What is Transformational Leadership?
In our relentlessly, ruthlessly changing world, we need leadership styles that can lead us away from overwhelm, stress and damage. We need a leadership style that, instead, generates a more regenerative and thriving state. We need to do this with as little resistance and as much speed as possible.
Let’s unpack what this means and what it takes to anchor in transformational leadership in organizations and businesses.
Transformational Leadership Defined
Transformational leadership is the ability to metabolize constant change in the outside world into concrete value inside our organizations in the form of the products and services we offer the world.
We need to metabolize changes in the world outside us into value-creating and transformational ideas and innovations in the organizations and systems we’re a part of to stay relevant and of value. Otherwise, we have no need to exist. Transformational leaders ensure that their enterprises, employees, and ecosystems they are part of flourish into the future—no matter what challenges they face.
Why is Transformational Leadership Important?
Ours is an era of climate breakdown, social injustice, rampant ill-health, and cultural conflicts. This calls out for a form of leadership that sees every problem we face, including the pandemic, as an opportunity to step up. It means taking on the challenges with creativity, insight, and resolve to change things for good.
Crucially, we need to do this with as little resistance and as much speed as possible.
We can’t count on the old business models and operating models to work reliably anymore. Transactional leadership, focusing on supervision, organization, and performance, is hopelessly outdated. For example, 53 % of executives do not realize sustainable value from business transformation.
In our era of rapid change, we need a form of leadership that can spot what is already breaking down. These are the ways of being that are losing value in the world. We also need a type of leadership that knows how to identify what is breaking through. These are the ideas, needs, and insights of the future.
Transformational leadership harnesses this wisdom to disrupt the status quo. It does this through innovating and implementing transformational products and services. Similarly, it applies these principles to business models and operational models.
In our VUCA* reality, only transformational leadership ensures organizations and systems fit, even forge, the future—and don’t fail it.
*volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous
The Essentials Of Transformational Leadership
There are three key facets of truly transformational leadership, whether leading a community, small enterprise, or multinational organization:
- Rapidly yet coherently making sense of the critical changes disrupting and disturbing your organization and the systems you touch and help shape. These include environmental, social, generational, political, health, and technological changes. Then, taking ownership of these changes within yourself and your enterprise. As a transformational leader, you do this by transforming your products, services, processes, business models, operating models, and culture. This transformation must both fit the external changes and play a role in forging a desirable future.
- Creatively solving the kinds of complex problems thrown up by the fast-changing VUCA environment. These include business, ecological/social, and customer issues. This means stepping up to ensure your enterprise pre-empts the threats. It also means proactively seizing the opportunities of our digital VUCA reality.
- Confidently and consciously leading your people, organization, and systems towards a thriving future. Moreover, you do this within our complex, disrupted, turbulent era. This involves guiding cross-functional, multi-stakeholder, and inter-generational teams in, through, and out of the pathway of change: change that is significant, lasting, positive, and necessary. We call this The Transformation Curve. All of this whilst avoiding the powerful gravitational pull of business/systemic breakdown and decline.
Insightful articles, practical wisdom, and nourishing content on how to transform yourself, your organizations, and our world.
The 6 Spirals of Transformational Leadership
Transformational leadership includes yet transcends all other kinds of leadership. Therefore, it is the ultimate form of leadership and the most well-adapted to the current VUCA environment. In addition, it is the only form of leadership that can make the most out of our digital age opportunities.
Transformational leadership is the only form of leadership that can help our species shift to being fully sustainable in time.
Transformational leadership occurs when we can fluidly move from our own cells. This involves an awareness of how we are showing up this moment in our mindset, habits, and emotions. Then, we use our innovations, actions, and organizations to transform the systems we touch. In this way, we play a part in regenerating our crisis-hit world.
We see this as a spiral that is made up of 6 distinct forms of leadership:
You can discover more about these 6 types of leadership that make up transformational leadership here:
What Makes Transformational Leaders Different
Transformational leaders can elegantly lead and land transformations —lasting and valuable changes—that cannot be predicted by extrapolating the past. They do this not just once, but many times. This means they respond to the ongoing changes in our world with integrity.
These transformations—in products, services, business models, operating models, and people—drive exponential impact and income. They resolve problems that really matter in our enterprise and in our crisis-hit world.
Transformational leaders ensure that whatever group, community, organization, or society they lead remains relevant to the rapidly-changing environment.
They make sure that no mismatches exist long enough to make them, and their organizations, fail.
Therefore, transformational leaders are quick to recognize and act on signals of fading and failing the future. They are always looking for “weak signals” in the present that illuminate potential sources of value in the future. They actively search for signs that existing business models and assumptions are losing their value and relevance.
The value a transformational leader generates in their organization goes far beyond past successes and institutional power. In business, that means ensuring that they solve important pain points for customers that users cannot solve themselves.
As customers and users become ever-more empowered, they can solve more and more of their own problems. Therefore, transformational leaders continuously lead and land transformations that allow their organizations to solve the emerging pain points. They take into account the pain points of their customers, consumers, and users. The result: transformations in products, processes, and people.
Our Bio-Transformation methodology works with both individuals and organizations to resolve the blocks to necessary transformation and organizational change.
