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What makes a great leader?

A good leader inspires others to have confidence in the leader. But a great leader inspires others to have confidence in themselves. This is the true essence of transformational leadership.

I am sure you have been in a group when someone took control of the situation by conveying a clear vision of the group’s goals, a marked passion for the work and an ability to make the rest of the group feel recharged and energized. This person may very well be called a transformational leader. Transformational leadership is a type of leadership style which will inspire others to reach their potential. Transformational leaders are generally energetic, credible and passionate. Not only are these leaders concerned and involved in the substance of the organization, but also are encouraging to all … to learn, search and serve, and to become all of which one is capable.

I was a most fortunate individual. During most of my entire professional life, which covers a period of well over 60 years, I have had the good fortune of working with, or being directly associated with, several of the most outstandingly competent transformational leaders. I have known many in my field who are fine leaders. But to be actually associated personally with such leadership on a day-to-day basis is truly quite unique.

During the first 13 years in my work, my first superintendent of schools in East Aurora was Walter L. Bumgartner, an extraordinarily competent leader … well ahead of his time as a transformational leader. And then, during my next 50 years at SUNY Fredonia, I saw and experienced exceptional transformational leadership on the part of chief administrative officers.

Each with their unique personal and professional style, I saw leadership exerted … with, through and by the people. These individuals, along with others, established the tone, substance and appearance of the modern SUNY Fredonia campus. During my 50-year association with SUNY Fredonia, I saw in action the distinguished transformational leadership qualities of presidents Dr. Oscar E. Lanford, Dr. Dallas K Beal and Dr. Dennis Hefner. As president, each was seen as truly a transformational leader … locally, across the state and well beyond.

And that same level of transformational leadership extraordinaire continues today with the current president, Dr. Virginia Schaefer Horvath. These leaders have always taken more than their share of the blame and less than their share of the credit. This is the true essence of transformational leadership. No wonder, with SUNY Fredonia’s comprehensive profile, it has, for the second year in a row, been ranked 14th among the top public universities in the North by U.S. News and World Report. And then recently, SUNY Fredonia’s Rockefeller Arts Center was named to the list of “Amazing” venues.

Transformational leaders are those with credibility and passion for learning, searching and serving. They stimulate and inspire followers to both achieve extraordinary outcomes and, in the process, each follower then develops their own leadership capacity. Transformational leaders help others to grow and develop into leaders by responding to the individual’s needs and by empowering and by aligning each – and this is key – to the objectives and goals of the individual followers, the group and the larger organization. I was fortunate indeed; it is this type of leadership, credibility and passion that I initially saw in my first superintendent of schools in East Aurora and it is indeed the hallmark of leadership I experienced at SUNY Fredonia.

Credibility in leadership is enhanced by a motivation to instill in others a passion for learning, searching and serving. Leaders with credibility leave footprints in their areas of passion. Leadership is a rendezvous with possibility thinking based upon uncompromising integrity … for, with and by the people. Ah yes, the embodiment of transformational leadership resides in a passion “to learn, to search and to serve” which, parenthetically, just so happens to be the mission of the State University of New York. Now that, right there, is transformational indeed!

Dr. Robert L. Heichberger is professor emeritus at the State University of New York at Fredonia and distinguished professor at Capella University. He is an award winning author. All of the past columns can be viewed on www.fromourperspective.net/ Send comments to: Rheich@aol.com