Understanding Transformational Political Leadership ,By Otive Igbuzor, PhD

It is well recognized that leadership is very important for the success of organizations and nations. Some scholars have pointed out that everything rises and falls on leadership.[1] Study after study, superior financial and organizational performance has been linked to leadership.[2] Despite this recognition, there is scarcity of leaders all over the world. According to Myles Munroe, the world is filled with followers, supervisors and Managers but very few leaders.[3]  There is a common saying that there are four kinds of people in the world: those who watch things happen; those who let things happen; those who ask what happened and those who make things happen. Leaders are those who make things happen. We live in very challenging times characterized by monumental changes, more competition and more opportunities than ever before.[4]

Democracy has been accepted all over the world as the best form of government and election as the best approach for the emergence of political leadership, which is crucial for the progress, development and fortunes of many nations.[5]


Like most terms in social discourse, there is no universal definition of leadership. Leadership is defined in different ways by several scholars. Myles Munroe defines leadership as the ability to lead others by influence.[6] This includes the capacity to influence, inspire, rally, direct, encourage, motivate, induce, move, mobilize, and activate others to pursue a common goal or purpose while maintaining commitment, momentum, confidence and courage.  The most popular definition is that Leadership is influence.[7] Influence here means the ability to move another in a direction you believe is important. According to Bernard Montgomery, a British Field Marshal, Leadership is the capacity and will to rally men and women to a common purpose and the character which inspires confidence. [8] To influence requires that your ideas are heard and accepted. You can only win hearts and minds when you respect their aspirations, interests and concerns.[9] According to Daniel Goleman, the fundamental task of leaders is to prime good feeling in those they lead.[10]

Leadership is one of the most important variables that affect the performance of any organization/institution or nation. Philip of Macedonia, the father of Alexander the Great said, “An army of deer led by a lion is more to be feared than an army of lions led by a deer.”[11]

The leadership of any organization or determines its success or failure.  It is the process of providing guidance to followers- the art of influencing human behaviour to strive willingly for mutually compatible objectives.  One scholar once argued that “a leader is a who knows the road, who can keep ahead and who pulls others after him/her.”  The Core Leadership Responsibilities include achieving the task, building and maintaining the group and developing the individual. In any organisation or , it is the leadership that mobilises people to get thing done.

Mary Lippit, a Leadership scholar conceives of Leadership as a balancing act in which the leader must grapple with both strategic and tactical issues and problems, attending to both internal and external forces- and always “keep their eyes on the prize.”[12] She argues that to get results, leaders must focus on results. She proposes a Leadership framework that is explicit and able to broaden the mindset of leaders and encourage the examination of options and produce results. The Framework consists of six priorities that leaders and teams need to focus upon. The priorities are:

  1. Developing new products and services (Inventor)
  2. Wining and retaining customers (Catalyst)
  3. Designing a supportive infrastructure and systems (Developer)
  4. Focusing on efficiencies and improving quality (Performer)
  5. Building the culture and developing people (Protector)
  6. Scanning the future and seizing opportunities (Challenger)


Leaders can get things done by engaging in five practices.[13] First is to model the way by clarifying values through giving voice and affirming shared ideals as well as setting the example by aligning actions with shared values. Secondly, leaders can get things done by envisioning the future and enlisting others in a common vision through appealing to shared aspirations. Thirdly, leaders can challenge the process by searching for opportunities through innovative ways to improve and experimenting, taking risks and learning from experience. Fourthly, leaders can enable others to act by fostering collaboration, building trust, facilitating relationships and strengthening others through increasing self- and developing competence. Finally, leaders can get things done by recognizing contributions through showing appreciation for individual excellence and celebrating the values and victories by creating a spirit of community.


According to John Maxwell, a good leader has 21 indispensable qualities namely character; charisma (ability to draw people to you); commitment; effective communication; competence (ability to say it, plan it and do it); courage; discernment (ability to find out the root of a matter through intuition, intellect and experience); focus (to ensure prioritization, concentration and task completion); generosity; initiative; listening; passion; positive attitude; problem solving ability; relationships; responsibility; security; self-discipline; servanthood; teachability and vision.[14]

It is important to point out that leaders are ordinary people who accept or are placed under extra-ordinary circumstances that bring forth their latent potential, producing a character that inspires the confidence and trust of others.[15] This is why Amandla, the cultural wing of the Africa National (ANC) stated that leaders are not born; they are produced during the course of the struggle. Great leaders are usually ordinary people who are prepared to sacrifice and do extraordinary things because circumstances made demands on their potential. True leaders are not selfish and have no interest in themselves or position but committed to influencing others for the common good.


