6 Ways to Be a More Transformational Leader

6 Ways to Be a More Transformational Leader

What does it take to be a transformational leader?

Most organizations are more focused on problem-solving than on new possibilities. But when the person leading the change can present a compelling vision in a way that gets others engaged, it is infectious.

Being the vision-keeper for change is never easy, but it’s possible with the right tools and support.

If you are on the journey to transformational leadership, consider these 6 tips.

Be Positively Deviant

Deviating from the norm takes courage, even in progressive organizations. It’s often difficult to go against the grain yourself, let alone bring others with you.

I remember starting a new position as a manager years ago with a team stuck on doing things a certain way. Being new, I had a lot of questions about why things were done in these ways. My new team would typically answer with comments like, “because we’ve ALWAYS done it that way!”

Or if I’d suggest something new, the answer was “that won’t work because…”

I decided that a little positive disruption was in order. We spent time talking about how we could turn these practices upside down, shift our focus to a more transformational leadership approach, and most of all, catch ourselves before answering questions with “…because we’ve always done it that way!”

We set some ground rules for our team meetings, and over time this team became more positive and effective. Looking back twenty years on that experience, it was one of the most enjoyable teams I’ve been involved with

Being positively deviant often means learning to ask the right questions instead of diving head-first into problem-solving right away. It means being prepared to go through significant change and find your purpose and vision. It often means speaking truth to power and always looking for the proactive stance versus the reactive one.

How can you be positively deviant to move into transformational leadership?

Ask Transformational Questions

“Transformative change happens when someone has a vision and does not let reality and negativity get in the way.” – Dr. Robert Quinn.

I interviewed Quinn for my book A Better Place to Work: Daily Practices That Transform Culture. We talked about transformational leadership and what it takes to create a positive organization.

I have an exercise I use in wellness leadership retreats where I ask participants a few weeks in advance to contact 15-25 people who know them best (work colleagues, friends, family) and ask them this question,

When I am at my best, who am I?

This idea comes from Robert Quinn’s The Deep Change Field Guide; A Personal Course to Discovering the Leader Within.

Although it may be easy to identify our flaws or even the areas where we excel, it is often harder to get to our unique skills – the way that we must create value for the world. I just ask them to notice what the answers do for them.

What I most often hear is, “the feedback makes me want to be at my best more often.” Isn’t this precisely what we want our team members to be doing? This is an example of a transformational leadership question that shifts thinking positively, inspires people, and engages them in a vision.

Here are a few other questions that, if used at the right time, in the right way, can have a profound effect on transforming your team:

  • What do we believe in?
  • What do we want our culture to be?
  • How does this fit with our purpose and vision?
  • What is the most powerful action we can take right now?
  • How can we work with what is available?

And you can ask yourself:

  • How do I see myself leading differently a year from now?
  • In what ways do I want to become a more transformational leader?
  • What steps am I willing to take to shift away from the norm in a positive way?

Here are more examples of transformational questions.

Encourage Reflective Action

How can you incorporate reflective action into how you lead?

Our corporations are often very geared toward action, and we create and reinforce this in our workplace cultures by rewarding those who speak and act quickly.

Quinn describes reflective action as a balance between being too reflective (nothing gets done) and too active (mindless behaviour). The challenge is to be both reflective and active, which we can achieve by making time for reflection when we’re away from the current task.

This means giving team members the necessary space and time to be reflective, which improves decision-making capacity for you as a transformational leader.

For example, have you ever been trying to come up with an idea for something at your desk, and then when you walk away from it (take a break, go for a walk, meditate, etc.) all of a sudden, a stroke of inspiration hits?

Taking this contemplation away from the project increases our capacity for increased mindfulness when we come back to complete the task.

I introduced this concept to one team in practice, and they saw results. We spent some time discussing our current work situation; then, I asked everyone to take a 10-15 minute walk with a pen and notepad in hand. They were instructed to go outside and walk while contemplating the situation and then just write down anything that came to mind.

When we reconvened, the ideas were much more diverse than they would have been had we simply stayed put and brainstormed together.

Another option when you’re brainstorming ideas as a group is to give people a few minutes individually first to reflect and write down their thoughts before jumping into the big group brainstorm.

6 Ways to Be a More Transformational Leader

Examine Your Hypocrisies

What would happen if we all examined our hypocrisies and then worked at removing them?

