Not only is the characteristic of a transformational leader what inspires them, but it also distinguishes them in their capacity to inspire and effect enduring change. One of my favorite things in the world to talk about is the power of transformational leadership. I not only speak about transformational leadership during my keynote presentations, but also partner with organizations to create and embed leadership development programs focused on expanding transformational leaders throughout the entire organization.
The word transformation is one of the most used words in business today. It can mean a number of different things to different people depending on the context of how it is used. For the sake of gaining clarity about what I am referring to when I mention transformational leadership, let’s address this first.
In the most simplistic term, transformational leaders are game changers. They not only change the direction and level of performance of entire organizations, but they deeply impact those that they lead on a personal level. They care about people more than others. They coach their people more than others. They prioritize the health and well-being of the individuals within the company equally as much as they care about the numbers. Because of this mentality and approach, their presence and leadership transforms everything and everyone for the better.
To dig a little deeper behind the meaning of a transformational leader and how you can start the process of making the shift to becoming one, here are four qualities all transformational leaders possess.
1. Leadership is a Way of Life
The first characteristic of a transformational leader is that they are leaders in everything they do and in all aspects of their lives. Leadership is not about being in control or having power over anyone else. Leadership is a mindset and way of life. The best leaders that I have ever been around didn’t wait for a specific title or for someone else to give them permission to start leading. When leadership is a way of life in how you operate day in and day out, you lead from right where you are, regardless of circumstance.
The life of someone else can be changed forever because of how you decided to show up and approach your work and own life for that particular day. You have the power to turn someone else’s bad day around by simply showing you care and sharing words of encouragement. When leadership is a way of life, the impact and influence will rub off on everything you do.
2. Set a Bold and Compelling Vision of the Future
The second characteristic of a transformational leader is their ability to set a bold and compelling vision of the future. Spend just twenty minutes studying and watching videos of some of the greatest leaders to ever live. You will immediately be able to witness their ability to cast a vision of the future that is so much bigger than the past. Not only are they able to set a compelling vision of the future, but they are able to do it in a way where others deeply believe in that vision.
If you have a desire to transform the culture, people, or processes within an organization, it’s imperative you start with the vision of where you aspire to go. Write the vision down. Spend a few weeks crystalizing what that vision looks like. How is it going to connect to the overall purpose of the organization? Get in the habit of constantly picturing a bigger and brighter future for those that you lead and your organization.
3. Strong Focus on Coaching and Development
The third characteristic of a transformational leader is that they see themselves primarily as a coach. A common mistake that I see on a daily basis is leaders convincing themselves that they don’t have the time to coach and develop talent. Coaching and developing talent should not be delegated to HR and completely forgotten about by the leadership team. The leaders that get the most out of their people and transform the lives of everyone around them, fully understand that coaching and developing their people is mission critical.
The days of just managing people are a thing of the past. Employees want to work for an organization and leaders that prioritize their career trajectory and skill development. It’s a requirement for leading into the future. What makes transformational leaders so rare and their impact so powerful is their obsessiveness to genuinely invest in the lives of others. It’s not about them. It’s about developing others and creating more leaders within the organization.
4. Deeply Connected to Their Purpose
Last but not least, the fourth characteristic of a transformational leader is that everything they do is driven by purpose. Transformational leaders don’t just recite the company’s mission statement, they live it in everything they do. They are on a passion-fueled mission themselves. They are deeply connected individually to their purpose. They know exactly why they lead and what their personal leadership vision is. Because of this clarity, their daily commitment to attack each day with enthusiasm and a sense of purpose becomes contagious and influences others.
Being deeply connected to your purpose as a leader not only maximizes overall leadership impact, but it provides you with the energy to keep moving forward despite the challenges and roadblocks. Whether you lead a team of five or five hundred, start crafting your own personal leadership vision if you haven’t already done so. Why do you want to lead? What does leadership mean to you? What type of impact do you want to have on others, both personally and professionally?
There is a plethora of qualities that make transformational leaders stand out, but these four are a baseline to get you moving in the right direction. If you can successfully adopt leadership as a way of life, instill compelling visions of the future, obsess over coaching your people, and discover your purpose as a leader, your impact will be uncommon and transformational.
If it was an easy journey, every leader would be transformational. It takes extensive work, focus, and patience, but very much worth the effort. Don’t just lead. Transform!