There are different kinds of leadership required for different eras. Scholars have pointed out in the period of crisis requires charismatic leadership with a combination of intelligence, purpose, grace under pressure and consideration for followers.

The period of change requires transformational leaders who are courageous, value driven and visionary people who are uncomfortable with uncertainty while steady times require transactional leaders who maintain the status quo and strengthen existing structures, cultures and strategies.


Political leadership is crucial for the development of nations. The progress, development and fortunes of many nations are tied to the type and quality of political leadership that they have had and continue to have.  Several scholars have argued that the greatest problem confronting Africa is the political underscoring the importance of political leadership. According to Claude Ake:

Many factors have been offered to explain the apparent failure of the development enterprise in Africa: the colonial legacy, social pluralism and centrifugal tendencies, the corruption of leaders, poor labour discipline, the lack of entrepreneurial skills, poor planning and incompetent management, inappropriate policies, the stifling of market mechanisms, low levels of technical assistance, the limited inflow of foreign capital, falling commodity prices and unfavourable terms of trade, and low levels of saving and investment. These factors are not irrelevant to the problem, Alone or in combination they could be serious impediments to development. However, the assumption so readily made that there has been failure of development is misleading. The problem is not so much that development has failed as that it was never really on the agenda in the first place. By all indications, political conditions in Africa are the greatest impediment to development.[16]



Several Scholars give different categorisation of leadership theories. We are however adopting the one by the Centre for Leadership Studies which reviewed Leadership theory and competency frameworks and classified leadership theories into seven categories namely:

  1. The “Great Man” Theories: The “great man” theories assume that the capacity for leadership is inherent and that great leaders are born, not made. These theories are based on the belief that leaders are exceptional people, born with innate qualities destined to lead.[17]
  2. Trait Theories: These theories assume that people inherit certain qualities and traits that make them better suited for leadership. The theories argue that there are certain traits or characteristics that are present in certain persons that help them in leadership. Leaders are therefore believed to be more intelligent that the average of the group being led but may not be the most intelligent. The trait theories point out that leaders have a list of skills such as creativity, organising ability, persuasiveness, diplomacy and tactfulness, knowledge of the task and the ability to speak well.
  3. Behaviourist Theories: These theories concentrate on what people do that make them to be leaders rather than on their qualities. McGregors theory X and Theory Y Managers proposes that leadership strategies are influenced by a leaders assumption about human nature.




McGregor summarised two contrasting sets of assumptions made by managers in industry.

Theory X managers believe that:


• The average human being has an inherent dislike of work and will avoid it if possible.


• Because of this human characteristic, most people must be coerced, controlled, directed, or threatened with punishment to get them to put forth adequate effort to achieve organizational objectives.


• The average human being prefers to be directed, wishes to avoid responsibility, has relatively little ambition, and wants security above all else.


Theory Y managers believe that:


• The expenditure of physical and mental effort in work is as natural as play or rest, and the average human being, under proper conditions, learns not only to accept but to seek responsibility.


• People will exercise self-direction and self-control to achieve objectives to which they are committed.


• The capacity to exercise a relatively high level of imagination, ingenuity, and creativity in the solution of organizational problems is widely, not narrowly, distributed in the population, and the intellectual potentialities of the average human being are only partially utilized under the conditions of modern indus


Source: Culled from Bolden et all (2003)

Behavioural theories are based upon the belief that great leaders are made, not born.[18] According to this theory, people can learn to become leaders through teaching and observation.

