Transformational Leadership in a Transforming Society

My time working with Opportunity Finance Network (OFN) so far this Summer has shown me the importance of transformational and charismatic leadership styles throughout times of severe change such as the COVID-19 pandemic and height of a social justice movement. OFN is a non-profit organization that seeks to provide loans and financial education to underserved communities and small businesses that mainstream finance institutions would not typically find profitable or support. Since OFN’s work seeks to provide social and economic change to those communities who have often been most effected by the COVID-19 pandemic and current social justice movement, transformational and charismatic leadership are increasingly important to continue to motivate and elevate social change.

During times of severe change, transformational leadership is extremely important. James MacGregor Burns described transformational leaders as those who “look for potential motives in followers, seek to satisfy higher needs, and engage the full person of the follower” that results in “a relationship of mutual stimulation and elevation that converts followers into leaders and may convert leaders into moral agents.” Thus, through transformational leadership you can raise not only higher levels of motivation but of morality as well. Executive staff members such as the President and CEO Lisa Mensah, CFO Beth Lipson, Chief Lending and Investing Officer Amir Kirkwood, and Executive VP of Strategic Communications Lina Page, are all leaders that I have witnessed in speaking events for both internal staff and outside audiences. They all speak with the intent to motivate others through personal engagement and appeal to followers in a way that makes them feel as though they truly can play an important role in making change and act as moral agents.

Charismatic leadership goes hand-in-hand with transformational leadership, as transformational leaders are often charismatic. Max Weber described charismatic leadership as “the recognition or acceptance of the claims of the leader by the followers,” and that while it is not always rational,  “it can be revolutionary, breaking traditional rule and can even challenge legal authority.” Furthermore, Neo-charismatic theories suggest that charismatic leaders are very confident in their visions, themselves, and their morals, while also showing commitment to challenging and desirable goals through making risks and showing concern for their followers. All of the work OFN does is in some ways risky in order to achieve goals of economic and social equality. They are constantly challenging mainstream financial institutions and government officials, such as policy makers, to break the cycle of poverty and misfortune that underprivileged communities face, specifically POC, women, and native populations.

The motivational styles of the leaders within OFN’s organization have not only motivated the organization internally to strive for more, but has gained the attention of external corporations such as Google. OFN and Google have recently partnered to create the Grow with Google Small Business Fund in which Google has made a $130 million grant to go towards OFN’s network of loaning institutions, known as CDFIs, to specifically help small black-owned businesses around the United States. Without the necessary leadership skills of OFN’s staff and their ability to react and adapt quickly to our changing society, this would not have been possible.