An ‘Appreciative Inquiry’ Prayer

Having been a People and Development Director for the past 18 years, I’ve always been a wee bit uncomfortable with the term Human Resources. Ironic, as my Masters degree is in Human Resource Management; and, my current role is Head of Global Human Resources for an international NGO.

My unease is probably because the term comes from corporate America, and with it, the connotation that people are market commodities, valuable only in the context of commerce. I guess this is inevitable when when peoples’ worth are seen through the lens of a capitalist system – where human relationships are formed as a consequence of the economic transaction between shareholders, entrepreneurs, employees and customers.

I would rather like to look at human worth and value through other lenses! This, however, is difficult when the globalisation of capitalism seems like the only game in town. Acknowledging  this, a colleague of mine from Zambia recently introduced himself to me as a “reluctant capitalist”.

To my delight, my boss has agreed that I can change the name of my team. I’m thinking of asking my colleagues what they think about re-framing ourselves the Human Resourcefulness Team. This will give us an opportunity to discuss why we do what we do!

I love the following prayer by Nick Fawcett, because it captures my vision of what the  role of Personnel Departments should be, particularly in Christian organisations.

Gracious God,

You call us to support one another,

to offer comfort in times of need,

reassurance in times of fear,

inspiration in times of challenge,

and confidence in times of doubt.

Forgive us for so easily doing the opposite –

finding fault,

running down,

criticising and condemning.

Forgive us for seeing the worst instead of the best in people,

for believing the bad instead of the good,

for so often pulling down and so rarely building up.

Teach us to recognise people’s gifts and nutre them;

to understand their problems and share them,

to acknowledge their successes and applaude them,

to appreciate their efforts and affirm them.

Teach us, through the faith we show in people,

to help them attempt great things and expect great things;

to olok at life, seeing not the obstacles but the opportunties,

not the things they can’t do but they things they can.

So may we help them in Christ to discover their gifts,

recognise their true worth and fulfil their potential,

through His grace


Nick Fawcett, 2003, Selected Prayers for public worship, ISBN 978 84417 070 8

Testing the MacJournal offline blogging software

Hi everyone

I’ve just purchased MacJournal – a software that let’s me write and format a blog on my Mac (offline) before uploading to WordPress. I am eager to see if this works. The developers market McJournal as being able to insert photos, videos, etc seamlessly through iPhoto and iMovie and other osx software.

Here’s literally my first attempt at using it.

Firstly, fonts. You can create your blog in the font of your choosing as opposed to being limited to the WordPress editor. Let’s see… The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog in lucida’s handwriting.

Second, let’s try the ‘drag and drop’ photos from iPhoto feature. Here’s a photo of a dandelion I took on Aperture recently:

‘Fine and Dandy’ photo by P Goh

This photo was dragged and dropped from iPhoto – and it did it instantly. While you can adjust the size of the photo in the editor, the photo always appears large in the blog. In the end, I had to re-edit the size on the WordPress editor, which defeats the purpose of having such a software.

There doesn’t seem to be an option for uploading photos in ‘album’ format, i.e., a number of photos at a time, arranged in pre-arranged style.

Re the photo: In case you are wondering. I placed this dandelion in a small vase, in front of my wine rack. in the kitchen. I then shone a light from the side of the wine rack to achieve the dreamy light effects in the background. The bokeh was down to my Nikon prime lens.

Attaching a URL. Here’s a video from Youtube I particularly like. It’s a clip of Livingstone Taylor (lesser known but equally talented brother of James Taylor) imaging how great it would be if Guitar Playing was an Olympic Event:

(NB: Try as I may, I could not get this Youtube video embedded on the blog. Tried all the solutions suggested in various forums and it still did not work. In the end, I published the blog as a draft and did the embedding on the WordPress editor.)

My first impression of this is not favourable. The ability to include and edit photos and videos in blogs is a basic requirement. If an offline editor can’t do this, I don’t see the point of having it!

If you happen upon this blog, please do leave your comments. If you are a Macjournal user, any hints and suggestions will be most appreciated.

PS: I’ve just noticed a dialogue box appearing on the top right hand corner of the Mac saying that the data has been auto saved. This could be quite useful!


The communal nature of speaking and listening

Patrick Goh, John Kingsley Martin


Relationships are constituted through speaking and listening. Just as behaviour breeds behaviour, speaking and listening breeds relationships.

