This week’s post is provided by my colleague Cedric Brisseau.

I recently re-read Warner Burke’s 1986 article “Leadership as Empowering Others.” In it, Burke discusses Burns distinguishing between two kinds of leadership, and emphasizes that successful organizations need both to excel:

  • Transformational (to provide clear vision and direction)
  • Transactional (to define and manage the steps needed to accomplish the vision)

Thirty plus years later and Burke’s words continue to ring true. The successful organizations that I have worked with have had both. The less successful organizations lacked transformational leadership and had transactional leaders and managers who were task oriented, provided little vision, and focused the bulk of their energy on operational tasks. This created conflict throughout the organizations. Followers were frustrated because of the lack of clarity regarding the organizations vision, direction, and strategic goals and managers felt that they were losing some of their autonomy because they felt like their leaders were taking over.

The successful programs that I have worked for have had strong transformational leaders who:

  1. Inspired their teams by providing them with clear vision, mission, and organizational goals
  2. Made sure that the vision, mission, and organizational goals are central to everything that they and their team members executed
  3. Delegated and empowered their managers and employees to define the steps needed to accomplish the organizational goals – becoming transactional managers

This enabled the transformational leaders to focus their energy towards stakeholder management, resource management, and conflict resolution. This further inspired their teams because they knew leadership could quickly mobilize the right people and resources to mitigate their issues.

Less successful programs had transactional but lacked transformation leadership. This is because organizations:

  1. Assess and promote Individuals based on their ability to execute job tasks
  2. Are full of top performers who have spent their careers perfecting the skillsets needed to become experts at their job tasks
  3. Underinvest in the development of transformational leadership skills

For one program I worked with it was the difference between employees having clarity around the tasks that they needed to complete (e.g., design and build a system), but not the task’s significance (e.g., design and build a system that enabled users to embrace the technology, strengthened the sales organization, and retained high customer service). It sounds like a small nuance, but without a balance between transformational and transactional leadership, the program had a tough time keeping their higher purpose in mind, which resulted in conflict between the program team and user groups; poor user acceptance testing; and ultimately multiple go-live delays.

To increase a program’s chances for success, organizational leaders must:

  1. Recognize that transformational and transactional leadership are interdependent – leaders provide the vision, managers use the vision to direct action – Ensure both are present on a program
  2. Invest in transformational leadership development – Top performers have spent their careers to excel at job tasks, provide them with the tools necessary to become great leaders

Helping your organization through difficult transitions,

Cedric Brisseau


Cedric Brisseau is a Performance Consultant with a background in systems training and talent development. When he is not supporting change management initiatives for a large system implementation, he is hanging out with his wife and daughter, and cooking up a storm in his kitchen. He is currently working on obtaining his master’s degree in Management and Organizational Behavior from Benedictine University. You can reach him at

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