What It Takes To Be A Transformational Leader
To be a transformational leader, we have to take ownership of the rapid changes in the environment. We need to transmute them with our wisdom, creativity, and insight into exponentially value-creating ideas. Then, we must land these innovations through excellent and adaptive execution. In other words, through innovative products, services, processes, business models, and people.
To accelerate your journey as a transformational leader, check out our Leadership Coaching Kit.
Such transformations ensure that our enterprises, our employees, and the ecosystems we are part of thrive into the future. This is true whether in business models, culture, or strategy (and usually all three). We have a sustainable way forward no matter what challenges we face or how tough the environmental pressures.
What prevents organizations from surviving and thriving in the fast-changing VUCA world is not poor processes or ineffective teams. Nor is it bad strategies or outdated products. These can always be reinvented and regenerated by transformational leaders.
What prevents organizations from succeeding in VUCA environments is lack of transformational leadership.
Leaders fail the future by clinging to their own outdated beliefs about what’s right and wrong for their market/space. They get stuck in their own outdated behavior patterns and habits. Unfortunately, these sabotage creativity, competitiveness, and effectiveness. In this podcast, I discuss solutions to the problems that plague business owners, executives, and everyday leaders alike, through using a transformational leadership model.
The reactive leader/manager who cannot transform himself/herself lets things happen. Such leaders wait, hope, plan, predict. They deny reality, make excuses for failures and get pulled into melodrama. Furthermore, they cover up signs of mismatches. They also blame other people, competitors, or ‘the market’ for problems.
The transformational leader ensures that things happen because of them. They adapt, reflect, challenge their own assumptions, come up with creative responses, and act. You can explore practical solutions to help you thrive as a transformational leader here.
Transformational Leadership Starts With Our Own Emotions, Beliefs & Actions
The key to transformational leadership is realizing that, in order to metabolize constant change into concrete value, we have to be ready to change our own beliefs and behaviors. We must be prepared to alter our own thoughts, our own assumptions, our own habits, our own reactions, our own activities, and our own emotions inside us: otherwise we will think and act the same whilst telling everyone else to change. Effectively, transformational leadership is about learning how to transform a team, business model, or business unit from the inside out.
What usually prevents leaders from creating real transformational impact is not processes and strategy but their own outdated thoughts and beliefs about what’s right and wrong and about what’s good and what’s not; and their own outdated behavior patterns and habits that sabotage their effectiveness as leaders rather than serve them.
Locking in old habits and beliefs are usually strong emotions. By transforming these emotions, we then transform how we think and act. Then we come up with the insights, intuitions, and innovations our enterprise needs to transform as the world changes rapidly.
A Transformational Leadership Example: Nelson Mandela
I don’t believe it is very helpful to hero-worship any leader. Each has his/her strengths and failings.
However, I will use the example of Nelson Mandela to demonstrate the role of self-transformation in transformational leadership.
Now Mandela, like all of us, had many failures and foibles, but he provides an amazing example of someone whose transformation of himself enabled him to enact the transformation of his country. As a young man, Mandela was understandably angry at and frustrated by the racist Apartheid system in South Africa. He attempted to solve this problem through angry activism and violent protest, and as a result he was incarcerated, not just for his political believes, but because of his actions as part of a violent resistance movement.
But while in prison, a fellow inmate reportedly smuggled in a book by the stoic philosopher and Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. This book, Meditations, is about how we shift our consciousness, and in it is a passage that Mandela said was very influential to him. It says: “A real person doesn’t give way to anger and discontent, and such a person has strength, courage, and endurance—unlike the angry and complaining. The nearer a man comes to a calm mind, the closer he is to strength.”
Mandela reflected on this for many years. Soon after he was released from prison, many of his followers wanted him to approve of angry protests and violence against the Apartheid state. But Mandela refused, saying, “There is only one way forward, and that is peace. I know that is not what you want to hear, but there is no other way.” This is transformational leadership: from the inside out.
Long after his release—and after being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize—Mandaela stated that, “If I had not been in prison, I would not have been able to achieve that most difficult task in life: changing yourself”. Mandela emphatically claimed that the transformation of his own consciousness, of his own feelings, thoughts and behaviours, directly influenced his ability to transform his country as a leader. He mastered himself in order to transform his system.
What was so special about what Mandela did? He transformed himself, thus allowing his team to transform the country. The White minority government was looking for a way out of Apartheid when Mandela was released. They had realized it was out of date and failing. Mandela as a transformational leader, encouraged his people to act with peace and not rage. He appeared on national television at one point and held FW de Klerk’s hand, physically modeling peace and connection to his supporters. The transformation of this one man created exponential value in the country.
Nelson Mandela is a very real example of how transforming ourselves can enable us to transform our systems. If he had come out of prison with his old feelings, thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors, he would not have been able to create that change. Instead, although South Africa still has many problems, it has transitioned from minority White rule. It has transformed the violence of Apartheid into a multicultural, multiracial state, and this transformation took place with relatively low levels of violence, murder, and distrust considering its traumatic history.
Summary and Key Takeaway
In conclusion, being a transformational leader is never about being perfect. It’s about constantly developing, learning, and expanding our consciousness so we can be of more use in the world. If you’re curious to find out more about bringing transformational leadership into your organization, business or life, check out our transformational leadership programs.
Transformational Leadership Development Programs
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