It doesn’t take much to notice that in organisational settings, speaking is often privileged over listening. This starts even before anyone even joins an organisation. When we go through job adverts, what do we see? You’d be forgiven to think that organisations only want people with excellent written, oratory and influencing skills. Job descriptions hardly ever list listening skills as essential. And yet, without listening, there can be no genuine collaboration. By genuine, we mean conversations that result in mutuality and collaboration.

The traditional Western approach to communication is based on ‘debate’. Even today, in the House of Commons at Westminster, front bench politicians are required to speak from behind a red line drawn on the floor. It’s calculated to keep them at a distance beyond a sword’s length from their opponents. This strange tradition is a somewhat novel reminder of the adversarial basis of politics in the UK. Another notorious example is Prime Ministers’ Question Time which has achieved a huge following among television audiences worldwide. Apparently people love to witness the spectacle of leaders tearing into each other.

We do love a form of communication that is tantamount to verbal jousting? We even elect Presidents on the back of it. The televised debates between Hilary and Trump, we argue, were designed to demonstrate gladiatorial skill over content. Dare we say, a requirement to demonstrate ability to work collaboratively might have resulted in America’s first woman president!

The Japanese theologian Masao Takenaka[i] likened the Western concept of debating to ‘ya-ya chambara’ – a form of Japanese sword-fencing where combatants say their name, shout “ya-ya” and then proceed to do battle. He noticed that in theology, this is an approach based on deductive metaphysics rather than inductive learning. It is an approach of confrontation rather than mutual sharing.

We believe that it is only by re-learning the art of listening can we communicate ways that avoids polarization and genuinely harness the intelligence and power of groups, networks or communities of people. A prerequisite for this is learning to listen in ways that creates “common sense”. Without deep listening, we are not able to ‘think together in relationship’.

Thinking together implies that we no longer take our own position as final. We relax our grip on certainty and listen to the possibilities that result simply from being in a relationship with others – possibilities that might not otherwise have occurred.

“I do not know if you have ever examined how you listen, it doesn’t matter to what, whether to a bird, to the wind in the leaves, to the rushing waters, or how you listen in a dialogue with yourself, to your conversation in various relationships with your intimate friends, your wife or husband. If we try to listen we find it extraordinarily difficult, because we are always projecting our opinions and ideas, our prejudices, our background, our inclinations, our impulses; when they dominate, we hardly listen at all to what is being said. In that state there is no value at all. One listens and therefore learns, only in a state of attention, a state of silence, in which this whole background is in abeyance, then it seems to me, it is possible to communicate.”


Appreciative Listening

Healthy and productive relationships come from “valuing listening” not “adversarial listening”. In our competitive world, listening often has an adversarial edge. We listen in order to debate, so we look out for what we don’t like, for weaknesses, to identify problems. Instead of focusing on what’s good about what the other person is saying we spend listening moments to marshal our next move to “win”.

An appreciative approach, on the other hand, looks out for what makes positive contributions. We ask ourselves how – what the other person is saying – is helpful, creative, and significant? In this way their positive contribution can be woven into social reality that is being created in the conversation.

The following is great advice from Harlene Anderson of the Taos Institute, New Mexico, on ‘authentic listening’:

“How can you invite another person to talk with you? In our experience, it involves authentically living what we desire for ourselves, that we are trusted as a worthwhile human beings no matter what our life circumstances might be; that others accept us no matter how nonsensical our words and actions may seem; and that we have a safe and ample opportunity for full expression”

“Listen, hear, and speak respectfully. Respect is a relational activity; it is not an individual internal characteristic. Respect is having and showing regard and consideration for the worthiness of the other. It is communicated by attitude, tone, posture, gestures, eyes, words, and surroundings”.

“Listen, hear, and speak as a learner. Be genuinely curious about the other and sincerely believe that you can learn something from them”.

“Listen and respond with sincere interest in what the other person is talking about – their experiences, their words, their feelings and so forth. Listen, hear, and speak to understand. Do not understand too quickly. Understanding is never-ending”.

“Be reflective about what you think you know. Knowing interferes with dialogue. It can preclude learning about the other, being inspired by them, and the spontaneity intrinsic to genuine dialogue. Knowing also risks maintaining or increasing power differences”.

“Listen, hear, and speak with care. Pauses are important. Pause before you speak. Give the other person time to finish. And give yourself a moment to think about what you are going to say and how you will say it”.

“Listen, hear, and speak in a self-reflective manner. Do not minimize the complexity of a dialogue by reducing it or its process to techniques. Listening, hearing and speaking are not techniques. They are relational activities and processes.”