Sometimes we’re so caught up in what we’re supposed to be that we fail to see how hypocritical our actions are and how damaging this is not only for our health but to the integrity of our leadership of others.

I can talk about this with some credibility since, like every transformational leader, I have had my hypocritical moments!

Once was in the year 2001, as I was leading the team heading into the 5th Annual Health Work & Wellness™ Conference. I was coming into this conference very exhausted and stressed.

We had some growing pains the year prior and had experienced a loss. Although we were heading into this conference with 475 delegates registered and a very financially successful year, it had been a tough haul to get there, and the stress was showing.

In addition to that, I had not quite learned the art of saying “no,” and when my Communications Manager got me a spot on the morning television show the day before the conference, I took it. What that meant was losing a day of preparation time to fly in a day early.

We were up late preparing and then up extremely early the following day to get to the studio.
Already coming into this conference tired and stressed, I added an extra helping of strain to my pre-conference experience by agreeing to do this show. Not being a morning person, this added a whole other layer to the story!

The morning of the show, I was so tired I could hardly remember my name, and when I think back on it, who would want to attend a wellness conference led by someone who looked like I did that morning?

I was given a video of that interview, and (having not destroyed it yet) I watched it recently, and it is painful. It certainly was a wake-up call for me.

What we went on to do after that conference was to hold our first-ever one-day retreat as a Conference Team to develop our mission and vision going forward, decide how we would work together as a team, and how we would schedule and communicate with each other in the future.

Most importantly, we discussed how we would apply everything we were teaching through this conference to our team.

We examined our hypocrisies hard that year.

I started paying closer attention to my practices around sleep, scheduling, breaks, disconnecting, working smarter, and being more aware of what was going on for my team members in my quest to be a more transformational leader.

What are your hypocrisies as a leader, and how can you close the gap between what you say and what you do?

Develop Your Resilience Wardrobe

Building resilience is a massive part of building your transformational leadership skills.

Rosamund Zander, our opening keynote speaker for the Health Work & Wellness™ Conference 2006: People…Performance…Profit, quoted her father-in-law with the perfect saying:

There is no bad weather, just inappropriate clothing!

Just like having the appropriate clothing for any kind of weather – the storms, the conflicts, the black days, the perpetual rain that can sometimes occur in work situations.

As leaders, not only do we need the appropriate clothing (practices), but we need to remember to use those practices on ourselves first (like putting on your oxygen mask first) when things get rocky.

What is in your resilience wardrobe? What can you pull out on a minute’s notice to protect you from going on that downward spiral toward exhaustion and burnout as you walk through the storms?

Mindfulness for Transformational Leadership

I combed the research as I wrote my book and asked some of the experts I interviewed for their best recommendations around resilience. Of the many practices discussed more fully in the book, there are a few that tend to stand out.

The first is email intelligence. Pick only three times each day to check and respond to emails. Research shows that checking more frequently disrupts focus, causes more stress, and releases more cortisol into our body, interfering with memory and lowering immunity.

Mindfulness can increase the positive emotions in our lives, help us deal with chronic stress, and increase productivity, innovation, and satisfaction.

A straightforward way to start is to take a few minutes every so often at work to notice your bodily sensations. Is there tension anywhere? How are you sitting or standing? And then consciously let go of any stress you become aware of.

Meditation is a way of practicing mindfulness. Studies show that a short daily meditation improves positivity and creativity. If this is not a daily practice for you, consider that the effects of meditation tend to be cumulative, so even if you miss a day or two, 15 minutes/day on most days will make a difference!

Become a More Transformational Leader

Transformational leadership is possible for you, but it helps to have some external support to guide and support you.

I love working with leaders to help organizations flourish. Get started by ordering your copy of A Better Place To Work: Daily Practices That Transform Culture or booking a consultation.

Enjoyed this article? Here are three more to help you:

9 Ideas That Will Help You Create A Better Workplace Now
10 Powerful Questions To Focus Your Bold New Vision
Can You Get Good At Giving Constructive Feedback?

This article was originally published in 2016 but was updated in 2021. 



Deborah Connors

Deborah Connors teaches leaders to radically shift culture so that people can flourish. She is an engaging speaker, storyteller, author and coach.

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