  1. Situational Leadership Theories: These theories point out that leadership emerges according to the situation which also determines the leadership style.
  2. Contigency Theory: This is a refinement of the situational approach and focuses on identifying the variables which produces leaders and the style that fit particular circumstances. According to this theory, no leadership style is best in all situations; and success depends on a number of variables including leadership style; qualities of followers and aspects of the situation. The theory points out that the leadership style depend on such factors as the situation, the people, the task, the organisation and other environmental variables.[19]
  3. Transactional Theory: This theory emphasizes the importance of the relationship between leaders and followers, focusing on the mutual benefits derived from a form of “contract” through which the leader delivers such things as rewards and recognition in return for the commitment or loyalty of the followers.
  4. Transformational Theories: The central concept in transformational theory is change and the role of leadership in envisioning and implementing the change. Transformational leaders are change agents; courageous; believe in people; value driven; lifelong learners; have the ability to deal with compexity; ambiguity and uncertainty; and are visionaries (have grand plans).[20]


Transactional Leadership

Transformational Leadership


• Builds on man’s need to get a job done and make a living


• Is preoccupied with power and position, politics and perks


• Is mired in daily affairs


• Is short-term and hard data orientated


• Focuses on tactical issues


• Relies on human relations to lubricate human interactions


• Follows and fulfils role expectations by striving to work effectively within current systems


• Supports structures and systems that reinforce the bottom line, maximise efficiency, and guarantee short-term profits




• Builds on a man’s need for meaning


• Is preoccupied with purposes and values, morals, and ethics


• Transcends daily affairs


• Is orientated toward long-term goals without compromising human values and principles


• Focuses more on missions and strategies


• Releases human potential – identifying and developing new talent


• Designs and redesigns to make them meaningful and challenging


• Aligns internal structures and systems to reinforce overarching values and goals


Culled from Bolden et al (2003)

“The goal of transformational leadership is to ‘transform’ people and organisations in a literal sense – to change them in mind and heart; enlarge vision, insight, and understanding; clarify purposes; make behaviour congruent with beliefs, principles, or values; and bring about changes that are permanent, self-perpetuating, and momentum building”

According to Bass and Avolio, transformational leaders display behaviours associated with five transformational styles:

Transformational Style

Leader Behaviour

1) Idealized Behaviors: living one’s ideals



• Talk about their most important values and beliefs


• Specify the importance of having a strong sense of purpose


• Consider the moral and ethical consequences of decisions


• Champion exciting new possibilities


• Talk about the importance of trusting each other


2) Inspirational Motivation:

inspiring others



• Talk optimistically about the future


• Talk enthusiastically about what needs to be accomplished


• Articulate a compelling vision of the future


• Express confidence that goals will be achieved


• Provide an exciting image of what is essential to consider


• Take a stand on controversial issues


3) Intellectual Stimulation:

stimulating others



• Re-examine critical assumptions to question whether they are appropriate


• Seek differing perspectives when solving problems


• Get others to look at problems from many different angles


• Suggest new ways of looking at how to complete assignments


• Encourage non-traditional thinking to deal with traditional problems


• Encourage rethinking those ideas which have never been questioned before


4) Individualized Consideration: coaching and development



• Spend time teaching and coaching


• Treat others as individuals rather than just as members of the group


• Consider individuals as having different needs, abilities, and aspirations from others


• Help others to develop their strengths


• Listen attentively to others’ concerns


• Promote self development


5) Idealized Attributes: Respect, trust, and faith



• Instill pride in others for being associated with them


• Go beyond their self-interests for the good of the group


• Act in ways that build others’ respect


• Display a sense of power and competence


• Make personal sacrifices for others’ benefit


• Reassure others that obstacles will be overcome


Culled from Bolden et al (2003)


5.      ELECTION

Election is crucial because it gives the procedure that allows members of an organization or community to choose representatives who will hold positions of authority within it.[21] In any democratic system, it is crucial that elections be free and fair. Mackenzie (1967) identified four conditions for the conduct of a free and fair election viz.:

(1)               An independent judiciary to interpret the electoral laws.

(2)               An honest, competent non-partisan electoral body to manage the elections.

(3)               A developed system of political parties.

(4)               A general acceptance by the political community of the rules of the game.[22]

Another scholar Dundas (1994) argued that the assessment of an election as to whether it is free and fair or not can be done by answering the following questions:

(1)               Is the legal framework adequate to ensure that the organization of free and fair multi-party elections be achieved in a given situation?

(2)               Has the potential to contribute to the holding of free and fair multi-party elections been reflected in the provisions of the constitution and those of electoral laws?

