Transformational Leader Profile

Transformational leadership is a topic of immense interest these days.  Many individuals possess the makings of a transformational leader but do not know exactly what it means, or how to realize their own ambitions in order to change human lives.  In this sense, observing able leaders with proven leadership abilities is an excellent resource for inspiration.  For example, American TV host and celebrity leader, Oprah Winfrey presents one of the most remarkable personalities in the American media.  Her path has not been easy, but thanks to her skills and leadership potential she has exerted influence on the lives of many people.
What Is Transformational Leadership
The concept of transformational leadership evolved in juxtaposition with that of transactional leadership.  In The Model of Transactional and Transformational Leaders (1978), a transactional leader is defined as one who, “approaches followers with an eye to exchanging one thing for another: jobs for votes, or subsidies for campaign contributions” (Burns, 1978).  From this statement we learn that the role of the transactional leader derives itself from the types of structures that an individual participates in.

In contrast, a transformational leader, “recognizes and exploits an existing need or demand of a potential follower…(and) looks for potential motives in followers, seeks to satisfy higher needs, and engages the full person of the follower” (Boje, 2000).  Transformational leaders can range from being intellectual, to heroic; even normal everyday individuals with a dream and the will to make it come true as well.
In most cases, transformational leaders tend to radically change the viewpoints of the societies they live in.  A transformational leader possesses the capabilities and desire to develop a vision and inspire other people to follow it.  As a result, a profound cultural change occurs that reshapes the existence of many people impacted by their leader’s actions.
Oprah Winfrey as a Transformational Leader
Oprah Winfrey has become a remarkable personality in the media, acting in many various spheres.  She is not only a TV host: she also poses as, “magazine founder, educator and philanthropist” and “one of the most respected and admired public figures today” (Harpo Productions, Inc., 2006).  Starting from humble beginnings, Oprah succeeded in becoming one of the best-known American celebrities of modern television. She exerts dramatic impact on the lives of people in this country and those living beyond its boundaries.
At the time Oprah Winfrey started her career on TV, she was the first African American woman “to anchor the news at Nashville’s WTVF-TV” (Harpo Productions, Inc., 2006).  As her online website produced by Harpo Inc. tells us, she obtained this job after she gained experience at WVOL radio in Nashville, Tennessee.
After a succession of jobs, Oprah was appointed to lead her first talk show, AM Chicago, broadcast in the morning.  Surprisingly to many, with her talent, Oprah soon eclipsed the revered Phil Donahue as her show became even more popular than his. (Harpo Productions, Inc., 2006)., Oprah found luck in the television world, as television viewers soon fell in love with her personality and motivating shows. Even the politics of the broadcasting networks could not deny her popularity. Since then her success has been driven by her ability to impress people with her talents.
Oprah’s transformational leadership comes from her success in refashioning herself and overcoming her traumatic past. Kyra Kirkwood (2005), tells us in her, Business Hero: Oprah, article that the television star was born on Jan. 29, 1954 in Kosciusko, Mississippi. During her childhood Oprah suffered from physical and mental abuse when living with her mother.  The unhappy relationship between herself and her mother caused young Oprah to run away from home at the age of thirteen.  She left her mother to go on to Nashville, “to live with her ultra-strict father” (Kirkwood, 2005).
Many would have remained troubled for a lifetime by an unfortunate experience of this magnitude.  However, Oprah’s inner strength allowed her to cope with it.  Moreover, as a true transformational leader, she shares her experience with others in order to help them take hold of their lives.  Her words console many women who try to cope with the social models of submissive behavior. Although derogatory and unwanted, society continues to mold women into these confusing roles.  Oprah, as stated by Kirkwood (2005), remembered in her adult life the following things about her childhood victimization:
. . . one knows part of the process for me as an adult has been recognizing that my inability as an adult female to say ‘No,’ my disease to please as a female, is the same thing that caused me to be victimized as a child.  Many times, I would get myself into situations as an adult where I did not want to hurt anybody’s feelings or want anybody angry with me. (Oprah, as quoted by Kirkwood, 2005).
Transformational leadership surfaces in the statement as testament that Oprah is able to recognize the root cause of her problem and rise above conventional wisdom that she has learned from her environment.  As a leader, she takes applies her wisdom and offers the knowledge from the lessons she has learned to help others. She develops a more general vision of women’s predicaments and the resulting psychology, and makes her vision known to the public.
She encourages people to give voice to their emotions when they get abused, “You tell everybody until somebody listens to you” (Kirkwood, 2005).  In this way Oprah emerges as a leader who, through her success story, transforms the lives of many women. She continues showing viewers the path of success she had to travel from a gloomy and stressful beginning.
Oprah Teaching Leadership
One project in which Oprah directly commits to spreading knowledge of how to be a female leader is through her participation in, and founding of, the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls-South Africa.  The Academy founded in cooperation with Nelson Mandela, the South African Ministry of Education Professor Kader Asmal and Guateng MEC of Education Ignatius Jacobs, is to become the basis for women’s leadership in South Africa  (Harpo Productions, Inc., 2006).  There girls can learn to make a contribution to their environment in order and take advantage of their inborn talents.
