Improving servant, transformational and emergent project leadership


through proximal development



By Tim Kloppenborg, PhD and Jesse Maleszewski

Ohio, USA

Project demands are different now.  Customers demand faster, better and cheaper – not one or two of them.  Knowledge workers do not respond to command and control but expect a voice in their work.  Significant portions of many projects are contracted out to various vendors and suppliers.  Due to these changes, demands on project leaders are different.

We first remind the reader of the Hershey Blanchard model of situational leadership. Then we introduce three types of leadership that are needed on any project which correspond with the last three stages of that model.  Then we demonstrate how to improve all three types of leadership using a proximal development approach.

Situational leadership suggests that depending on the maturity of the follower, the leader may use telling, selling, participating or delegating to get workers to work most effectively.  Old style command and control project management primarily used telling workers what to do without the workers having much say.  This is still needed sparingly on some projects – especially when time is critical, and the team is prepared to follow orders immediately.  However, on most projects and in most situations, we have moved beyond “telling” and the other three styles of leadership are more effective.

The three leadership styles we will develop here are servant (for selling), transformational (for participating), and emergent (for delegating).  If our projects and organizations are to be effective, we cannot depend on one powerful leader telling everyone else what to do.  We need active leadership from many participants.  All three of these assume basic technical task competence or the leader would still need to be very directive.

The servant leader’s primary goal is to help people do their work.  A servant leader leads by facilitating – putting the needs of the followers first.  Servant leaders practice shared management, collaboration, and enhancing the respect given to everyone.  They understand that those who serve, also grow.  The typical question they ask is “what gets in your way and how can I help you with it?”

Take the example of an arboretum development project, there may arise questions about how to interpret gray areas in governing policies and so a wise servant leader will ensure all key stakeholders actively participate in creating and updating a master plan; ensuring that the answers to the questions as to the governing policies have clear responses by seeking out or facilitating the frustrating process of securing said clear response.  The servant leader will ensure that any hindrance to the successful completion of the arboretum is their focus and will work diligently to remove those obstacles.

The transformational leader’s primary interest is achieving the project goals. A transformational leader leads by vision – speaking with authentic passion about the great accomplishments that will be achieved together.  The vision describes successful outcomes for stakeholders and inspires collaboration with them and with all people working on the project.  The leader then acknowledges the needs of each teammate and helps each understand how their work and personal desires align with this vision.


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Editor’s note: This article is based on a presentation by the author during the Project Management South Africa (PMSA) 2021 National Project Management Conference held virtually in November 2021m for which the PMWJ was a media partner.  To learn more about PMSA and their events, visit https://www.projectmanagement.org.za/. For more on the subject of this article, see the author profile at the end of this article and contact the author directly.

How to cite this article: Kloppenborg, T., Maleszewski, J. (2022). Improving servant, transformational and emergent project leadership through proximal development, PM World Journal, Vol. XI, Issue IV, April.  Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/pmwj116-Apr2022-Kloppenborg-Maleszewski-improving-project-leadership.pdf

About the Authors

Tim Kloppenborg, PhD

Cincinnati, Ohio, USA


Dr. Tim Kloppenborg is Professor Emeritus at Xavier University in the United States.   His 13th book Be Agile Do Agile was released in 2021. Tim has supervised many student projects for non-profit organizations and taught MBA students to facilitate.  He holds a Ph.D. in Operations Management from the University of Cincinnati. He is a Project Management Professional (PMP) and a Disciplined Agile Senior Scrum Master (DASSM). Tim can be contacted at kloppenborgt@xavier.edu


Jesse Maleszewski

Ohio, USA


Jesse Maleszewski is an entrepreneur, consultant, adjunct faculty member, president of a Rwandan refugee church board, husband and father of twin boys.  Jesse is the President of Sand Hill, Inc. a specialty consultancy focused on heavy-industry engineering, procurement, construction and operations.  Jesse has consulted on more than $10 billion in projects on four continents.  Jesse’s newest venture, Evolutionary Health Solutions, provides custom platforms which simplify the planning and execution (communication, status, criticality, and dash-boarding) of receiving recognition, certification and credentialing in the healthcare industry.  Jesse holds an MBA from Wright State University and is a Project Management Professional (PMP).