All this can readily be summed up in words of Jesus known as The Golden Rule, “do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12).

Many years ago, I (Patrick) had the privilege of spending some time with the Director of the Public Conversations Project in the US, Sallyann Roth. She  offers a very useful guide on how to have fruitful conversations: ‘Listening to Connect’.

We invite you to try the useful suggestions on the ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ for constructive conversations devised by Sallyann. They can be used as a framework or as ground rules for facilitating difficult, struck or important conversations.

Happy listening!

Listening to Connect – a Useful Guide 


 Masao Takenaka, God is Rice, Geneva : World Council of Churches, ©1986

[ii] Krishnamurti: Reflections on the Self, J. Krishnamurti & Raymond Martin (Editor), 1997

Human or Inhuman Resource Management?

In “The Birth of the Prison” (1975), the French Philosopher Michel Foucault notices that social relationships are enmeshed in a “power field”. For him, the “petty malice’s of those who seek to dominate mean that knowledge itself is increasingly part of the play of domination”. 

Foucault identifies two modes of domination, ie, “traditional“ (physical violence) and “disciplinary” (psychological control) and charts the transition from one form of control to the other over time.

Past practices of torture and execution in the traditional mode were horrific. To illustrate this, Foucault quotes extracts of the Gazette d’Amsterdam of 1 April 1757 on the torture to death of the regicide Damiens on the 2nd of March 1757:

“After two or three attempts, the executioner Samson and he who had used the pincers each drew out a knife from his pocket and cut the body of the thighs instead of severing the legs at the joints; the four horses gave a tug and carried off the two thighs after them, namely, that of the right side first, the other following; then the same was done to the arms, the shoulders, the arm-pits and the four limbs; the flesh had to be cut almost to the bones, the horses pulling hard carried off the right arm first and the other afterwards. When the four limbs had been pulled away, the confessors came to speak to him; but his executioner told them that he was dead, though the truth was that I saw the man move, his lower jaw moving from side to side as if he was talking. One of the executioners even said shortly afterwards that when they had lifted the trunk to throw it on the stake, he was still alive. The four limbs were untied from the ropes and thrown on the stake set up in the enclosure in line with the scaffold, then the trunk and the rest were covered with logs and faggots, and fire was put to the straw mixed with this wood”.

Foucault contrasted this form of discipline and punishment with the development of rules and regulations drawn up for the House of Young Prisoners in Paris some 80 years later. He concluded that while forms of punishment had seemingly become more civilised, public taste for physical punishment had merely been replaced by punishment and discipline directed towards the soul, the mind and the will. In his view, extreme forms of punishment were simply being replaced by “subtle forms of correction and training”, maintained by hidden techniques of discipline always at work in modern society.

For Foucault, Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon – a circular building with central observation tower from which inmates can be surveyed at work or sleep without being able to observe their observers – is a metaphor for the disciplinary mode of domination. Modern organisations all have their distinctive arrangement of observation and close surveillance built into its architecture and systems that serve to control and regulate behaviour.

I sometimes wonder if Human Resource Management (HRM) is an example of a modern form of discipline.

HRM is ostensibly about gaining employee engagement and commitment to a common cause or vision. Is this a realistic objective given the diversity of human systems?

Or is it about “committing” individuals to something in the sense of “committing” someone to prison, using psychologically techniques?

Organisations seem overly obsessed about creating a common culture and a unified sense of purpose. HRM techniques for creating this homogeneity range from the use of ‘psychometric testing’ on the one hand, to, ‘training and development’ on the other.  Particular attention is placed not to differences between people but instead, how people deviated from the “norm”. People who “get it” or “are a fit” are regulated through appraisals systems and people who “don’t get it” are “performance managed” out.

While discipline and control in modernist organisations differ from overt forms of control, they are nevertheless based on appropriation of bodies using psychological techniques. For Foucault, the elegance modernist methodology lay in the fact that it can dispense with violence but still obtain effects “of utility at least as great”.

The accepted narrative is that HRM is a progressive, humane and enlightened approach to people management.

Is there, however, also a compelling story that (modern and late modern forms of) HRM creates conformance that revolves around controlling the minute details of the lives of those (employees) subject to it?

So [only…] if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. John 8:36

How can we create a better world? One conversation at a time!


Conversations beget relationships.

Question: How do we create brilliant relationships?

Answer: One conversation at a time.