(3)               Have the courts been given the fullest possible role in assisting aggrieved persons who complain about failures in the procedures of major election processes?

(4)               Are the election safeguards satisfactorily balanced with the facilitation measures in place and aimed at delivering high quality election services at cost effective levels?[23]

Over the years, scholars have identified electoral standards which contribute to uniformity, reliability, consistency, accuracy and overall professionalism in elections.[24] These standards include:

  1. Constitutional provision that provide the foundation for the key elements of electoral framework including electoral and the basic principles of the electoral system.
  2. Electoral law that guides the conduct of the elections including the powers of the electoral management bodies and governmental bodies.
  3. The election administration must demonstrate respect for the law; be non-partisan and neutral; transparent; accurate, professional and competent and must be designed to serve the voters.
  4. The electoral system should guarantee political inclusiveness, representation, frequency of elections and fairness in the organization of electoral units.
  5. The organization of electoral units is done in such a way as to achieve the objective of according equal weight to each vote to the greatest degree possible to ensure effective representation.
  6. The legal framework should ensure that all eligible citizens are guaranteed the right to universal and equal suffrage as well as the right to contest elections without any discrimination.
  7. The electoral management bodies are established and operate in a manner that ensures the independent and impartial administration of elections.
  8. Voters registers are maintained in a manner that is transparent and accurate and protects the of qualified citizens to register, and prevents the unlawful or fraudulent registration or removal of persons.
  9. All political parties and candidates are able to compete in elections on the basis of equitable treatment.
  10. The electoral campaigns are organized in such a way that each political party and enjoys the right to freedom of expression and freedom of association, and has access to the electorate, and that all stakeholders in the election process have an equal chance of success.
  11. All political parties and candidates have access to the media owned or controlled by the state and those privately owned and that no unreasonable limitations are placed on the right of political parties and candidates to free expression during election campaigns.
  12. All political parties and candidates are equitably treated by legal provisions governing campaign finances and expenditures.
  13. Polling stations are accessible and that there is accurate recording of ballots and that the secrecy of the ballot is guaranteed.
  14. All votes are counted and tabulated accurately, equally, fairly and transparently.
  15. There are representatives of parties and candidates contesting the election to observe all voting processes.
  16. To ensure transparency and to increase credibility, there should be provision for election observers to observe all stages of election process, and
  17. There should be compliance with and enforcement of the electoral law.



The electoral process can be divided into three main phases:

1.      Pre-election phase: This phase includes activities such as delimitation, voter registration, registration of political parties, nomination process, campaign process, media and civic and voter education.

2.      Election phase: This phase has to with Election Day activities including polling stations, secrecy of ballot, ballot papers, ballot boxes, election materials, counting, election monitoring and observation.

3.      Post-election phase: This include announcement of results, post election review and post election disputes.




The conduct of elections into political office dates back to ancient time. As far back as 64 BC, Marcus Tullius Cicero, gave a guide on how to win election which is still very relevant to modern politicians today.[25] The pragmatic advice which is considered timeless includes the following:

1.      Make sure you have the backing of your family and friends.

2.      Surround yourself with the right people and build talented staff that you can trust.

3.      Call in all favours

4.      Build a wide base of support including interest groups, local organizations and rural populations.

5.      Make promises.

6.      Communication skills are key.

7.      Don’t leave town: Be on the ground.

8.      Know the weaknesses of your opponents and exploit them.

9.      Warm up to voters.

10.  Give people hope.

There are processes on how to win election in Nigeria. Any that wants to win election in Nigeria must first be relevant to his community, society and political party even before engaging the electoral process. The first step in engaging the electoral process is how to win the party nomination. In order to get into the ballot, the following are necessary:

·         Membership and support of a political party

·         Acceptance by political leaders

·         Loyalty to the party and leaders

·         Demonstrable capacity to win the elections (structure, popularity, finance etc)

At the main election, winning the election depends on a number of factors including:

·         Campaign plan: Team, funding, research, voters analysis, database etc

·         Campaign message: simple, powerful message that can be repeated again and again.

·         Image of

·         Fund raising: personal solicitation, fund raising events

·         Media: including campaign materials, posters, T-shirts, face caps, wrapper, hat etc

·         Grassroot mobilization: using volunteers, social media, alliances, voter registration, voter education.

