Leadership style has a substantial impact on the operations of any business. This essay examines the movie Erin Brokovich (2000) in an effort to identify the strengths and weaknesses associated with the transactional and transformational forms of leadership.The literature examined in this study illustrated the concept that successful leadership is a combination of components that rests on many separate traits. This study will be of value to any person studying leadership theory.
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Leadership is a fundamental issue that impacts performance and resolution on every level. The film Erin Brokovich (2000) depicts a single mother that takes on a corporation in an effort to illustrate the company’s misdeeds. Examining the role of both Ms Brokovich and her attorney Ed Masry as the plot of the story develops demonstrates the wide array of influence that the differing styles of leadership had both on the case at hand and further proceedings based on similar circumstances. The area of transformational leadership, or the proactive approach employed by Ms Brokovich will be examined in order to identify the benefits and detriments of the straight forward approach (Gardner and Laskin, 2013). The next segment will be an analysis of Ed Masry’s transactional leadership approach, or leading through reactive measures, which in turn will lead to an illustration of effectiveness (Gardner et al, 2013). With a brief comparison illustrating the differences and values of each method this essay will close with an evaluation of impact.
In the end this essay will have considered the transactional and transformational forms of leadership with the stated goal of illustrating the benefits and detriments associated with each approach.
Hughes (2009) defines leadership as the capacity to influence others to a specific goal or objective. During this process of leadership, there are several different methods that are cited to produce solid results, which in turn produce identifiable management trends (Abrahamson and Eisenman, 2008). Smircich and Morgan (1982) argue that certain styles of leadership emphasize the right or obligation of one person to provide direction for others. In every case the style of leadership utilized makes a significant impact on the company or project (Peters and Austin, 1985). This essay focuses on the transformational and the transactional forms of leadership as demonstrated in the movie Erin Brokovich (2000).
2.1 Transformational Leadership
Ghandi asserted “We are all, first and foremost, human beings and we must relate to one another on that naked basis.” (Gardner, 2013:266). This description is one method of illustrating the visionary elements that comprise the transformational form of leadership. Transformational leadership is defined by the capacity of the individual to not only engage with the issues at hand, but convince others around them that there is a genuine cause for continued effort (Northouse, 2004). Yet, this style of leadership can fall into a overconfidence trap (Russo, Schoemaker & Russo, 1990). Some researchers identify elements of this approach as a form of Charismatic leadership that is fraught with potential harm to the company (Ouimet, 2010). As with the main character, Erin Brokovich, her qualities of women leadership exude confidence and unwavering ambition, serves to provide those around her with a sense of purpose and direction (Gardner, 2013). Further her aspect of altruism helps her to reach out to others (Ouimet, 2010). Not only has the leadership created a potential future but this person has provided a reason for the effort (Northouse, 2004). This sense of purpose is credited with driving the agenda for any project under this form of leadership. As with Ms Brokovich the character, the transactional leader brings a form of intuition and basic enthusiasm to the table, which in turn fuels the entire effort (Schoemaker, Krupp, Howland, 2013). There is no sense during the movie of a form of servant leadership; Ms Brokovich was centre on her goals, excluding any diversions (Schoemaker et al, 2013). Coupled with the gender gap that Ms Brokovich contends with throughout the movie, there is a real sense of her having to fight for every single effort (Virick and Greer, 2012). However there is a perception that there is no correct situational leadership style leading to success, it is a combination of factors coupled with Ms Brokovich personal drive (Virick et al, 2012).
A distinct detriment involved with the transformational approach outlined by Golemans (2013) leadership theory as clearly demonstrated by Erin Brokovich, was the headstrong opinionated statement of ideals regardless of the surroundings. As was the case when Ms Brokovich spoke her mind in the courtroom and lost her accident claim, there is very real potential to harm an on-going effort with a poorly founded assertion. Yet, there cannot be a turning away from a potential issue through the advent of fearing failure (McCullough, 2008). Ms Brokovich clearly illustrates that by clarifying the basic elements of the initial client’s case, the medical records, that the uncovering of the past association of the water company held clear need for investigation. As in the model Simon (1959) outlined there is a rational model that allows for the person to choose the best alternative. The uncovering of these links led to a transformation of the case from a routine operation to a case that yielded substantial gain and reparations for every party involved.
