A critique of Ifeoma Chigbogwu’s Transformational Leadership: A Guide for Empowering Executives published by Ifeoma Speaks TV, Lagos, Nigeria, 2024.

Ever since Jim MacGregor Burns, the American presidential historian, used the term, transformational leadership, in 1978, and Bernard M. Bass, the academic, wrote well-received scholarly papers on it a few years later, the concept has seized the imagination of not just social science and business researchers, but also practitioners, politicians, and the general public. Whereas scholars and other experts view transformational leadership — which is differentiated from transactional, charismatic, authoritarian, authentic, situational, and servant leadership styles, among others — as technically the ability to inspire and motivate followers to attain unexpected levels because the followers see them as caring and working for the common good and as role models ethically and professionally, the public sees transformational leadership as the ability to bring about positive radical changes within a short period. Nigeria’s former President Goodluck Jonathan pledged, on coming to office in 2010, to provide transformative leadership given the enormity of the development challenges paralyzing a nation that the revered former Vice Alex Ekwueme, a polyvalent intellectual, described as “a miracle waiting to happen”.

There is a list of leaders in private and public sectors who have provided undeniably transformative leadership in recent years. Ginni Rometty, the first woman to be the president, chief executive, and chairman of IBM, the iconic IT giant, transformed the firm founded in 1911 in every sense of expression. She sold several legacy divisions and acquired new ones like Red Hat for $3.5 billion, the biggest purchase in IBM’s history. She transformed IBM, almost bankrupt in the late 1980s and early 1990s, into a software giant, specializing in cloud computing, security, data, and AI when she held the forte from 2012 to 2020. Thus Rometty prepared IBM for supercompetitiveness long before the IT industry became revolutionalized by generative AI that OpenAI unleashed in November 2022. Nigerians always speak of the transformations of Singapore under Lee Yuan Yew, Malaysia under Mahathir Mohammed, and Dubai under the Maktoums.

Ifeoma Chigbogwu’s Transformational Leadership: A Guide for Empowering Executives is an important contribution to the corpus of literature on transformative leadership which has naturally acquired an expanded meaning since Burns and Bass published their seminal works on it. This book examines with admirable knowledge and energy the importance and range of transformational leadership in today’s organizational management marked by hypercompetition and laced with compelling examples and case studies.

Transformational leadership should not be associated with a particular individual leader or a particular point in the life of an organization like when a bank is seeking to meet new recapitalization requirements. Transformational leadership, Chigbogwu insists, should be the soul of an organization and define its culture or way of life. It is a “mindset that views change not as a disruptor but as a conduit for growth and innovation” (p. 13).

She believes that transformative leaders create an organizational culture to grapple with fast and far-reaching changes; these changes run on adaptability, flexibility, and forward-looking. All organizational members, not just the leaders, must understand this way of thinking and behaviour and buy into it, otherwise, there will be a costly disconnect between the leaders and the followers in the transformation agenda implementation.

For all organizational members to be “architects of change”, as she puts it on page 14, there has to be a culture of openness, collaboration, shared purpose, and values. In other words, constant and robust communication must pervade the organization. Communication is not just about the use of traditional and social media but also about other communication modes and styles. When he was from 1981 to 2001 th CEO of General Electric, then the most capitalized company in the world and the world’s biggest and oldest electricity equipment manufacturing firm, the late Jack Welch used to write every employee a personal letter yearly assessing the employee’s performance, complete with areas for improvement. Each letter was handwritten. Indra Nooyi, the first foreigner to head the legendary PepsiCo where she made far-reaching reforms and consequently repositioned the company for global competitiveness, used to write commendation letters to parents and families of employees thanking them for the gift of their child to the firm. The letters from Welch and Nooyi had powerful impacts on the employees. Not to be forgotten is that Margaret Thatcher wrote 255 letters in her own handwriting to families of killed soldiers during the war between the UK and Argentina over Falklands in 1982.