·         Deployment and organization of agents

·         Protection of mandate: behavior of supporters and agents, collection of evidence for court processes.



The set of skills required for leadership including conceptual skills (analysis, research and policy formulation); technical skills (project management and administration) and social skills (people skills, networking and public relations) are also required to attract voters. It is therefore necessary that politicians are trained in leadership to enable them to attract voters.

 In order to attract voters, politicians need to inspire the electorate with their programmes; stimulate the voters with different perspectives of tackling problems confronting them; attend to some of their individual needs and build trust in their leadership potentials.

 In addition, politicians should perform the leadership function of getting things done. They can do this by modeling the way (engaging in grassroots consultation and mobilization); inspiring a shared vision through their programme and electioneering campaigns; enabling others to act through their engagement with the campaign process and encouraging the heart through visit to funeral ceremonies, marriages and other social functions. Any politician who performs the above functions well will be easily elected in a credible, free and fair electoral contest, all other things being equal. For politicians to effectively attract votes require that they should possess the qualities of leaders enunciated above.

 The constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria recognizes this hence there is prescription for the qualifications for contesting for any position.  Apart from the citizenship, political party membership and age qualifications, persons seeking to contest elections in Nigeria have educational requirements (at least school certificate); health requirement (must not be a lunatic); economic requirement (not bankrupt); ethical requirement (not indicted for embezzlement or fraud) and social requirement (not a member of any secret cult).


It cannot be overemphasized that leadership is one of the most important variables that determine the progress and development of any .[26] Nigeria came into being by the amalgamation of Southern and protectorates in 1914. By 2014, Nigeria will be one hundred years. There is consensus that Nigeria has not utilized its potentials to the fullest. Indeed, the pervading poverty, insecurity, underdevelopment and poor development indices has been blamed squarely on leadership. For the past one hundred years, Nigeria has not witnessed the kind of dynamic, strategic and visionary leadership that can turn the potentials of the country into real opportunities for the people. This is why it is necessary to build the kind of leadership to accelerate the development of the country in the next one hundred years.

It is very clear that the context of the past one hundred years will be quite different from the context of the next one hundred years. For instance, the amount of information available to leaders is going to continually increase in the next one hundred years. Future leaders will therefore have to develop the ability to access the most relevant information and differentiate them from irrelevant information. Similarly, the market has affected every facet of life in very fundamental ways in the last one hundred years. Future leaders will need to understand clearly the market and how the ideology of free market and deregulation has affected politics, the economy and every facet of life. The world is undergoing rapid changes in every facet. At the beginning of the 21st century, more than half of the workforce in industrial world are self employed or in temporary or part time requiring management in different ways.[27] In Nigeria today, there is a lot of emphasis on entrepreneurial training and the workforce will change in the next one hundred years. It is therefore necessary that future leaders need to find new ways to align people around national agenda and interests especially as it has been shown that laws, rulebooks, training programmes and compliance systems have not worked in all cases.[28]



Larry Stout gives an indication of how transformational leadership can bring about change[29]:

       I.            Leadership implies change and initiating change: Management is  maintaining the organization, keeping everything running smoothly; whereas leaders push to make changes-they go beyond status quo. Leaders by definition lead.

    II.            Any change must benefit the followers and not just the leader: Change is psychologically difficult and individuals change only when they perceive a benefit. Any enforced change without the willingness of the followers is simply an exercised in authority-not leadership.

 III.            The right conditions must exist to initiate change: Simply wanting to make a change forward is not going to make it happen. A person must be at the right place, at the right time, the right things with the right people to truly impact a change.

 IV.            Success in leading depends on the leader’s “Capital.”: Once given an opportunity to lead, success will depend on the six core elements that have been effectively developed within the leader, known as his or her leadership capital. There are six competences that constitute the leadership capital namely vision and  values (philosophical characteristics); wisdom and courage (personal characteristics) and trust and voice (interpersonal characteristics).

    V.            Success in leadership happens when conditions and capital coincide: Success in leadership is not a matter of luck, but good preparation that coincides with an appropriate moment in time. These “Gateways of Leadership Initiative” are the strategic windows of opportunity that the effective leader uses.

