By: Steve Sorensen Issue: Transformation Section: Opinion
The Inside Story of Transformational Leadership
Becoming a transformational leader is no easy task. Many try, and most fail. I've studied leadership academically and throughout my 30-plus years leading business units for very large companies, one would think I’d have a leg up on transformational leadership. In fact it’s simple to understand, but very difficult to achieve. Trying to define leadership is like trying to describe the prismatic effect of turning white light into a portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. The fact is, it’s very simple; white light—known as visible light—enters a medium that turns it into a rainbow. A prism takes visible light and allows us to see a portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, and the electromagnetic spectrum is one of four forces that holds the universe together. It’s extraordinary! Welcome to transformational leadership 101.
White Light Leaders
White light offers us an easily understood lesson in leadership. It represents the everyday leader—effective, a direct communicator, maybe a linear thinker with the knowledge of how to get things done. They are valued because of the quantifiability of their abilities such as measurable grade history, advanced educational degrees, documentable work success and so on. These leaders typically have a great education, years of successful work experience, along with a firm grip on systems thinking. To this person leadership is the title, the corner office and a position to be coveted and won—like a trophy. These leaders institute organizational values, work at charisma, love structure and have an inside-out way of communication. Inside-out communication typically falls into the expert or telling category. And while it is terrific that a company can quantify and categorize these people down to their shoe size, far too often they are sought out simply because they are a commodity—a safe hire who will pass muster. This person is a brilliant “white light” but has yet to hit the prism, or worse, doesn’t know there is a prism.
Enter the prism—when the white light leaders find the medium of transformation—they have a true understanding of the power of transforming themselves first before they begin to try and transform others. No one needs to point out transformational leaders; they radiate a multifaceted spectrum. They are obvious without seeming obvious because they radiate a presence that others gravitate to.
Transformational leaders begin as the white light with the years of learning and a successful work experience; however, once they go through the prism they can never return back to white light. They have transformed from leaders with knowledge to transformational leaders with wisdom. Transformational leaders embrace innovation, creativity and messiness for the sake of growing a culture where people want to work and contribute. They embrace divergent thinking because the best ideas come from those who often have a unique opinion. They are listeners—speaking less and learning more.
Wisdom hires knowledge and fundamentally understands the specific needs of the organization. These leaders will find employees that fit the culture, further fostering collaboration—as knowledge of the job can be taught and learned. Wisdom is discerning, not reactive, weighing all sides before making decisions based on principles and integrity. Wise transformational leaders live values and demonstrate these values every day, in every situation. As a matter of fact, transformational leaders are the values others aspire to. Transformational leaders are the same regardless of who surrounds them. They are authentic and seek the knowledge and thoughts of others. They don’t fear disagreement because they recognize it’s the very basis of learning.
Like so many intangible concepts, defining transformational leadership is relative to the time, place and position of those asking the question. However, simply “asking the question” puts us on the path of discovery, and therein lies one of the first tenants of transformational leadership. This natural curiosity begins the process of understanding that the world can be shaped into definable components and thereby events may evolve to a point of possibility. This begins the journey to discover that there exists a “white light” leader within us seeking the prism.
Two of the most powerful questions we can ask are “What if?” and “Why not?” These questions are the catalyst of thought that have placed humans on the moon and cured numerous diseases. We have enumerable reasons to be optimistic about our own futures. It is a future that we can image for ourselves and ultimately make a reality. We must be open to those possibilities and allow the miracles to come. The simplicity of gratitude opens doors, dissolves barriers and ignites the transformational process. In fact, transformational leaders derive their vision for themselves and those they impact because of the “What if?” and “Why not?” questions.
Great leaders are not great leaders because of a title. Great leaders are such because they find the prism—and they take action to transform. By taking the right action, transformational leaders find that all types of people gravitate to them and actively seek to “follow” them—never feeling feared, cajoled, forced or manipulated.
If you can’t lead yourself, you will not become a transformational leader to anyone else. When transformational leaders get a sense that something’s amiss, they point the finger at themselves as the one to turn it around. Transformational leaders lead their lives for health, family, spirit and well-being. Holistic living is at the core of transformational leaders and often runs counter to how we typically define leadership because transformational leadership is about living leadership, not talking about leadership.
Committed to the vision, transformational leaders never lose sight of where they are going. They surround themselves with those who aspire to the vision and share the belief that they will obtain it. Each day provides the opportunity to move from “white light” to the extraordinary aura of the electromagnetic spectrum—a rainbow of wisdom. The prism is waiting. Leaders, transform thyself!
Steve Sorensen is the founder of Enlighten 360, LLC, a consulting firm helping companies achieve increased revenue and velocity of growth through improved sales strategies. Steve has successfully engaged companies such as Microsoft, Charles Schwab, Anheuser Busch, Graybar Electric, Yellow Technologies and Oracle. To learn more, visit www.enlighten360.com.