“Searching for African American
Academy of Business & Administrative Science’s
Fourth International conference
Quebec City, Canada
July 12-14, 2001
Dr. Emmanuel Chekwa Associate Professor of Business Administration
Division of Business and Accounting
P.O. Box 3800
Birmingham, AL 35206
Telephone: (205) 929-1538
FAX: (205) 290-0969
African-Americans have made significant gains in economic welfare since the birth of the civil rights laws in the decade of the sixties. The new challenges of the day continue to call for transformational leaders of all races and ethnic groups. Transformational leaders use the leadership style that best suits the situation they face. They build on the strength of others, strengths that sometimes are dormant. They are visionaries who enable people to transcend their own self-interest for the sake of others. They are leaders who change reality by building on the human need for meaning.
This paper examines some African American transformational leaders of the day and their contributions to the society as a whole. The paper also discusses: (a) how these men and women overcame the “glass ceiling” as they climbed the corporate or public service ladder, (b) the common traits they possess, and (c) whether these traits can be taught.
SEARCHING FOR AFRICAN AMERICAN TRANSFORMATIONAL LEADERS
The first African American to be appointed president of an Ivy League University was asked to name the one person who inspired her to pursue excellence. She wasted no time in stating that it was her kindergarten teacher, Ms. Ida Mae Henderson. Dr. Ruth Simmons, the newly appointed president of Brown University remembers hearing Ms. Henderson say that she could do anything she set her heart out to accomplish. Ms. Henderson was a transformational leader. The fact that she taught poor African American children in a poor neighborhood did not quench her dream. In kindergarten she dared to tell little Ruth Simmons that she could be a president of a college. Transformational leaders impart vision and encourage the heart.
Transformational leaders give “birth” to other transformational leaders. Dr. Simmons
caught the vision from Ms. Henderson and became a transformational leader herself. She believes that we can motivate people from all backgrounds to reach for the sky. One of her goals is to open the gates to elite education for everyone who is smart enough to reach for that goal. As president of Smith College she started a program in engineering, the first ever at a women’s college. Dr. Simmons is a transformational leader. Transformational leaders build today what will be needed tomorrow.
General Colin Powell is a household name around the world. He is the first African American to become Secretary of State of the United States of America. General Powell
is known to motivate followers to do more than originally expected. His military accomplishments were remarkable. When he retired from the military service, he spearheaded the mobilization of volunteers to help school children with reading and homework problems. He brings credibility and integrity wherever he goes. Morale is very high at the state department where he is currently the chief, by virtue of his position as the Secretary of State.
This paper discusses these leaders whose lives are consistent with transformational leadership qualities. Our search for African American transformational leaders has led us to the lives of these three distinguished people, with humble beginnings. First we start with a brief literature review on transformational leadership and then we go to brief reviews of the lives of Dr. Simmons, Ms. Henderson and General Powell.
Yukl (1989) says that transformational leadership is the process of influencing major changes in the attitudes and assumptions of the organization’s mission or objectives. Transformational leaders are change agents. They influence the mission and objectives to make way for a brighter future for the organization. Bass (1990) states that transformational leadership commonly involves the actions of leader’s influence on followers. People in these organizations follow the leader because they so desire. They are motivated to do more than is originally expected because of their feelings of trust, admiration, loyalty, and respect for the leader. They want to go the extra mile because of the deep sense of satisfaction they derive doing so. The leader motivates the subordinates
by making them more aware of the importance of values of task outcomes, and by helping subordinates think beyond their own self-interest to the work team and organization, and by activating higher order needs such as creative expression and self- actualization. Transformational leaders have charisma, but this is not the only factor needed to bring about change. They sometimes go down to the trenches with their followers as they also perform the roles of coach, trainer and mentor. (Shani & Lou, 2000)
Transformational leaders do not hesitate to challenge the process by searching for opportunities, experimenting and taking risks. They do not merely call for changes to be made. They take the lead initiating and proposing changes. They get their hands dirty and that is one reason they are much respected by their followers.
