Transformational Leadership – Three Simple Tips


A new year is an opportunity for resolutions. Resolutions are all about transforming some aspect of our lives that we think can use some improvement. In leadership, I believe we should have an ongoing resolution to be not just “leaders” but “transformational leaders”.

There’s a belief in some circles that transformational leaders are born, not made. While it’s true that some people seem to have been born with charisma hard-wired into their DNA, I’ve found that we can develop some of the key skills of a transformational leader in ourselves and in others.

There are obvious skills of leadership that we can easily identify and which most leaders already apply practice to: the ability to speak with confidence in public, for example, or the ability to mentor or coach staff.

But the really key quality of leaders who can inspire others and transform organizations seem elusive to many of us – and they don’t have to be.

Consider that transformational leaders are people who possess the ability to shift thinking in those they seek to influence. That shift in thinking leads to shifts in behavior – sometimes big shifts – which, in turn, leads to extraordinary results.

Looking at successful leaders, I’ve seen certain key behaviors which I believe any of us can practice and become proficient in. And the key to proficiency is to create a new, positive habit that serves you (and the people you serve) in better and more empowering ways.

Here are three habits that can dial up your abilities as a transformational leader.

Be Human

Leaders are always thinking about how they are going to be perceived by their audience (staff, board members, shareholders, the general public, etc.) and sometimes that prevents us from stepping back from our agenda long enough to allow the best answers to a challenge present themselves.

Transformational leaders take time to slow down, release their agenda, observe, listen, and let their intuition speak. For “take charge” types (most leaders) allowing their human side to surface or even show, is a tremendous – and unsettling – challenge. Many of us have emerged through systems where vulnerability was not welcomed or may even have been actively squelched in favor of promoting intellect over humanity.

But there is so much more to leadership than intellect. Being willing to engage our human vulnerability is the true foundation for transformational leadership. Why?

People rarely connect with goals through the exercise of pure intellect. Studies have shown that feelings are the catalyst for the actions we do – we use intellect to rationalize those actions.

When we are able to connect with our feelings and observe them without being run by them, we develop the foundation to lead others to be in similar relationship with their feelings as we pursue common goals.

Be Curious

Children are naturally curious. And while we wouldn’t want a toddler running the company, we can – and should – take heed of the natural curiosity of children.

Curiosity draws us to look at each moment with fresh eyes and to ask questions rather than to fall back on old, ingrained assumptions.

Leaders should be constantly asking questions of themselves and their people. And in the same way that a child’s curiosity drives them to ask “Why?” again and again, transformational leaders   don’t get attached to the first answer that comes up.

Learn to identify and tell relevant stories

Transformational leaders are masters at using relevant stories to connect with and move people to action. The idea is not new – but it’s often misused or poorly executed.

In her TEDx talk, persuasive writing trainer Stefanie Frank describes a relevant story as one that originates inside of an inciting moment; a moment in your life “when you know that what happened before and what’s going to happen next are much less important than what is happening in that moment.”

In a relevant story, she points out, an audience sees themselves in the story itself. The story awakens their desire to go on the journey the leader is describing.

A relevant story, told by a transformative leader, can create a powerful “mind picture” of possibility, causing a shift in thinking to happen instantly. And a lasting, meaningful change in actions or behavior is only ever driven by an accompanying shift in thinking.

While much has been written and said about the journey to good or even great leadership, the defining characteristic of a transformational leader is this: transformational leaders act as an accelerant to lasting, meaningful change.

As leaders, we have a unique opportunity to create extraordinary results for our staff, our clients, our companies, our industries, and our communities. We start by transforming ourselves and cultivating the habits of transformational leadership.