Question: How do relationships fail?

Answer: One conversation at a time.

“The conversation is not about the relationship. It is the relationship!”


Read Susan Scott’s seminal book “Fierce Conversations”. If you do, please post your comments, questions and learning on this blog!

‘Worldviews’ as ‘psychic prisons’ – the parable of Plato’s cave

I was thinking about the concept of ‘worldview’ the other day. It’s a word that’s used a lot now, but I can’t help wonder if people mean different things by it.

For me, all human beings suffer from a kind of ‘locked in’ syndrome. We process information about the world (in particular, how we perceive and understand other people) through our societal, cultural and familial lenses. The social construction of our moral logic begins from the day we were born. It is through this discourse that we interpret the world.

It stands to reason, therefore, that all our perspectives are limited and partial. If this sounds a bit too post-modern, how about the verse in the bible that tells us that we all see through a glass (lens) darkly (1 Cor 13:12)?

I love the potential behind the concept of ‘worldview’. This is because it offers us a way of transcending the opaque glass of our understanding. One way of doing this, is simply by enquiring into the perspectives of others.

Gareth Morgan talks about this in his book Images of Organisation:

“The idea of psychic prison was first explored in Plato’s Republic in the famous allegory of the cave where Socrates addresses the relationship among between appearance, reality and knowledge. The allegory pictures an underground cave with its mouth open toward the light of a blazing fire. Within the cave are people chained so that they cannot move. They can see only the cave wall directly in front of them. This is illuminated by the light of the fire, which throws shadows of people and objects onto the wall. The cave dwellers equate the shadows with reality, naming them, talking about them, and even linking sounds from outside the cave with the movements on the wall. Truth and reality for the prisoners rest in this shadowy world, because they have no knowledge of any other.

However… if one of the inhabitants were allowed to leave the cave, he would realise that the shadows are but dark reflections of a more complex reality, and that the knowledge and perceptions of his fellow cave dwellers are distorted and flawed. If he were then to return to the cave, he would never be able to live in the old way again, since for him the world would be a very different place. …if he were to try and share this new knowledge with them, he would probably be ridiculed for his views. For the cave prisoners, the familiar images of the cave would be much more meaningful than any story about the world they had never seen.” Morgan 1986

In this sense, our worldview can be a kind of psychic prison.

Plato’s cave stands for our ‘worldview’ and the journey outside represents the potential to transcend our limited understanding of the world.

Accepting that our perspectives are partial – and developing a curiosity and appreciation about how others see the world – can begin to help us see beyond the limits of our own socialisation.

A “heads up” on the book ‘The Heart of Change’

As the title suggests, this blog is more of a “heads up”, rather than a review of this book by John Kotter and Dan Cohen.

The current economic crisis has seen many leaders turning to sustainability plans, turnaround strategies and downsizing.

It’s been my contention for a long time that sustainability plans do not change organisations – people change organisations. So it came as no surprise to find myself agreeing with much of what the authors say in this book.

In a nutshell, Kotter and Cohen contend that:

  1. organisations change when their people change; and
  2. people change for emotional reasons.

They noticed that, in difficult times, leaders tend to appeal to the head, i.e. by reasoning in the form of reports, spreadsheets, budgets, plans or mission statements. They argue that these rational tactics do not create a sense of urgency, in a way that appealing to emotions can. For them,

“Only deep feelings motivate people to change familiar behaviour, and only individual behavioural changes can drive organisation change”.

It is precisely at a time of crisis that organisations need to unleash its greatest asset, ie, it’s people. At the end of the day, it is only through human enterprise, innovation, creativity, commitment and hard work that get organisations out of difficult times. This is why, alongside systems, structural, and procedural changes, it is important to integrate financially based change strategies with an intentional employee engagement initiative. This moves us away from the “either-or’ position (eg, profits or people; survival today or building for tomorrow) to a more holistic “both-and” position.

Kotter articulates the truism that emotions can hinder or create change. Unfortunately, many emotions that undermine change (ie, anger, pessimism, cynicism, panic, exhaustion, insecurity and anxiety) occur as a result of cost saving measures and redundancies.

In this context, it is vitally important that organisations are intentional about encouraging/engendering emotions that generate change, eg, faith, trust, optimism, urgency, reality-based pride, passion, excitement, hope and enthusiasm.

