I have been very lucky in my career to work for CEOs that 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 a best of breed example in their market and business sector.
So what are the attributes of a transformational leader?
- Excellent Judgment – Has the ability to carefully but quickly ascertain risk/reward and is more often right than wrong
- 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
- 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
- Humble – Is the first to let others take credit for the company/team/project successes and first to take responsibility for mistakes, missteps, and failures
- Demanding – Sets expectations and aggressive milestone that force the company/team to learn, stretch grow and execute expertly every day
- Empathetic – Quickly hears team pain and concern but can quickly separate the valid from the invalid and take action appropriately
- 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
- 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. A lot of leaders start out 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 a natural 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 have the opportunity to become transformational in their role and in their tasks. Anyone that figures out a better method or process that does his or her work more efficiently and creates the 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 with your task regardless of what seat you are sitting and 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…