What is Transformational Leadership?
Find out what Transformational Leadership is, why it's crucial for a sustainable future, and what its essential components are.
In our relentlessly, ruthlessly changing world, we need leadership styles that can lead us away from overwhelm, stress and damage. Transformational leadership is a powerful style of leadership that generates a more regenerative and thriving state. Let’s unpack what this means and what it takes to anchor in transformational leadership in organisations and businesses.
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 Transactional leadership, focusing on supervision, organization, and performance, is hopelessly outdated.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. 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 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. This is change that is significant, lasting, and necessary. We call this The Transformation Curve. All of this whilst avoiding the powerful gravitational pull of business/systemic breakdown and decline.
Sign up to our regular newsletter.
Insightful articles, practical wisdom, and nourishing content on how to transform yourself, your organizations, and our world.
Definition Of Transformational Leadership
We need transformational leaders who can lead and land continuous transformations that ensure their organizations fit the future rather than failing it.
Transformational Leadership is the ability to metabolize constant change in the world into concrete value inside our organizations and communities. It does this through transforming our products, processes, and people so they fit and even forge the fast-arriving future. Our Changemaker Coaching Kit gives you an opportunity to try this out by transforming a real-life problem you face. You’ll then harness the method to make change happen in a community or system you care about.
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 may 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.
Example of A Transformational Leader
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. Not because he is a saint or sage. Mandela, like all of us, had many failures and foibles. But because he fully understood that his own transformation was crucial. That without it, he wouldn’t be able to lead South Africa from violence and conflict to majority rule. He embraced the journey from angry and inflexible rebel to peaceful yet powerful statesman – you can read more about this here.
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 organisation, business or life, check out our Changemaker programs here.