Leadership Qualities of an Effective Leader


A few years ago, I had the honor of serving on the University of Mary Washington’s Presidential Search Advisory Committee. As a committee we were tasked with providing input regarding the characteristics, experience, and, more importantly, the leadership qualities of the next president of the University. Much consideration was given to the leadership qualities necessary for a university president. Should the institution consider a leader who is both transformational and transactional, or just one dominant quality?


Institutions face an increasing number of internal and external challenges that contribute to their success or downfall.  Internally, the reinvention of academic programs, faculty/staff retention, inclusivity, and mental health issues are all matters of great concern within the institution.   Externally, state and federal funding reductions, the rising cost of college debt, and decreased financial support from outside resources have contributed to the need for institutions to rethink their mission, vision, and goals.  The college president must be at the forefront, leading the institution in this endeavor.


To meet the increasing demands of the institution, the college president must have an understanding of transactional and transformational leadership skills. Though the college president may possess a dominant quality, both transactional and transformational leadership qualities must be applied for them to be effective in their leadership position.  Applying both qualities contributes, immensely, to the success of the institution.


Transformational leadership focuses on motivating, engaging, and inspiring followers. Furthermore, the transformational leader tends to be charismatic, vision driven, proactive in addressing problems, and encouraging of change. Whereas, the transactional leader works within the established goals, maintains order within the organization, and focuses on a highly structured environment.


Basham (2012) states, “As the chief planning officer, the president has a special obligation to innovate and initiate” (Basham p. 15).  The direction of the institution stems from the leadership of the college president; regardless of its’ transformational or transactional nature, leadership must exist.


Should the college president be applying transformational or transactional leadership styles? Basham posed the question to 300 college presidents with a response from fifty-two. Basham’s (2012) findings states, “A successful organization depends upon applying both transformational and transactional concepts, practices and principles” (Basham p. 23).  In other words, college presidents must recognize that various issues call for different approaches.


So what style of leader is the president of the University of Mary Washington? A transactional leader who “tells the dream” or a transformational leader who “sells the dream?”  Based on my observation, UMW’s tenth president is both a transactional and a transformational leader. As the transactional leader,  he depends on faculty and staff to ensure routine work is done reliably.  As the transformational leader, he is inspiring, passionate, empowering, vision-driven, forward thinking, and accomplishes goals through a shared vision approach.


Basham, L. M. (2012). Transformational and Transactional Leaders in Higher Education. S.A.M. Advanced Management Journal, 77(2), 15-23, 37.

Basham, L. M. (2012). Transformational and Transactional Leaders in Higher Education. SAM Advanced Management Journal, 77(2), 15-23, 37. Retrieved from https://search-proquest com.proxy.library.vcu.edu/docview/1027234874/fulltextPDF/9C8C9B5735454121PQ/1?accountid=147

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