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?