The Eight Attributes of a Transformational Leader

I have been very lucky to work for CEOs who understood the principle that leadership is not about doing business as usual but about transforming the organization. Transformation is what differentiates a capable leader from a great leader.

Transformational leadership is not easy. It is fraught with risk and reward, angst and celebration, stress and satisfaction, and the ability to be nimble while never losing sight of the end goal. It is a driving need to make the organization the best in their market and business sector.

So what are the attributes of a transformational leader?

  1. Excellent Judgment – Has the ability to carefully but quickly ascertain risk/reward and is more often right than wrong.
  2. Listens – Clearly understands he/she may not have all the answers, so they listen openly and intently to all advice and input from all stakeholders in the organization.
  3. Nimble – Is not afraid to continually take in new data points and monitor milestones and be willing to tweak or redirect the efforts quickly but without losing sight of the end goal
  4. Humble – Is the first to let others take credit for the company/team/project successes and take responsibility for mistakes, missteps, and failures.
  5. Demanding – Sets expectations and aggressive milestone that force the company/team to learn, stretch, grow and execute expertly every day
  6. Empathetic – Quickly hears team pain and concern but can quickly separate the valid from the invalid and take action appropriately
  7. Courageous – Is capable and willing to take reasonable risk. In “Break Through Companies,” John McKinnon called this “placing the big bet.” They know that failure will likely set the company back and cost them their job, but they also know that execution will result in the kind of transformation that will clearly differentiate the company in their sector
  8. Inspirational – Can tell a compelling story of what the future looks and feels like and how all stakeholders will benefit from the demands of change and expert execution.

Transformational leaders are not common; in fact, they are a rare breed. Many leaders start as transformational leaders when they start a new job or role with a company but quickly, their focus moves from organizational change and risk-taking to job security. It’s an instinct. Leaders that continually drive for change and high performance have the discipline to take the time to step out of the “business as usual” complacency, reevaluate the goal, direction, and course and inspire new challenges and focus. They also have the discipline to seek out the naysayers and visionaries that will challenge the “group think,” complacency, goal, focus, and direction.

The last and most important fact about transformational leaders may surprise you. They can exist in your organization today. They are not always found heading a business unit or leading an organization. Employees at all levels of a company can become transformational in their roles and tasks. Anyone that figures out a better method or process that does his or her work more efficiently and creates a conversation with the organization to implement this change is a transformational leader. Transformation is about feeling empowered to have control and influence in your job and your task regardless of what seat you are sitting. It stretches from the corner office to the remote call center employee at his/her kitchen table. A company is on a trajectory to high performance when transformational leadership permeates the culture…


Rich Jones is the Founder/Principal of Leading2Leadership LLC. Before starting his strategic planning agency, he spent over 20 years in leadership roles in the financial services sector. Before becoming an executive in the financial services sector, Rich was an entrepreneur, building and selling two businesses and working for early-stage start-up companies in executive roles in marketing, business development, and seeking investment partners. With more than three decades of experience, he brings innovative thought to companies and executives. Rich published “Leading2Leadership, a Situational Primer to Leadership Excellence.” The book is available on and was designed to be used as a book study for leadership development programs; it breaks leadership skills into manageable situations for discussion and reflection. Rich works with credit unions, CUSOs, and vendors, designing digital, data, culture, marketing, and branding transformation strategies. In 2014, Chosen as a Credit Union Rock Star by CU Magazine, and in 2018, Rich received the Lifetime Achievement Award from CUNA Marketing and Business Development Council. A Marine and graduate of Colorado State University, Jones shares his expertise at

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