How do you do this?  Well, this is what I believe, with a passion… Bring people together. Start by listening. Share the issues, the challenges and dilemmas openly. The opportunity to hear the voice of the whole system they are a part of, brings out the best in people – in my experience this is when dialogue becomes more collaborative, visioning becomes more creative and owned. Energy and emotions are unleashed in the form participation, collaboration and action.

Leadership and management as language games

I remember confiding to Ken Gergen that I could never be a scholar because I found complicated theories difficult to comprehend. With a glint in his eye, he told me that “the world needs more practitioners with something to say, rather than more acadamics”.  It is in this spirit that I tentatively offer the following thoughts.

I’ve been thinking about how Wittenstein’s concept of ‘language games’ may be relevant to leadership and management development. In particular, Lyotard’s development of this theory into the notion of metanarratives in the context of power, authority and legitimation.

Imbedded in any leadership or management thinking is a set of values, assumptions and logic – sometimes referred to as a ‘worldview’.

For me, it has been useful to think about various worldviews as different ‘stories’, each with its own ‘language game’. Stories have a moral logic that contain patterns of felt obligations for action – in other words, what is required, prohibited, or permitted.

Consider the statement “I do”.

In one context, saying this joins you in marriage for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, and so on.

In a legal context, if you say ‘I do’ and then tell a lie, you can be sent to prison for perjury.

In yet another context, to say “I do” means that you are the one who has the key to the house in your pocket, or that you know the answer to a teacher’s question, or that you know how to play the saxophone.

I was watching an episode of ‘Law and Order’ the other day. At the end of the episode the accused was sentenced to death. The defence attorney asked that the jury be polled. And the judge asked each of the jury if they had voted for the death penalty and each one of them said “I do”. In this case these two words can lead to the ending of a life.

So what is the meaning of the phrase, “I do?”

The phrase is not tied to some objective event or object in the world such that every time you use it, you point to that object; rather it is tied to the way it is used in particular instances.It also depends on the language game associated with the cultural/social context in which it is used.

In the same way, leadership and management words and phrases have different meanings depending on the worldview we are speaking out of. In each discourse they have different consequences which in turn reinforces our worldview, and legitimises the existing relational patterns, in particular, how power and authority is exercised within that social context.

I would like to suggest therefore that to change a social or relational pattern (eg, an organisational culture based on the values of capitalism, bureaucracy, imperialism, nationalism, colonialism, post-colonial guilt, etc), the change agent will have to develop skills for recognising, transcending and re-framing the ‘language game/s’ that informs the organisational culture you are working with. I’ll give examples pioneering work in this area in future blogs.

Let’s talk leadership

Language is constitutive, ie, how we talk about things shape our reality. In this connection, a scan of the literature on leadership today, reveal that it continues to be talked about as a person’s status or as a set of personality traits. In my view, these concepts create and reinforces hierarchical cultures; and, perpetuates the phenomena of personality cults.

This is why I am excited to see alternative perspectives on leadership gaining prominence – in particular, the notion that ‘leading’ is more about the effective coordination of communal sense-making, and, in this context, inviting people to collaborative action. This type of leadership requires a different set of competencies, including the ability to foster inclusive, participative, purposeful, ethical processes for decision-making and action.

The following are some practical ideas for exercising relational leadership.

a) Co-mission rather than tell or direct;

b) Value diversity and difference;

c) Value commonality and community;

d) Engender an appreciative culture.

a. Co-missioning

Collaborative practice begins when people ask: who else should be involved in a decision or initiative, and to make a determined effort to co-work with them. Who are the relevant and affected parties in this situation or endeavour? Who needs to be involved to create the most coordinated and corporately owned initiatives?

This change in grammar can create inter-dependence, collaboration and cooperation in human systems, as opposed to the ‘command and control’ ways of organising we are all familar with.

A dramatic way of reinforcing the change is to have ‘public’ conversations. Most organisations are good at having ‘meetings’, but these are essentially private conversations. The inclusive nature of public conversations with as many people as possible present has the potential to be transformational!

Of course, it may not be practical to include all those who have a stake in every decision. In this case, we could simply adopt a ‘relational orientation’ by inviting discussion from the point of view of those affected but not present. This is a key skill in relational leadership, ie, the ability to call on, and coordinate different and diverse voices in a meaningful and coherent way.

b. Valuing Diversity and Difference

In any human grouping, there is difference, diversity and multiplicity. In fact, it is our differences that make each of us unique and individual. On the one hand, we believe in celebrating diversity. In practice, however, many organisations continues to organise its people into a unified whole, in the believe that this will help achieve its organisational goals. In most cases, unity is mistaken for uniformity.