Communication is also about holding regular retreats, seminars, symposiums, and conferences where new ideas are disseminated and shared, and critical issues are raised without fear of repercussions. Organizations that practise a kind of communication style where any person can learn from another regardless of status or designation are known as learning organizations. Experience and research have demonstrated that they outcompete their peers. It is one reason why hierarchy is being dismantled everywhere, and in its place, egalitarianism is being adopted. Egalitarianism drives continuous or lifelong learning. A lot of new ideas and concepts are appearing every day, quickly rendering received wisdom dangerous and popular knowledge obsolete.

Transformational leaders, writes Chigbogwu, a former banker who is now a business coach, “highlight how leaders who inspire and motivate their teams to achieve higher levels of performance and exceed expectations contribute to the creation of adaptive, resilient, and thriving organizational cultures”.

Transformative leaders have a growth mindset, according to Chigbogwu, who contrasts it with a fixed mindset. A growth mindset makes a leader believe that there is nothing they can’t achieve, unlike a fixed mindset that sees limitations everywhere and believes the limitations are imposed by nature or fate. Leaders with the growth mindset favour brainstorming which General David Petraeus, a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director, described in an interview with David M, Rubenstein, founder of the Carly Group and a founding member of the Giving Pledge, as a surge of ideas.

Transformational leaders are driven by vision. The author refers to vision as “a clear, inspiring, and forward-looking idea of what an individual or organization aims to achieve in the future” (p. 60). A vision must always have a timeframe, contrary to the thinking of many well-educated individuals and organizations, and even universities. That’s why the Saudis have Vision 2030 to make fossil fuels account for not more than 10% of their national revenues by 2030, in contrast to the present situation where they contribute to over 90%. Malaysia had its famous Vision 2020, a strategic plan to become a fully developed nation like South Korea or Singapore by 2020. Nigeria had Vision 2020, a strategic plan to become a medium economy by 2020.

A vision must be well crafted, clear, and simple and play on the right emotions of the people, whether in the private or public sector. It must, of course, be realistic in the projection of human resources and their skills required, in the financial resources needed, in the sources of the supplies, and so on. Though coming from the leadership, the vision is implemented by leaders and followers alike; they are on the same page. The performance of each vision must be monitored and reviewed constantly, strictly, and honestly, and necessary adjustments must be made as soon as practicable.

This book touches on a lot of issues of great interest to contemporary leadership scholars and practitioners across the globe. They include the related issues of systems thinking and ecosystem which make us look at issues and phenomena holistically through their interactions and interconnectedness rather than siloically, that is, in parts as though the parts were unrelated.

Chigbogwu’s treatment of remote work is interesting. She takes an unabashedly supportive position. This is a relatively new phenomenon, and it is still evolving. It gained serious attention during COVID-19 in 2020 when severe restrictions were imposed around the world in a desperate effort to curb the deadly and infectious virus. Individuals, teams, and organizations, including governments, resorted to videoconferencing to grapple with the prevailing crisis. The wide use of videoconferencing continued to grow even when the Covid restrictions were lifted and life returned to normal. Some observers even exuberantly declared traditional in-person work dead and remote work the sole future of work. Jack Dorsey, then the Twitter CEO, declared in May 2020 that organizational members could work from anywhere in perpetuity. Some other technology firms followed suit. But when Elon Musk took over Twitter in October 2022 for $44b and changed the name to X, he directed all employees to start working from the office. Some companies now have a blend of both remote and in-person work. We are still examining the benefits and challenges of each approach.

Supply chain management became a major global issue after COVID-19 because China, the world’s manufacturing headquarters and where the virus was first discovered, adopted very strict restrictions for a long time. Apple, for instance, turned to India, for the manufacture of its products; India made $14b from the tech giant last year. Tim Cook, the Apple CEO, was in Vietnam in May 2024 in search of alternative production from China. The search for alternatives has in recent times been exacerbated by geopolitics as the relations between China and the United States deteriorate.

Chigbogwu doesn’t overlook AI and the increasing digitization of the workplace and the implications. Samsung of South Korea was involved in a scandal in 2023 when reports emerged that it had published confidential information about its customers and distributors in the public domain. Elon Musk sued former X employees for security breaches, also in 2023. The security implications of the growing digitisation of business operations deserve more scrutiny.

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