BY Nick Jankel

Author, Futurist, Leadership Developer, Philosopher, Wisdom Teacher

In challenging times, we need a kind of leadership that can disrupt the status quo with as little pain and as much elegance as possible. This is transformational leadership. I believe the times we live and work in demand that we focus our entire mind and body on ensuring our organizations—and the systems we are part of—remain match fit for the future.

We are facing the triple threat of digital transformation, changing workforces and attitudes and damaged global systems. With such profound, ongoing challenges facing all organizations, traditional leadership development will fail to deliver the leaders we need for today’s world. We need leadership development programs that harness human potential holistically, exploring how our biologies react to threat and destabilisation, as well as how our conscious actions can harness growth.

In its simplest form, I define Transformational Leadership as the ability to metabolize constant change in the outside world into concrete value inside our organizations and communities through the products, processes, and people we transform.

There are many, many types of leadership; probably as many as there are leadership coaches and ‘trainers’, Having been in the leadership ‘industry’ for almost two decades, I believe that transformational leadership includes yet transcends them all.

It is the ultimate form of leadership and is the most well-adapted to the current VUCA environment. It the only form of leadership that can make the most out of the opportunities of Network O.S. and help our species enact the Great Transformation in time. Transformational leadership is what is needed to engage with the four crises that impact us all—Industrialization, Inequality, Illness, Identity—and both mitigate the serious risks and leverage the emerging opportunities for exponential value creation that effects a regenerative socioeconomic system.

What Makes Transformational Leaders Different

In its simplest form, I define Transformational Leadership as the ability to metabolize constant change in the outside world into concrete value inside our organizations and communities through the products, processes, and people we transform.

We are able to metabolize change not just once, but many times, as times change. I understand a “transformation” as a sustained and valuable change—that could not be predicted by extrapolating the past—that drives positive and exponential impact with problems that really matter in the world. By continuously leading and landing transformations, we ensure that whatever group, community, organization, or society we lead remains fitted to the rapidly changing environment.

We make sure that no mismatches exist long enough to make us, and our organization, fail. We are quick to recognize and act on signals of fading. We are always looking for “weak signals” of value sources of the future in the present. As a result, we retain our value in the world, as individuals and organizations. We maintain our right to continue to exist by generating value. In business, that means being paid to solve important pain points for customers that they cannot solve themselves. As the people are ever-more empowered, then we continuously have to lead transformations that solve emerging pain points, not needs that they either no longer feel to be painful; or have found ways to resolve themselves.

What it takes to be a Transformational Leader

To be a transformational leader we have to take ownership of changes in the environment and transmute them with our creativity and insight into exponentially value-creating and transformational innovations; and then land these innovations through excellent execution in the markets and systems of which we’re a part.

These transformations—whether in business models, culture, or strategy (and usually all three)—then ensure that our enterprises, our employees, and the ecosystems we are part of thrive into the future—no matter what challenges we face and no matter how tough the environmental pressures get.

What prevents leaders from creating real transformational impact is not poor processes, ineffective teams, and bad strategies—as they can always be reinvented and regenerated by transformational leaders—but their own outdated beliefs about what’s right and wrong for their market or space, and their own outdated behavior patterns and habits that sabotage their creativity, responsiveness, and effectiveness as leaders.

Transformation is “biodynamic”: it is responsive to the live, dynamic nature of biological systems that attempt to become more complex, whole, and harmonious. We don’t get to choose when transformation needs to occur. But we do get to choose how we act/react around the moment. We either block the biodynamic emergence of future-proofing transformation with our outdated beliefs and legacy habits. Or we can ‘get out of the way’ of ourselves and the transformation by letting go of our beliefs and untangling habits that resist change. We support the change that is ‘wanting’ to occur—without stressing or striving which simply serve to block creativity.

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, get pulled into melodrama, cover up signs of mismatches, and blame other people, competitors, or ‘the market’ for problems. The transformational leaders ensure that things happen because of them. They adapt, reflect, challenge their own assumptions, come up with creative responses, and act.

They acknowledge reality, learn from failure, use mistakes for triple-loop learning, and see all problems as transformational challenges to be metabolized. 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 do, had many failures and foibles. 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.

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