From Here to There: Actions to Become a More Transformational Leader


This post is part 2 of a 2 part series.  To read Part 1, click here: What Kind of a Leader Are You?

Our questions about becoming a more transformational leader are often more about how than why. We don’t experience transformational leaders around us. We have too much to do and not enough time to do it. At the end of the day, its results, not people, that matter. As asked in part 1 of this series, how can we be a Mandela in an organization full of Napoleons? This post will offer five ideas to help anyone who wants to be a more transformational leader move closer to this goal. It’s built on the premise, offered by Patterson, et al (2008) in Influencer- The Power to Change Anything that the odds for successful change come down to two questions: 1) Is it worth it? 2) Can I do it?

If you can’t answer the first question, Is it worth it?, affirmatively, stop reading here. Your first decision must be that you see enough value in becoming a different type of leader that you will at least try. It can’t matter that you are the only one. It can’t matter that your boss isn’t like this. It can’t matter that it’s hard. You must decide that it’s worth it to be a Mandela surrounded by Napoleons, just like the real Mandela.

Assuming that you are still with me, move to the second question, Can I do it? Yes, you can. Patterson, et al reminds us that “much of will is skill” and “much of prowess is practice.” The five ideas below are by no means exhaustive. They represent starting points.  They build skills that make it easier to lead differently. The more you do them, the better you’ll get.  Even if you doubt you can be great, just try to get better.

1. Have a Personal and Powerful Vision
If you’re thinking:  I knew she was going to write this – you’re right. Big transformations start with big ideas.  Ideas that excite, compel, energize. Washington didn’t organize a group of rag tag farmers to take on the most powerful military of its time “just because.” He had a vision of independent colonies working together to create a new nation.  Nelson Mandela’s vision of a post apartheid South Africa helped him endure 19 years of prison with his dignity intact. Your personal vision of what’s possible for you, your organization and your team is the engine of transformation. You think something about your purpose anyway. Why not think big?

2. Ask What Before How
What is a remarkable little four-letter word that engages others to expand ideas. It expresses your interest in possibilities before settling into a solution. If you want more ideas and fewer excuses, ask what questions before how questions. Add more “What’s possible?” and “What’s next?” questions to engage others. You may find not only a better idea, but also a solution you don’t have to “sell” because others are already on board.

3. Be Positive
A positive outlook is more than self-help happy talk. Research suggests its value to change agents. Dan Gilbert, psychologist and researcher from Harvard University, concludes that we humans are wired to imagine our futures as positive. You don’t need his research, though. When was the last time you were motivated to change because you wanted something worse? Paint a positive view of the future, and mean it, to engage the imaginations of others.

4. Replace Judgment With Empathy
If you do nothing else, assume good intent. Assume the people around you are doing the best they know how. They are rationale actors developing a solution in their best interests. Negative judgments give otherwise good people self-permission to rationalize harmful actions toward others. We allow ourselves to discard ideas from those we deem incompetent. We dismiss others we judge to be wrong. Instead, wonder What causes them to think this solution works? when faced with a problem or disagreement.  See if your reflections generate more empathy than evaluation. More importantly, notice that you get closer to win-win solutions faster with more empathy than judgment.

5. Develop Recovery Strategies
Even with a deep commitment to lead differently, a change will be bumpy. Stress may challenge your resolve. It can be lonely to be different. Progress can be slow.  Something as simple as a bad habit can bring you back to old behavior. Patterson, et al reminds us that missteps are part of all change. That’s why they urge us to plan recovery strategies in advance.  Recovery strategies give us an alternative to throwing up our hands and giving up when we slide. For those of us who want to shift from transactional to transformational leaders, this may be identifying a mentor to help through the rough patches. It could be promising our self that we’ll start over the next day no matter what. Develop what works for you, but have your list handy. Don’t beat yourself up when you need it, but rather appreciate your foresight.

These are not the only five ideas to begin a shift to a transformational leader. I’d love to understand what works for you. We could build a collection of ideas any leader can adopt in any organization without extra resources or special skills.

With diligence, you’ll find that transformational leadership is worth it and you can do it. And like the leadership giants you admire, you can inspire others to lead like you.


Patterson, K., Grenny, J., Maxfield, D. McMillan, R., Switzler, A. (2008). Influencer: The Power to Change Anything. New York: McGraw Hill.