Provost’s Distinguished Lecturer Series: What a transformational leader looks like

Although leadership can be complicated, F. William “Bill” Brown, professor of management at the Jake Jabs College of Business, said that leadership is essentially influence — “It’s our ability to get people to do stuff” — during a lecture he gave Tuesday, April 19 for the Provost’s Distinguished Lecturer Series.

After 20 years of military experience, which involved working at the NATO headquarters in Belgium, helping and observing individuals who were influential on a global scale, as well as working under General Colin Powell, Brown contracted an acute curiosity as to what leadership is.

“I had seen enormous feats of leadership under very difficult circumstances,” he said. “I saw leadership failures, I saw mistakes made. And so I sort of devoted my professional life to trying to understand that a little bit better.”

Most of Brown’s research is about transformational leadership, which “occurs when leaders broaden and elevate the interests of followers, when they generate awareness and acceptance of the purposes and missions of the group and when they stir followers to look beyond self interest for the good of the group,” according to Brown.

Brown gave examples of transformational leaders, such as Moses, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi. Brown said such leaders practiced what he called the four “I’s” of transformational leadership: individual consideration (valuing others as individuals, not just cogs in a machine); intellectual stimulation (encouraging others to think on deeper levels); inspirational leadership (reminding others the importance of what they do); and idealized influence. Brown designated idealized influence as potentially the most important “I,” describing it as “our willingness to follow others, not so much for what they do, but for the kind of persons that they are.”

While these components are important to transformational leadership, Brown said they aren’t everything. Emotional intelligence plays a key role as well.

“How aware are you of your own emotional state,” he asked the audience. Part of what makes an effective leader, Brown said, is being able to recognize, diagnose and control one’s own emotions while recognizing and diagnosing the emotions of others, and responding appropriately to emotional cues.

Emotional intelligence is key to being aware of the impact an individual has on the people around them. According to Brown, “if you don’t know how you come across to others, you’ve got no handhold at all for getting better.”

“The cool thing about teaching people about stuff like this is that the stuff you ought to do to make yourself a better business manager or leader,” Brown said, “is the stuff you ought to be doing for yourself anyway.” He thinks that developing as a leader also means developing as a person, allowing for better relationships at all levels.

Brown’s final statement was that people want to live meaningful, flourishing lives, “and the people that promise that are in a strong position to influence others.”

Bill Brown, a business management professor, delivers the 5th and final provost lecture of the academic year.
Photo by Chris Sandison