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Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Transformational Leadership through Environmental Architecture

Transformational Leadership through Environmental Architecture

By Rehab Al Ghamdi
Ph.D. Student
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University
Ryan Donlan
Assistant Professor
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University

Instilling transformational leadership is essential in any educational setup.

We, as educators, work industriously to motivate and engage students, facilitating their learning, reading, critical thinking, creating, collaborating, and becoming life-long learners as well as leaders in their contemporary surroundings.

This is by no means an easy feat.

Consider the excitement elicited and how we smile when students dive passionately into a subject, ask for extra reading time, or form cross-curricular links that excite them genuinely.  This does not happen without a good deal of intentionality, some lying below the surface of what is typically witnessed as the business of school. In this case, trying to make both ends meet is not an easy task. One such example is when educational administrators work toward moving levers in a school’s climate. This, at a much deeper level, begins to influence a longer-term organizational culture that encourages and propagates continuous learning as well as growth of both students and teachers.

This is environmental architecture.

According to Simon Sinek’s (2014) Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t, the concept of ENVIRONMENT is noted. When the environment at work is that of encouragement and meets the primary human requirements to learn and live, individuals are bound to do more than just survive . . . they thrive, as they feel valued and important. Environment also influences their behavioral changes (Tyson, 2013) and helps them to cope with different situations. 

They soar to greater heights.

School administrators are the immediate architects of environment, or they should at least try to be, as transformational leadership requires a place suited to making it happen.  Leaders are to take-up this responsibility and mold the appropriate environment.

This is especially important, as people are oriented with different preferences.

Kahler (2008) noted the importance of environmental preferences, demonstrating that depending on a person’s goal orientation and one’s preferences toward involvement or isolation, particular environments suit people better than do others in the workplace.  Different people would prefer different environments in which they work best. Some prefer to work one-on-one; some in groups, some on the fringes of groups (getting the lion’s share of attention), and some prefer to work discretely alone.  Therefore, individualized provisions of such environment would prove worthy to individuals, according to their preferences.

Each person has a chance to perform.

With the right environmental preferences, people can perform better, as more of their foundational needs of safety and security are considered.  Our best leaders consider it their obligation to construct the right environment (i.e. conditions) to make this possible. This is particularly important in terms of what we find that we can and cannot control as we work to lead organizations and as part of this, to manage people and ensure provide each with suitable environment. For instance, management can allow employees to restructure an office without their direct approval. This creates an environment in which one feels part of the office and entire work process.

People do have the attitude to change.

According to Sinek (2014), we do not have the power to “change people.”  However, we can change what occurs near or around them, which may invite a certain degree of change within them a bit more indirectly.  We can create a circle of safety (Sinek, 2014), which is really an environmental concept, as well as one of basic needs-attentiveness.

Management matters a lot in carrying out responsibility.

We wholeheartedly agree that effective educational administration involves empowerment, motivation, genuine concern for others, and creating the right environment that is conducive to the well-being of the whole person, whether staff or student. Yet, what is the right environment, when people differ so tremendously?  Common to the notion of transformational leadership through environmental architecture are the following:

First, school administrators must use environment to communicate vision and moral purpose.  In this case, they have to act effectively. It is not sufficient for leaders to have or verbally convey a moral purpose; they should capitalize on the symbols and create comforts of the space in which everyone works, to convey it, illuminate it, and a request for the commitment of others to it.  In doing so, leaders would mindfully organize the space in which we work, consequently selecting its components and asking, “Do my colors and textures match the intentionality of my expectations and obligations?” 

“Do form, fixtures, and functionality intersect in a way that message the mission and validate the vision?” Probably, this will steer a sense of change and actualization of ideas.

Secondly, school administrators must understand that space is under critical influence of the words, tones, gestures, postures, and facial expressions of the persons in it. This concerns the administrators’ interpersonal and intrapersonal relationships. People create their own backdrop of environmental visibility.  Because of such, administrators and teachers must constantly work not only to develop but also to maintain an upbeat relationship with others by instituting trust, mutual respect, as well as a safe learning environment.  This will determine to what extent persons walk about comfortably or conversely with a certain degree of defense mechanisms, dotting the environmental landscape.  Environmental wallpaper is, thus, important to the success of internal and external relationships.

Finally, school administrators must leverage environmental architecture in how they set examples for others and the images they create for the institution. Such leaders not only model but also display the very attributes they wish to inculcate in their students and see in their coworkers. The servers are their own teacher-leaders of the way business is done through people, providing not only the pallet, but also the paint.  Effective leaders motivate others by not only communicating but also modeling commitment, enthusiasm, flexibility, innovation and integrity. All of this works out to create an appropriate environment for each of them.

Provisions for appropriate environment are, in turn, paramount.

Therefore, as Sinek (2014) alluded to using different terms, but similar constructs, the creation of the right environment through transformational architecture is bound to motivate everyone within.  School administrators who create a safe, open and welcoming environment, will notice readily that students will feel more at ease while learning and the teachers will perform their best, leading to achievement of excellent results.   Such kind of an environment will make teachers and students feel empowered to take risks and develop to the best of their abilities.

Change is inevitable.

 It is simple really: for us to transform others and ourselves through leadership, we need a certain degree of finesse with our environmental architecture.

In conclusion, our leaders have it in within arm’s reach.

Our leaders have the responsibility in their possession to provide adequate and conducive environments.  The administrators would then otherwise assess and establish the preferences people have and provide them to ensure maximum productivity.

If leaders “get it right” on environment, then their folks will have the capacity to achieve remarkable things, expanding their capabilities. As Sinek (2014) reminded us . . . In the Marine custom, senior officers eat last, while their soldiers eat first.  This then charges our leaders to work their level best, to ensure each individual is satisfied in their environment.  In this regard, the assertion can be that our leaders have the charge to provide transformational leadership by creating adequate and conducive environments for everyone.

We would like to encourage our professionals to make this a part of their school cafeteria’s environmental wallpaper, as well, and have everything at its best.

Kahler, T. (2008). The process therapy model: Personality types with adaptations. Little Rock, AR: Taibi Kahler Associates, Inc.
Sinek, S. (2014). Leaders eat last: Why some teams pull together and others don’t. New York, NY: The Penguin Group.
Tyson, B. (2013). Social influence strategies for environmental behavior change. Bloomington, IN: iUniverse, Inc.

Rehab Al Ghamdi and Ryan Donlan believe that leadership involves not only supporting the people working with us, but also providing an environment that allows everyone to play to his/her strengths.  If you would like to share ways you have leveraged environment to help someone on your team, please feel free to contact them at  or at 


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