by Matt Mason, U.S.A.

Yesterday we heard from Susan Collin Marks, the senior vice president of Search for Common Ground (SFCG), an organization that works to transform the way the world defines conflict. Marks defined leadership as “the ability to inspire and align others to successfully achieve common goals.” Much of the day was spent identifying “leadership qualities” and how leaders should embody those qualities. Although helpful, I yearned for a more structured framework that would capture different leadership styles.

Transactional and transformational leadership – widely discussed in business, NGO and leadership forums – were absent from today’s lecture. Transactional leadership approaches followers with an eye to exchanging one thing for another. A transformational leader has her ear to the ground and recognizes the demand or need of potential followers and also seeks to satisfy that need (Burns).

Leadership style must fit both the leader and the organization. Failure to recognize and assume specific roles can be the difference between a Fortune 500 Company and bankruptcy. In politics, it’s the difference between winning and losing an election or building the sentiment of ones constituents.

Franklin D. Roosevelt rightly adopted a transformational leadership style. Faced with an isolationist Congress and a country with 25% unemployment, FDR adopted the style that was right for his time. Using his regular fireside chats as a platform, FDR slowly built consensus and popular support for intervention in WWII – often bending the truth. (e.g. Lend Lease Program, Greer Incident). In this particular case, transactional leadership would have failed. After two world wars and the Korean Conflict in its waning years, Dwight Eisenhower adopted a transactional style appropriate for the times. Much work was needed in containing the Cold War and winning the economic war with Russia. In these times of relative peace Ike realized his policies required a give and take. He adopted a policy of “ containment” towards Russia in contrast to Truman’ s plan of “ rollback.” Americans, and the world for that matter, would not and could not accept another transformational leader.

History is full of lessons that inspire, capture, codify, and explain leadership. Perhaps Eisenhower prevented nuclear war and FDR convinced a wary American public to enter yet another world war? We may never know the counter factual, that is, what would happen in the absence of these men and their leadership styles. But certainly the question is worth exploring. Recognizing and leading with these lessons in mind may be the difference between war and peace.