Transformational leaders inspire a shared vision by envisioning the future and enlisting others. They do not mind going it alone as they carve out the vision for the entire organization. Then they rally others to buy and support this vision as if it belonged to each of the organization’s members personally. These leaders enable others to act by fostering collaboration and strengthening other team members. They model the way by setting example and planning small wins. They encourage the heart by recognizing contributions and celebrating accomplishments. (James Kouzes and Barry Posner, 1990)
Transformational leaders employ the style that best suits the situation they face. They do not necessarily apply the effective method that worked yesterday to today’s problems. They do not approach every situation in the same way. When something does not work
the first time, they do not get a bigger hammer and hit it again. Transformational leaders restudy the situation and look for a better approach. They realize that style is not as important as results.(Lewis, 1996)
Transformational leaders are generally not selfish. They inspire others to excel and they give everybody individual consideration. These leaders stimulate people to think in new ways. Their impact in the organizations they work is almost revolutionary. They transform the people and organizations with which they work. (Lewis, 1996)
Assessing Individuals for Transformational Leadership Qualities
The following characteristics developed by Lewis (1996) can help identify transformational leaders. On a scale of one to five, where one is below average and five is the highest positive score, individuals can be evaluated on how well they score on each characteristic. General Powel and Dr. Simmons scored on top of the charts, using these characteristics:
1. Strategic thinker
2. Ability to empower others
4. Strategy formulation and implementation
5. Positive mental attitude
7. Encouraging human potential
8. Willingness to change
9. Ability to handle conflict
10. Effective communicator
11. Skilled Motivator
12 Ability to inspire trust
13. Ability to gain commitment
Transformational Leadership Style
Here we discuss some of these transformational leadership characteristics listed by Lewis (1996)
1. Transformational leaders build on the strengths of others, strengths that may have
2. Transformational leaders raise levels of awareness about the issues of
consequence and ways of reaching organizational goals for their colleagues,
subordinates, followers, clients, or constituents.
3. Transformational leaders enable people to transcend their own self-interest for the
sake of others.
4. Transformational leaders change reality by building on the human need for
meaning. They focus on values, morals and ethics. They are proactive and
encourage human potential.
5. Their goal is to transform people and organizations—change minds and hearts;
enlarge vision, insight and understanding, clarify purposes, make behavior
congruent with beliefs, principles, or values; and bring about changes that are
permanent, self-perpetuating, and momentum building.
6. Transformational leaders bind people together around a common identity—goals
7. Transformational leaders build for tomorrow what will be needed by the
organization at that time. (Lewis, 1996)
Power & Influence
Lewis (1996) summarizes the many ways transformational leaders use power and influence, as follows:
Transformational leaders use their power to empower others.
Transformational leaders provide members with the knowledge, skills, information, resources and support to accomplish goals. (Lewis, 1996) They use their power and influence to assist others and thus raise the productivity of the organization.
Transformational Leadership: Key Characteristics
Friedman (2000) appears to agree with most of the same leadership characteristics identified by Lewis (1996) as demonstrated by the following key characteristics:
Transformational leaders must look beyond the present to develop a vision for the
future. The leader must subscribe fully to the vision and be able to sell it to followers.
Dr. Martin Luther King shared his vision on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on
August 28, 1963 when he delivered his “I have a dream’ speech. He looked into the
future and saw blacks and whites enjoying healthy relationships.
Charisma and Inspiration.
Transformational leaders must have the ability to influence others with their inspirational qualities.
Intellectual Stimulation and Creativity
Since transformational leaders are agents of change, they must have the knowledge base to help motivate people to come up with innovative solutions and new ideas. They take risks after careful analysis.
Transformational leaders attempt to know each person’s talents, and assign them responsibilities accordingly. They respect everybody.
Honesty and Integrity.
Honesty and integrity are essential elements for sustained effectiveness. People who don’t trust their leader do not follow them effectively.
Confidence and Optimism.
A transformational leader must not shoot the messenger. He must project confidence and
optimism because people follow better if they are convinced that their leader believes in the vision set forth before them.
Dr. Ruth J. Simmons – Transformational Leader
Ruth J. Simmons is a transformational leader. She officially assumed the presidency of Brown University on July 1, 2001. She becomes the first African American to head an
thIvy League school in America, and the 18 president of Brown University.
th The search that led to the November 9 election of the 18 president of Brown was
exhaustive. The selection committee identified some 100 candidates for the president’s post and reviewed their credentials before narrowing the field to 26 people to interview.
Dr. Simmons was the president of Smith College from 1995 to 2000. In her tenure there she revitalized every aspect of that institution. She launched new building projects, established new avenues of intellectual pursuit, increased campus diversity, and improved the teaching environment for the faculty. She also led an extraordinarily successful capital campaign. She is indeed a visionary. She has continuously demonstrated academic leadership, impeccable character and unquestionable integrity. Her leadership skills earned her the love and admiration of the faculty, students and staff at Smith College. Brown University believes they have found a star in Dr. Ruth J. Simmons.