The world is full of examples where institutional power is [ab]used by people on the higher echelons of a hierarchy to subjugate differing views and perspectives, and to enforce a unitary (particular) perspective. I believe that this form of leadership is becoming passé. Organisational purposes are more likely to be realised when differences are valued.

Valuing begins with listening. Everyone knows that listening is important. However, how we listen is important.

Healthy and productive relationships comes from “valuing listening” not “adversarial listening”.

Adversarial listening

In a competitive environment (let’s face it, there is the competitor in all of us!) listening can be inadvertently adversarial. We listen in order to debate. We debate in order to get what we want. What is it we don’t like? What’s the problem? Why won’t your ideas work?

Valuing listening

A valuing approach to listening is an orientation towards looking out for what makes positive contributions. How is the offering helpful, creative, and significant? In this way the positive contribution can be woven into the final decisions – what is problematic can be left behind. In doing so, people will feel heard and valued.

Real open listening is the ability to be firm about what you believe, while being profoundly open to others.

c. Valuing commonality and community

While valuing diversity is important, it is equally important to seek out commonalities. What are our common aspirations, goals, values? By focusing on commonalities otherwise divided factions can come together.

One way to do this is to set up (self organising) communities of practice that bring people together because they are passionate about a common issue/s. This is an effective technique for learning, as well as encouraging and mobilising people. It is a practical way of affirming ‘shared’ leadership.

“Whole systems thinking”, that is, getting as many people in a room together to think and talk through critical issues can have transformational effects. This is a great way to build fruitful and purposeful community. It is labour and time intensive but the prize is significant – coherence of purpose, and a sense of community.

d. Engendering an Appreciative spirit or culture

Our day-to-day reality is constructed through communication, particularly through our use of language.

Marketers and PR people apart, it is interesting to see how many organisations have refined ways of describing themselves in ‘deficit’ terms, using words like “dysfunctional”, “sick”, “schizophrenic”, “cancerous”, “damaged”, etc.

To make matters worse, many management tools are based on the assumption that organisations are ‘problems to be solved’ (trouble-shooting, problem-solving, gap analysis, re-engineering, etc). Such approaches have produced people who are extremely articulate in defining what is wrong with their organisations. This, in turn, leads to a blame culture. This is undesirable in two ways. When we blame others we typically alienate them. Those who play the ‘blame game’ develop a misleading sense of superiority and the result is antagonism, hurt, even spite within the organisation.

Relational leaders are those who transform their organisations by valuing others. They create change by bringing out the best in people, and by co-creating action for the future, that compels, inspires and uplift.

Doing this well requires developing an ‘appreciative’ spirit. Appreciative Inquiry is an approach that explores and creates life-enhancing possibilities through constructive and collaborative conversations. It requires us to move out of deficit language into an appreciation of what works well – with the belief that you get more of what you pay attention to. It is about seeking the best of “what is” in order to provide a collaborative way for imagining “what might be” in these turbulent times.

Relational leadership is not a by word for good leadership. This very much depends on the leader’s view of what counts as legitimate use of power. In this connection, I have found Cardona’s paper (The Leadership and Organization Development Journal vol 21, No 4, 2000, pages 201-206) extremely helpful. He points out that there are at least three forms of leadership within the relational discourse, viz, transactional leadership, transformational leadership and transcendental leadership.

In transactional relationship, the leader is concerned with the results of the relationship. In this context, relationships are a means to an end. The means of influence open to transactional leaders are rewards and punishments depending on outcome or performance. The stereotype of a good transactional leader is that s/he is a good negotiator, authoritarian or even aggressive so that they obtain the maximum benefit from the economic influence relationship that they have created.

In transformational leadership, the leader too uses relationships to achieve results but is also concerned with aligning the follower’s interest with those of the organisation. Transformational leaders focus on creating an attractive vision and good work conditions for employees. A key competency is the ability to communicate and sell an attractive vision. Transformational leadership is a subtler, more seductive form of transactional leadership. Such leaders know who they are, what they want, why they want it and how to communicate what they want to others in order to gain their cooperation and support.

The transcendental leader, however, while also interested in results, and in aligning the motivations of employees with those of the organisation, is mainly concerned with the people themselves and tries to contribute to their needs and development. S/he does this with integrity and is not averse to sacrificing themselves in the service of others, even at the expense of their own interests.