Recently, my team at the John Maxwell Company introduced a
new offering for beginning leaders called Permission
Granted. The purpose behind it was helping new or aspiring leaders
understand that they have permission to lead—from themselves, the people around
them, and the world at large.
We felt comfortable launching that product because we
believe it is true: we are living in an age where we need new leaders. We also
need more from established leaders.
This is a firm conviction of mine—we need leaders who aren’t
just title-holders, good managers, or inspirational speakers. We need men and
women who are committed to taking action in order to make a difference in the
We need transformational leaders.
I wrote about this in my book, Leadershift:
11 Essential Changes Every Leader Must Embrace. The next-to-last
chapter is on the Impact Shift, which is moving from being a trained leader to
a transformational leader. Trained leaders have knowledge; transformational
leaders have wisdom. Trained leaders know the right things to do;
transformational leaders do the right things.
Transformational leaders influence others to think, speak,
and act in ways that make a positive difference in the world. And that positive
difference is what so many people all over the world long to see and experience
Please hear me: of all the shifts you could make as a
leader, this is the most important shift you can make. It will bring the
greatest change to your life and to the lives of those around you.
So, what are the hallmarks of a transformational leader?
Here are five characteristics all transformational leaders
They See Things Others Do Not See
While many leaders ask, “Why?”, transformational leaders see
things differently. They ask, “Why not?” because they’re always thinking about
how they can create a better future. Transformational leaders see problems,
just like everyone else—but they see potential within those problems.
Where the vision of others stops at the problems themselves,
transformational leaders see through the problems to discover the potential
they hold. There is always an answer, a solution, a better way, and a brighter
future for transformational leaders. And it inspires others to follow!
They Say Things Others Do Not Say
Transformational leaders speak up. They leverage their
influence by speaking bold words about a better future. Their voices become
tools for transformation. Consider the bold words of Dr. Martin Luther King,
Jr., when he spoke about his dream on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial:
“I say to you today, my friends, even though we face the
difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply
rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise
up, live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be
self-evident, that all mean are created equal.’”
It took courage for him to be the voice of change when
others opposed him—but he didn’t hesitate to share his bold words that
described a better future for our nation, and all of mankind. Transformational
leaders speak up when others won’t.
They Believe Things Others Do Not Believe
Adopting the belief that you can make a difference changes
everything. When transformational leaders believe their cause can change things
for the better, they can bring conviction to their leadership. You can be a
good leader who lacks this conviction and still get people to follow you—perhaps you can even lead them well.
But it’s only when you as a leader understand that the
higher calling of leadership is to get people to follow your cause that you become a great leader.
That’s because transformational leaders are belief magnets—people are drawn to
those leaders not only because they believe in their cause, but because they
believe in people too.
Transformational leaders believe and live by the truth that
one is too small a number to achieve greatness.
They Feel Things Others Do Not Feel
Passion is a leader’s energy. It creates momentum and
tenacity for the challenges that all leaders face. Passion fires up leaders and
the people they lead, and that fire carries them forward and helps them endure.
Some of the most passionate people I know are the coaches
from The John Maxwell Team. Every time I invite a group of those coaches to
join me in leading roundtables in another country, the response is always one
of passion. They pay their own way, train twelve hours a day, and sometimes
endure less-than ideal circumstances, all in the name of helping others.
Why do they do it? Because they are passionate—they feel
something that compels them to act. As my friend, Paul Martinelli, President of
The John Maxwell Team, often says, “When the light goes on in your life, you
want to turn everyone else’s light on.”
They Do Things Others Do Not Do
The final characteristic of a transformational leader is
their willingness to do things others do not—or will not—do. While others
procrastinate, transformational leaders act. While others freeze because of
fear, transformational leaders use their fear to find the courage to do something.
What is it that gives transformational leaders such courage?
Purpose. Transformational leaders know they exist for a reason, and they tap
into that sense of purpose whenever fear arises.
If you would rather try something big that is almost
impossible than something small that won’t make a difference, then you’ve got
the courage of a transformational leader. It’s the courage you’ll need to
change the world.
The good news is the world is waiting for you. And there are other leaders like you to cheer you on your way.
What are you waiting for?