With this project, Oprah makes a commitment to change the lives of girls, hoping to empower them with knowledge and skills they may otherwise have left undeveloped.  Students of the school take a stand against the male-dominated world saying that the biased social setup is to end soon and that women are “prepared to share power” (Harpo Productions, Inc., 2006).
Oprah’s project intends to teach students how to share power effectively.  With this effort, she demonstrates the true transformational quality that is going to affect the lives of the girls in the remote parts of the world. The goal revolves around taking them out of their habitual roles and teaching them to add a new dimension to their lives.  Although the girls may not seen Oprah that often, they will undoubtedly be inspired by meetings with her. Having her for a role model, and continuously following her example will impressively affect their lives.
Influencing the Lives of People
Oprah’s reach goes far beyond the lives of a group of girls in South Africa.  Hosting an influential show in a nation as large as the United States, her words are heard by millions of viewers each day.  What sets her apart from other talk show hosts and makes her a transformational leader is that people do not just listen to her words for entertainment; they often take them as a guide to action, a powerful guide that motivates many good deeds.
In her show in 1997, she “encouraged viewers to use their lives to make a difference in the lives of others, which led to the creation of the public charity Oprah’s Angel Network in 1998” (Harpo Productions, Inc., 2006).  So far the organization has been responsible for the collection of over $50 million that was utilized for the construction of shelters and homes. These structures now house women and youth all around the world.  Activities such as this have helped change the lives of many people who have been blessed with the charity funds.
Perhaps even more important was Oprah’s influence on those who moved forward to help the cause when she appealed to the public.  People who otherwise did not give thought to charity as a way to help others now became active donors of the network, helping others reach their goals and improve quality of life.  This action represents a very good use of the TV show as a way to change people’s mentality for the better. Consequently, new horizons opened to them for moral development instead of just another television program entertaining them with stories.
In fact, this is the main strength of Oprah’s show.  She likes to present her viewers with a story that is not merely entertaining but also has a deep moral message or presents a challenge.  The ensuing debate can become a trigger to many, spurring them to re-evaluate their opinions and reconsider views.
In doing so, Oprah does not act as a boring moralizer; she presents herself as the same down-to-earth, sympathetic woman she was in her first days on TV.  Awards and financial success have not made her lose her head or become arrogant.  In fact, her spiritual closeness and understanding of the people she addresses in her show makes her message both powerful and penetrating.  Analyzing her leadership ability, one can say that she possesses superior communication skills that make her ideas appealing to a wide variety of people.
Oprah takes every opportunity to reach the hearts and minds of people.  Thanks to her appeal to the audience, her productions in almost every environment soon become popular.  For example, her publication called Oprah’s Magazine currently is one of the most popular women’s publications with an audience of 2.4 million readers a month (Harpo Productions, Inc., 2006).
When she launched website on women’s lifestyle, it also gained popularity. It now reports to average 64 million page views and more than three million users per month, plus receives approximately 12,000-15,000 emails each week.  She is also the creator of Dr. Phil syndicated show with Harpo Productions, Inc., co-founder of Oxygen Media cable television network, founder of Oprah and Friends radio channel on XM Satellite Radio, and producer of the musical Color Purple that was launched in 2005 in Broadway Theater in New York City (Harpo Productions, Inc., 2006).
This broad variety of activities demonstrates Oprah’s multi-faceted talents and interest in affecting people’s lives in many different ways using various means available.
Oprah’s Influence on My Personal Leadership Style
I believe that Oprah’s impact was instrumental in helping me shape my personal leadership style.  Her ability to be appealing without appearing pompous and pretentious is something I try to imitate when developing my personal communication skills.  I think well developed presentation and communication skills are the key to successful leadership, and Oprah Winfrey is an excellent model of both.  Maintaining an unassuming and emotional style, she can address her audience on serious issues, and I think it would be excellent to learn this skill as well.
My life was also affected by observing Oprah taking responsibility for other people’s destinies, as in the case of the academy she founded for South African girls.  I agree with her idea that when one sees thing’s being far from perfect, one should learn to say “No” and take some positive action to remedy it.  In this sense, I am trying to follow Oprah’s socially active position on things.
At the same time, I also find her leadership attractive because she perceives people with her heart just as much as with her mind.  In my view, this is the most effective path to transformational leadership. It includes giving people emotional support and warmth and trying to help them become more secure emotionally.  Oprah’s kindness and caring attitude are among her strongest qualities as a leader, and these I would like to emulate.
Oprah Winfrey is the kind of person who realized her potential in the face of adverse circumstances.  Her talent put her in public spotlight, making her a leader with power to transform the lives of millions.  She used her clout with the public very wisely and responsibly, inspiring many to reconsider their lives and empowering them to do good to other people.  This, in my opinion, makes her a truly transformational leader whose achievements are to be admired.
Bass, B. (1985). Leadership and performance beyond expectation. New York: Free Press.
Boje, D. (2000).  Transformational Leadership.  Retrieved on June 6, 2006, from
Harpo Productions, Inc., (2006).  Oprah Winfrey’s Biography. Retrieved on June 6, 2006 from
Kirkwood, K. (2005) Business Hero: Oprah. The My Hero Project. Retrieved on June 6, 2006

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