformational leaders are risk-takers. They embrace change and don’t shy from risk; however, too much of either can be disruptive and unproductive.

Transactional leaders assume all responsibilities. Transformational leaders equitably share accountability and responsibilities amongst the team. Some team members with such autonomy may feel exploited. Also, this style can lead to employee burn-out due to sustained productivity and ambitious deadlines.

A transformational leadership style can only be successful if they maintain open and consistent lines of communication with team members.

Leaders must maintain close, regular communications and constant, constructive feedback. Team meetings keep enthusiasm levels high. Such a task is exhausting for team leaders. However, if employees sense that communication isn’t happening or begin to feel out of the loop, they may lose interest in their tasks – and, therefore, their commitment to the vision.


“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak. Courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”. – Winston Churchill.

Transformational leadership is not for everyone and every organization. There is a time and place for every style. However,  I have come to understand that morale and job performance are improved when balancing transactional and transformational leadership. By connecting with our team members, we can help them collectively identify with our organization.  As Sir Winston aptly states, we must know when to speak up and shut up and listen. After all, God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason.


Unraveling the Border Ballads: The Ballad of Johnnie Armstrong

Transformational Leadership: Building an Effective Culture to Manage Organisational Knowledge

Pros and Cons of Transformational Leadership

#Leadership #Transformational #Strategicplanning #teambuilding