As the Ann Brown (1996) evidence demonstrated knowledge is critical for progress. The process of critical thinking directly leads to higher forms of literacy and argumentation as well as sophistication (Brown, 1996). Transformational leaders have the capacity to invoke charisma and personal attributes in order to attain their goal (Goleman, 2000). Utilizing at least some feminine wiles, Ms Brokovich was able to convince the keeper of the county water records to not only allow her unfettered access, but extended her every personal nicety possible. This quality of contact and ability to connect with those involved most closely with the case provided further opportunities for this form transformational leadership to play a pivotal role (Goleman, 2013). It was the personal outreach of Ms Brokovich that enabled the initial claimants to realize the connection between the water company and the sicknesses that that family was experiencing. The stimulation that Ms Brokovich provided allowed the pieces of the puzzle to come together in such a manner that the truth could emerge (Gardner, 2013). This demonstration of continued research and determination is a critical element of the transformational approach to leadership. Others cite the high instances of failure due to the lack of support offered to potential leaders during crises (Lawerence, 2013). There is an innate instinct to choose a successful leader, and a person that does not consistently show wise decision making can rapidly lose their following.
A transformational leader will possess the capacity to encourage the group to action (Gardner, 2013). This is a critical component any operation, the ability to bring the clients to focused action. As Ms Brokovich discovered, it was necessary to enlist nearly every one of the potential claimants in order for the claim to go forward against the water company. It was her personal connection, intuition and knowledge of the situation that enabled the lawyers to create a case that would be capable of winning in court (Gardner, 2013). Yet, depending too much on these personal relationships can become a detriment in the event the core person or knowledge is lost or corrupted (Golemman, 2013). Despite the fact that Ms Brokovich possessed the capacity of personally remembering each and every element of each and every case, there was the real potential for oversight, which is a substantial weakness of the transformational approach to leadership (Northouse, 2004).
Finally, the transformational leadership approach is cited for inspiring the long term effort (Gardner, 2013). Yet, when it fails others describe this form leadership as wreaking tremendous consequences on any underlying company (Northouse, 2004). Following the initial success Ms Brokovich inspired those around her to seek out others in similar situations, thus creating a long term effort to correct the illegal acts of large corporations. In a very real way, it was the leadership style of Ms Brokovich that first identified, then researched and then made possible the settlement against the water company. Lacking such a person playing this key role, there would never have been an awareness of the issue and many families and individuals would be worse off. In this case, transformational leadership, while showing some weakness, supplied the impetus for positive resolution and personal success.
2.2 Transactional Leadership
Transactional leadership is an approach that emphasizes the role of reward in the effort to produce results (Bolman, 2013). Resting on the twin concepts of reward contingent on effort and stability of the status quo, the transactional form of leadership provides incentives to the employee workforce. The very first example of this style of leadership employing the reward element is the day Ms Brokovich forces her way onto Mr Masry’s staff. With the act of offering her a job as a form of reward for her perseverance and ambition, the transactional leadership style of Mr Masry was illustrated (Gardner, 2013). Despite his initial reluctance to give her a position, he was led to the act by the actions of Ms Brokovich. Further, this element allowed Mr Masry the luxury of maintaining the status quo at work, providing another illustration of the transactional philosophy at work (Avolio and Yammarino, 2002).
Trying very hard to maintain a business that operates smoothly Mr Masry is very concerned with reducing any outbursts or unsightly scenes at the workplace. Avilo et al (2002) outlines the argument that the only truly effective form of leadership rests in the combination of the transformation and transactional format. Others cite the highly unstable nature of the transformational style and cite instances that misinformation and lack of information has led to failure on the part of companies employing these methods (Gardner, 2013). The literature supports the contention that the transactional form of leadership is effective and adaptable, capable of being utilized in nearly any environment (Avilo et al, 2002). Yet, the Chhokar, Brodbeck and House (2007) literature disputes this assertion assigning the transactional approach to be best used only by temporary management during transitional phases.
