The need for leadership has never been so great. The stage for Armageddon and the consequent seeking for people of character has never been better set. Indeed, the axiom behind successful human endeavour, be it a family, business, political, sporting, spiritual or national level, can be summed up in one word - leadership

Guy Charlton

The need for a transformational approach to leadership

Africa poses special management and leadership challenges. The uniqueness of African conditions in terms of cultural diversity and complexity necessitates the search for leadership solutions beyond the normal quick-fix approaches. Most well-known theories of improving Leadership effectiveness and performance are based on Western philosophy and no conclusive evidence exists that these theories can simply be applied in the current African environment.

Many advocates of the African Leadership movement view Western values as opposing and even alternative to African values. As the object of leadership, namely people, is so immensely diverse, leadership has become a craft, an art of observing others and their behaviours and adapting one’s own behaviour to positively influence those of others. For leaders to be able to develop their people into a motivated, inspired and productive workforce they will have to accept the challenge of understanding the diverse and unique composition of African value systems. Different individual values and attitudes form important indicators of leaders’ abilities to motivate and inspire followers. These differences strongly affect leadership approaches and styles adopted by leaders. For example, to expect people to take responsibility and to be decisive in a culture where followers prefer their leaders to be the decision-makers will be of low motivational value and will eventually prove to be an ineffective approach. It is thus clear that a sound knowledge and understanding of the values and attitudes of followers is critical in ensuring required follower behaviour.

Despite the positive characteristics of the African culture it is not perfect and does show (like all other cultures) shortcomings. According to Van der Walt (1997), there are several obstacles towards the development of an effective African approach to Leadership success:

  • Everyone’s responsibility is nobody’s responsibility. This comes as a result of the strong community focus.
  • Nobody may progress further in the organization than what his position by virtue of birth allows him, i.e. a carpenter earning more than his tribal chief must be brought back to the status that suits him.
  • A fatalistic approach, which ascribes everything that happens to man to evil spirits or alarmed ancestors.
  • Tolerance of what is bad – all-natural as well as man-made evil i.e. oppression.
  • A wrong time conception and utilisation of time. For the African time is not watch-oriented but man-oriented – man does not use time but makes time to merely hang around useless and do nothing. The fact that best use should be made of time and that “time waits for nobody” still hasn’t had a major influence on the people of Africa.

The search for a suitable leadership model for a transforming Africa should therefore not run the risk of only focusing on African-specific cultural elements and characteristics. The focus should much rather be on finding and developing leadership approaches that could successfully integrate both Western and African cultural elements.

When people from various national cultures are asked at the beginning of leadership development workshops what their ideal leader would be like, they describe the characteristics of a transformational leader (Bass1994). Therefore, EMIT has a wholistic approach to leadership development with a focus on transformation. Our model proposes that the transformational leader has the ability to shift followers to higher-level needs, to transcend their own self-interest for the good of the group or organization and to work harder than they initially expected to.

The development of followers to their full potential is a primary concern for the transformational leader. The transformational leader is much more future-oriented and fosters an organizational culture of creative change and growth. Continuous awareness and acceptance of the group’s purpose are viewed as critical and followers are encouraged to focus away from self-interest towards the good of the group or team. These leaders tend to give direction, they inspire, gain commitment, and serve as respected examples in order to develop people to their full potential in their efforts to solve problems and perform better.

Negin (2000) cites three important criteria for leaders to be transformational:

  • They should manifest modal values and advance the standards of good conduct.
  • They work to achieve end values
  • They have a positive impact on the people whose lives they touch.

Avolio, Waldman & Yammarino (1991: 10) characterise transformational leaders by four separate components or characteristics denoted as the four (4) I’s of transformational leadership:

  • Individualised consideration.

    The development of each follower is important and his/her worth as a person is constantly reinforced through personal attention. Each follower is individually coached and advised. All individuals are considered as having different needs, abilities and aspirations.

  • Intellectual stimulation.

    Intelligent, creative problem solving is promoted through the continuous questioning, challenging and re-examining of assumptions. Followers are encouraged to challenge old rules, procedures and status quo’s where they do not fit the purpose any more. These leaders get others to look at problems from different angles. They encourage non-traditional thinking to deal with problems.

  • Inspirational Motivation.

    The importance of each individual’s task is expressed in terms of a bigger picture. Accomplishments of the team are emphasised and members’ attention is constantly focussed on the future. Inspirational motivating leaders talk optimistically and enthusiastically about the future and what needs to be accomplished. They express confidence that goals will be achieved and provide an exciting image of what is essential to consider.

  • Idealised Influence.

    Through acting as positive examples and role models, these leaders ensure follower respect and trust. They display a sense of power and confidence, they instil pride in others for being associated with them and will go beyond self-interest for the good of the group.

In a transformational culture, people are led through example and given direction but are also allowed initiative. Creativity is encouraged, mistakes are considered as part of learning and development, and open communication generally prevails. Behaviour is guided through vision and shared values and people are encouraged to develop beyond their present jobs and abilities.

EMIT has a strong transformational approach to leadership. We believe that training leaders that understand transformational leadership and will lead in a transformational way is what Africa needs. We also believe that for any leader to be ultimately transformed, Jesus Christ has to be the centre of the transformation of the leader.


Avolio, B.J., Waldman, D.A. and Yammarino, F.J. (1991), “Leading in the 1990s: The Four I′s of Transformational Leadership”, Journal of European Industrial Training, Vol. 15 No. 4.

Bass, B. M., & Avolio, B. J. (1994). Improving organizational effectiveness through transformational leadership. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Negin, J. (2000). Military leadership. Second edition. New York: McGraw-Hill. Van der Walt, B.J. (1997). Afro-centric or Euro-centric? Our calling in a multicultural South Africa. Potchefstroom: Potchefstroom University for Christian Higher Education.