Annemarie SANDERS, Editor. Transformational Leadership: Conversations with the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. Maryknoll, N.Y. Orbis Books, 2015. pp. 207. $20.00 pb. ISBN 978-1-62698-138-6. Reviewed by Dr. Terry SHIELDS, Leadership and Management Program, McMaster University, Hamilton, ON L8S 4L8.
As the title notes, this book is a collection of conversations with people who exercised leadership at critical times in the lives of their communities and their reflections on what made their leadership effective. It asked Catholic sisters elected to positions of responsibility and authority, and others committed to leading transformational change to reflect on their approaches to helping their organizations rise to and take on the challenges they faced, to re-imagine themselves and their vocation in a new perspective that fosters hope and courage and, ultimately, transformation. The interviews are organized in a way that relates the practice of leadership to five themes: Contemplation, Prophetic Imagination, Vision, Adaptation, and Crisis. It closes with a reflection on forming future leaders.
The term, “transformational Leadership”(TL), refers to a broad based perspective that encompasses many facets and dimensions of the leadership process. The leaders interviewed set out to empower and nurture followers, to influence them to transcend their self interests for the sake of others, and to move them to accomplish more than was expected of them. The leaders interviewed created a culture where people felt empowered and encouraged to discuss new ideas. Because they paid attention to the charismatic and affective elements of their role as transformational leaders they were effective at working with people, building trust, fostering collaboration, encouraging, and celebrating. It becomes clear from these conversations that leadership emerges from the interplay between leaders and followers and that relationships are instrumental in the evolving transformational process. TL is relational because it is about people and their deeply held beliefs and values. Leaders and followers are bound together in the transformational process.
To parse the content of eighteen interviews is a task not fitted to a short review. It would, however, be fair to say that Sanders’ book concretizes the following key factors in TL: 1. Idealized influence (leaders who act as strong role models for followers; followers identify and want to emulate these leaders. Leaders provide followers with a vision and sense of mission). 2. Inspirational motivation (leader communicates high expectations, inspires through motivation to commit to and participate in the shared vision). 3. Intellectual stimulation (leadership stimulates followers to be creative and innovative and to challenge their own beliefs and values as well as those of the leader). 4. Individualized consideration (leader provides a supportive climate; acts as coach, advisor assisting followers to become fully actualized).While not appropriate as a textbook (or meant to be one) for leadership studies, the various interviews and reflections could form the basis for case studies for leadership seminars and workshops, not only for religious communities, but for leaders in government, civic organizations, workplaces and professional associations.