 VI.            Failure in leadership is a result of changing conditions or misapplied capital: Failure happens sometimes through neglect, other times through incompetence, and other times simply as a result of circumstances. In each case, the root of failure can be identified in either a weakness in leadership capital or a change in the leaders .

Leadership Capital is an expendable resource: Good leaders must maintain their capital during changing conditions, which means they must practice continous learning. Only through personal self-development can a leader continue to supply him or herself with renewable leadership energy.

Dr Igbuzo is Executive Director,

African Centre for Leadership, Strategy & Development (Centre LSD),

Headquarters: Suite 27-28, Second Floor, Tolse Plaza,

4, Franca Afegbua Crescent,

Off Mariere road,

After Apo Legislative Quarters,

Abuja, Nigeria.

Niger Delta Office: No. 1 Ralph Uwechue Way,

 Off Okpanam Road, Opposite Legislative Quarters, Asaba, Delta State.

Website: www.centrelsd.org; www.otiveigbuzor.com

E-mail: [email protected]






[1]Maxwell, J. C. (1999), The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader. Nashville, Tennessee, Thomas Nelson Inc.

[2] Fulmer, R. M. and Bleak, J. L. (2007), The Leadership Advantage: How the Best Companies are developing their talent to pave way for future success. NewYork, Amacom.

[3] Munroe, M. (1993), Becoming a Leader. Lanham, Pneuma Life Publishing

[4] Tracy, Brian (2010), How the Best Leaders Lead. New York, Amacon.

[5] Igbuzor, O (2012), Overcoming the Challenges of Transformation in Nigeria. Lagos, Joe-Tolalu & Associates.

[6] Munroe, M. (1993), Becoming a Leader. Lanham, Pneuma Life Publishing.

[7]Collier, K and Williams, M. (2004), Biblical Leadership: Becoming a Different Kind of Leader. Greenville, Ambassador International

[8]Quoted in Maxwell, J. C. (1999) The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader. Nashville, Tennesse, Thomas Nelson Inc.

[9] Successful Manager’s Handbook (2002 by Moi Ali et all

[10] Goleman, Daniel (2012), The New Leaders: Transforming the Art of Leadership into the Science of Results.

[11] Sanbor

n, Mark (2006), You don’t need a Title to be a Leader. New York, The Doubleday Broadway Publishing Company

[12] Lippit, Mary Burner (2002), The Leadership Spectrum: Business Priorities that Get Results. California, Davies-Black Publishing

[13] Igbuzor, O (2009), Lecture Notes on Leadership. Abuja, African Centre for Leadership, Strategy & Development.

[14] Maxwell, J. C. (1999), Op Cit

[15]Munroe, M. (1993) Op cit

[16] Ake, C. (2001), Democracy and Development in Africa. Ibadan, Spectrum Books Ltd

[17]Bolden, R. et al (2003), A Review of Leadership Theory and Competency Frameworks. UK, Centre for Leadership Studies, University of Exeter.

[18]Wagner, K. V. (2005), Leadership Theories.

[19]Bolden Op cit

[20]Rao, N. (2009), Theories of Leadership: A brief Introduction.


[21]Ujo, A. A. (2000), Elections: A Guide for Students and Election Managers. Kaduna, Anyaotu Enterprises and Publishers (Nigeria) Limited. 

[22]Mackenzie, W. J. M. (1967), Free Elections. , George Allen and Unwin

[23]Dundas, W. C. (Ed) (1994), Dimensions of Free and Fair Elections. , Commonwealth Secretariat. 

[24] I-IDEA (2002), International Electoral Standards: Guidelines for Reviewing the Legal Framework of Elections. Sweden, International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (I-IDEA)

[25] Cicero, Q. T (2012), How to win an Election: An ancient Guide for Modern Politicians. Princeton, Princeton University Press.

[26] Igbuzor, O (2010), Lecture Notes on Leadership.

[27]Nevies, M. D and Stumpf, S. A. 21st Century Leadership: Redefining Management Education: Educating Managers in the Modern Era. www.strategy-business.com


[28] George, Bill, The New 21st Century Leader

[29] Stout, Larry (2006), Time for Change. Ideal Leadership Series. USA, Destiny Image Publishers

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