This article – originally 4 Essential Habits of Transformational Leaders – has been updated to reflect current thinking and what we’re experiencing and observing from transformational leaders today.
Updated on Sep. 12, 2022.
Close your eyes. Think about the best leader you’ve ever had or experienced. Take a minute to consider what made that leader so great and the impact they had.
Whether you thought of your first manager from decades ago, a mentor along the way, or your current CEO, you were probably thinking of a transformational leader. When we ask groups of rising leaders to describe great leaders, their responses are remarkably consistent. Transformational leaders leave an impact long after someone has experienced their leadership qualities.
Transformational leaders have a clear vision and bring people along toward that vision through inspiration. They not only lead toward results that matter but are also able to transform people and systems along the way, encouraging growth of individuals and growth of the organization. They encourage people to rise to their best self and act in service of the mission.
And although their leadership qualities might have seemed to flow naturally from them, don’t be fooled, becoming a transformational leader isn’t easy. It requires time, intention, and a whole lot of commitment to their own growth. The good news is, it’s possible.
Here are some habits you can build to start or continue your journey of becoming a transformational leader:
Transformational leaders are committed to personal growth, starting with a clear sense of self. Self-awareness is the cornerstone of emotional intelligence. They’ve identified their strengths and weaknesses and seek to understand their blind spots. They accept themselves as they are while also aspiring to a more whole version of themselves. Transformational leaders strive to first transform themselves, and then bring their understanding of transformation to their team and their organization. They often have developed habits that encourage self-reflection, like journaling, seeking regular feedback, mindfulness, or meditation.
Creating a Vision
Developing a clear vision requires the ability to step back and see how one’s role fits into the context of its larger system. That may mean seeing how a team fits into a division, or how the whole company fits in the ecosystem of the industry in which it operates. Being able to zoom in and zoom out to see both context and details is a requirement of being able to create transformational change. Developing an appreciation for the larger context requires a willingness to ask bigger questions like “What am I missing?” and “How might I be wrong?” It’s being able to see not only what’s ahead, but also the lens through which one is looking. Transformational leaders develop habits of seeking out people with different perspectives, asking great questions from a place of openness and curiosity, and making space for reflection and research.
Bringing Others Along
With a strong sense of self and clarity of vision, transformational leaders have a remarkable ability to bring others along toward that vision. They help create and shape the vision and embody it with enthusiasm. They live out the organization’s values and show their team that they’re in the game with them. They are aware of the emotional tone of the organization, “listening” to what’s on peoples’ minds and shaping the culture through their actions and focus of attention. They challenge, motivate, support, and empower individuals and teams in the right doses. They use their experiences to relate to and connect with their teams on a deeper level. Transformational leaders develop habits of connecting with people at a human level and communicating in language that is inspiring and resonant.
Lastly, being a transformational leader requires courage. Transformation requires change and stepping into the unknown can feel daunting regardless of how large or small. It’s only with a strong sense of self, a clear vision and a trust in the team around them that leaders can develop the confidence to move beyond fear and act with commitment and courage toward that vision. They tap into a deep well of purpose to move forward in spite of fear. Transformational leaders develop habits of noticing when they are operating from fear, or when they’re being drawn by vision. They develop the ability to choose when to listen to their inner voice of caution and when to move forward in spite of it.
Becoming a transformational leader requires dedication to your own growth, fueled by a clear sense of personal and organizational purpose. Having a coach or mentor alongside to help cultivate the habits of true transformational leadership can be invaluable in setting you on a meaningful path of growth and impact.