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March 9, 2017

Transformational leaders, the heart of change.

Karen Semon portrait Karen Semon

Transformational leaders, as compared to transactional leaders, look beyond balance sheet performance.

They tap into deep human emotion and engage people with a clear understanding of their vision. In doing so, transformational leaders are able to foster a personal commitment from their team and generate a willingness to walk across hot coals for the sake of the leader and their mission. 

According to Bernard Bass and other known experts in the field of transformational leadership, transformational leaders can motivate followers to transcend their own interests for some other collective purpose. They appeal to a higher order of needs (e.g. to love, to learn, and to leave a legacy). They create trust, admiration, loyalty, and respect with their followers. However, the price leaders pay for such a gift is anything but small. Transformational leadership is based on the willingness to critique the values, mission, and vision that the leader has for themselves, and for that of the organization.

I am blessed to work with leaders in my executive coaching practice who have a deep desire to perform well but also want to leave a legacy—to make a difference.  Those who emerge as transformational leaders have a deep sense of purpose that extenuates their leadership.  

I worked with one such organization where the CEO was intimately involved in the creation of the products and was deeply concerned with how those products aligned with the organization’s values.  His market involved child welfare agencies. To better understand this market, he spent one-on-one time with social caseworkers, trying to glean what it was like to be in their shoes by sitting and playing with children while their parents were interviewed. From this emerged not only a product but the vision, mission, and values of the organization. This leader engendered trust, in part because he created a culture of purpose. People joined this organization and stayed because they believed that their work made a difference.

Transformational leadership, according to Bass, “occurs when leaders broaden and elevate the interests of their employees, when they generate awareness and acceptance of the purposes and mission of the group, and when they stir employees to look beyond their own self-interest for the good of the group.” When a leader is transformational they define a mission-driven culture that is focused on people, encourages creativity and innovation, and is inspiring. 

Sage talk transform your leadership style

As you will learn at my upcoming Sage Talks lecture, “Transform Your Leadership Style,” successful, transformational leaders focus on six key principals:

1. Build self-awareness

  • Spend time in self-reflection and know your own areas of strength and weakness
  • Be humble - constantly learn and listen to others—do not let your ego drive you
  • Be vulnerable – be willing to admit mistakes and take personal ownership

2. Be Courageous

  • Do not shy from difficult conversations and stand up to poor performance
  • Employ strong conflict management skills and deal with interpersonal conflicts proactively
  • Take calculated risks and make tough decisions to achieve your vision

3. Create an inspiring vision of the future

  • Do not be afraid to display your passion and enthusiasm for your work

4. Motivate others to buy into and deliver the vision

  • Help others find their niche by allowing them to use their strengths
  • Provide clear goals and expectations so people hit the target
  • Reward and recognize the success others have

5. Encourage creativity and innovation

  • Encourage open dialogue and debate so that the best ideas can emerge
  • Welcome discovery and nurture independent thinking so that others can bring their full creativity and engagement to the process

6. Build strong, trust-based relationships with others

  • Instill trust with active listening and empathy
  • Walk the talk – provide a role model of integrity and ethical behavior
  • Be present with people – manage by walking around
  • Value each individual and their unique contribution

Transformational leadership puts people and relationships at the center, instead of tasks. A true transformational leader knows that it is their team who delivers results and executes change, not task lists. The leader is the conduit. Transformational leadership builds the capability of people and brings higher levels of personal commitment from individuals to the organization’s vision and objectives.

Keep in mind, as a transformational leader, you will need to reflect on your own impact as a leader; again, this is the price you must pay for the trust and engagement you hope for from those you lead. This will require that you set aside time and space for personal reflection and development.

Join me on Monday, March 27, at 6:30 p.m. MDT for my Sage Talks lecture, “Transform Your Leadership Style,” to learn more about becoming a transformational leader. The lecture will take place at The Leonardo, an interactive museum in the heart of Salt Lake City, and will be streamed live online. The event is free and open to the public, who I hope will RSVP at See you then!

Sage talks lecture series
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