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 world.

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 for themselves.

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 possess:

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?


  1. bphatcher on March 5, 2019 at 1:28 pm

    Interestingl enough, I see myself in these areas that JJoh listed. The irony of it all is this, that as a transformational leader, one can become aloof and isolated if not careful. The transformational leader can become lonely if they keep their thoughts and ideas to themselves. I’ve learned my ideas and thoughts are weird or outside the norm only if I fail to clearly bring others onboard. I need to be invitational as I share these ideas with others. Leaders neither isolate nor do they shrink from criticism or suppossed perceived rejection. It often feels lonely when I see what seems obvious to me as a pathway to success while others don’t see it. This doesn’t stop me from saring and committing to new transformative ways of thinking and living! I’ve learned several things a trasformational leader: 1. Be who u are without any excuse 2. Trust in yourself while openly discussing ideas with persons you trust 3. Test your ideas and practice them in the real-world while being open to tweaking and putting them on the backburner until needed 4. Don’t let anyone keep you from reaching your potential 5. Be true to the change you wish to see realized. I like John’s counsel regarding being lonely at the top. It’s only lonely if you go it alone! Bring as many with you to the top!

    • Israel Jacob Yambala on March 11, 2019 at 8:02 pm

      Well said. I guess that is every leader’s challenge, bringing everyone on the top with you..

      • bphatcher on March 12, 2019 at 12:32 am

        Take my hand!

    • Judy HW on March 22, 2019 at 1:17 pm

      I agree that becoming aloof and isolated diminishes the life and effectiveness of a transformational leader, who most likely does not “know” that is what they are. If they did “know”, they would not respond that way. Only today I found John Maxwell’s blog and read this particular piece about the difference between a trained leader and a transformational one – and found the name for that which I know myself to be! The 5 characteristics listed fit me perfectly and strongly and just considering that viewpoint is like the seams busting on a straight-jacket that I myself had allowed. Initially, this was for basic survival, but now as an Elder Woman, I have been ripping smaller “seams” here and there anyway! What a Blessing to come upon a community of people who understand and live these things, to the best of their ability. Together, we will be stronger and these times DO need us.

  2. Chad Sweet on March 5, 2019 at 1:36 pm

    That’s very true in the world today. For me I am just trying to find my way. With so many people telling me that I see strong leadership in you. I don’t see it. The one thing I do know is that you genuinely care for the people you work with. They are not just a number they are humans that what to be a part of something bigger than themselves.

  3. Deb Hifer on March 5, 2019 at 1:44 pm

    WOW!! They was totally amazing and very well said! We will do what others won’t! Be that person who stands up and takes action inspire of the fear! Feel the fear and do it anyway!! Thank you!!

  4. Israel Jacob Yambala on March 5, 2019 at 2:06 pm

    This is so very true and timely. I am personally challenged and inspired! It is clear that a leader must shift his/belief in order to become anything greater than they are.
    From the time I was a child my mother always told me I was destined for greatness but I never really bought into it until recently.. Especially now that she is late.
    John, everything you’ve talked about in your article cannot be more accurate. Despite being a pastor of a branch Church in the local community of Lusaka in Zambia, I’ve always been the kind of leader that would Base my sight and momentum on external negative factors. It’s been quite a challenge for me to come out of the safe zone. The sad thing is that my safe zone has killed ambition, frustrated passion, because I’ve been afraid to try big things and fail..
    Thank you once again for this timely and true lesson..

    Israel Jacob Yambala

    • bphatcher on March 12, 2019 at 12:34 am

      Hmmm. Israel. I am thinking of you and will pray for YOU.

  5. Johnnie K Seago on March 5, 2019 at 6:48 pm

    I did my university dissertation on how to build transformational leaders in your home. I LOVED interviewing families, doing the research, and writing that. It transformed me to be exposed to so many culture changers. And here I am…at JMT continuing the path of transforming of our world. Thank you for this.

  6. Jean C. on March 5, 2019 at 9:19 pm

    Quite informative, unique & something worth seeking out!

  7. Ingrid B Miller on March 6, 2019 at 1:47 am

    This is so true about transformational leaders, we want everyone to see the light. So let’s shine brighter so that others will see the light in us and follow

  8. Blanquita on March 6, 2019 at 9:39 am

    Hello, I am Blanquita Martinez, a dreamer for a better world for our children and future generations, sometimes I feel that I am not doing my job very well, because my children make decisions that I see hurt them, if I dream of a better world as we all wish, I am a teacher of dance and teacher in construction, I know that there is a fabulous God and powerful through the Holy Spirit to whom I cry day by day for our inner healing, because we went through many things, but we are still here on the rock to be the light of this world, especially I do not understand because every day here, man kill beautiful girls for nonsense, I want to be an instrument of their peace and love and that my people change, thank you for sending me words of encouragement to move forward and I am also doing more reading his word. God bless you in this task of having better leaders I want my three children to be for this new era, awesome leaders.

  9. Pauline M. Ceegar on March 7, 2019 at 4:08 am

    I always get inspire when I read the tips of Mr. John Maxwell
    Thanks so much, I am inspire by your words and hope and pray to be a Transformational Leader

  10. Hope Jabes on March 7, 2019 at 7:04 am

    This is what 21st Leadership needs,am forever grateful to God for such insights.
    THANK YOU SO MUCH Mr. John Maxwell for accepting the call of God.
    your books have brought many changes in my Life and still making me a Transformatioal Leader

    Hope Jabes
    ( PASTOR)

  11. Hope Jabes on March 7, 2019 at 7:09 am

    This is what 21st Century leadership needs,am forever grateful to God for your Life Mr. John Maxwell
    THANK YOU SO MUCH for accepting the call of God.
    your books have brought many change to my Life and still making me to be Transformational Leader.

  12. DANIEL on March 7, 2019 at 9:05 am

    By listening to others, I have become shaped in all spheres of my life. When everyone wants to write, taking time to read builds your inner character and helps you better understand yourself. John Maxwell continues to inspire me daily to listen and read widely
    Thank God for John Maxwell one of our today’s greatest Leader for helping me to discover my purpose

  13. […] In his blog post this week, John Maxwell talked about transformational leadership. I love this topic. Helping others become transformational in their leadership lights a fire in me like nothing else does. […]

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  16. […] J., 2019. Your Leadership Can Transform the World. [Online]Available at: 12 Apr […]

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