The next example of the transactional form of leadership espoused by Mr Masry rests in the firing of Ms Brokovich following her initial foray into research. The managerial approach in this instance equated the actions of Ms Brokovich with the deliberate abandonment of duty, thereby resulting in termination (Chhokar et al, 2007). This reaction was in direct response to the attendant attitudes of the other employees in the office as well as a direct effort to maintain tranquillity in the work place. The role of the transactional leader is to determine what is in the best interests of the company and provide the best employee centred solution (Northouse, 2004). Again, this action on the part of Mr Masry was a direct reward of the actions perceived to be taken by Ms Brokovich, which in turn led to a direct reprisal. The transactional leadership approach does not individualize employees, but seeks to treat each person the same, thereby equalling the work place (Northouse, 2004).
With the actions of Mr Masry directly fuelling Ms Brokovich outrage, there was a very real sense of motivation in her decision to re-join the team after Mr Masry sought out her help. The transactional approach in this case dictated that Mr Masry ensure that Ms Brokovich was properly motivated to work with the team, despite her sometimes outspoken manner (Wheatley, 2004). This transactional style is repeated throughout the movie as Mr Masry’s preferred form of management. From the instant that Ms Brokovich is taken back onto the staff at the law firm, there is the sense of pay for performance being demonstrated by being given a rental car and a raise (Gardner, 2013). This acknowledgement of value in the work that Ms Brokovich was conducting was reflected in the reward of better pay and position at the work place.
As the movie continued to demonstrate the building case against the water company the transactional style of leadership of Mr Masry continued to show. With the move to bring in a partner firm to defray the cost, Mr Masry was utilizing the transactional approach to maintain the status quo (Bograd, 1995). By attempting to have the meeting at a time when he was aware that Ms Brokovich would be gone, only supports the approach by illustrating the desire to maintain a low profile, confrontation free work place (Gardner, 2013). Yet, this approach could easily have overlooked the case at hand by focusing on maintaining day to day ordinary operations (Goleman, 2013). It was Mr Masry’s wish to maintain an ethical countenance and make the situation better for Ms Brokovich that served to provide the opportunity for this case to emerge (Mendonca and Kanungo, 2007). His sense of corporate responsibility, or the need to be accountable for his actions that caused him to take that action (Goleman, 2013).
Finally, the transactional form of leadership espoused by Mr Masry was best exemplified by the overpayment of funds to Ms Brokovich. It was the determination of management that the job provided by Ms Brokovich was worthy of an increase in pay, thereby providing correct remuneration for effort (Gardner, 2013). This final demonstration of transactional philosophy clearly illustrates the strength of proper management. Yet, a clear liability rests in the opportunity for management to neglect to adequately reward the employee, thereby detracting from the fundamental effort (Northouse, 2004).
The movie Erin Brokovich (2000) provided a clear illustration of leadership in the form of Ms Brokovich’s transformational approach as well as Mr Masry’s transactional view. Both methods have been credited with providing sound and reasonable provisions for both companies and individuals. Yet, the opportunity for weakness due to the individual personality detriments found in the transformational approach can hinder development of any idea or concept significantly. Further, the transformational approach rests largely on the assurance that the leadership has the correct information as well as the appropriate know-how. Lacking a clear strategy can doom any project to failure. In comparison the transactional approach has the potential to overlook possible opportunities in the quest to maintain office stability. Relying on the actions of others to provide impetus for progress can limit the overall capacity for a business to succeed.
The literature in this analysis supports the approach that a combination of the transformational and transactional approaches is the best method of overall leadership. Leading by providing vision, yet rewarding the industriousness of the employee base has the potential to build a long lasting organization that will have the innate capacity to meet any goal. Much like the movie Erin Brokovich (2000) illustrated, with proper leadership, vision and determination even the biggest well-funded organization must submit to the rule of law.
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