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Back in 1978, Pulitzer Prize winner and leadership expert, James McGregor Burns, defined transformational leadership as one where a leader leads through vision and raises up their followers with motivation and inspiration to bring about change. As an example, he cited civil rights activist, Martin Luther King, as the embodiment of this style of leadership. Martin Luther King was a rousing communicator that motivated and inspired courage from others. He also had the aptitude to manage a network of activists, whilst gaining widespread support from the wider American community. 

This article aims to give a broad overview of this particular style of creative leadership and emphasises how collaboration and empathy with others can be advantageous.  

Why transformational leadership is so important

Transformational leadership is a very natural style of leadership and one where the leader is completely open to new thinking, ongoing learning and the ability to be flexible and believe in collective practices. The traits of this leadership provide a model of integrity and fairness. It requires the ability to set goals with high standards yet having great empathy with the people around you to inspire them to reach for the improbable. It absolutely requires the ability to motivate buy-in to your vision using strongly built, trust-based relationships. All these processes encourage innovative and insightful thinking – not only from within but from others too – a wonderful feedback loop where purposefulness becomes integral to the culture of the organisation and there is a readiness to adopt change. 

Characteristics of a transformational leader

So, what are your intentions as a leader? Do you know? Can you balance the responsibility of your power? Are you truly intentional to create a higher purpose that is for the benefit of the whole, rather than for you as an individual? You don’t have to know how, or even have all the answers; transformational leaders enable others to be involved. Transformational leadership requires a deeper understanding of oneself and the environment that surrounds you so that you gain a better perspective on the ‘known’ and what you need to learn and grow towards. Some of the characteristics of a transformational leader include:

Inner motivation and self-belief -transformational leaders achieve motivation from within and are able to harness this energy to install a belief and trust in others. Therefore, the most natural form of impetus is to be in love with what you do and to live and breathe your values. 

Environmental consciousness – with your own values aligned with your organisation, transformational leaders impart the collective consciousness of their environment and know what actions are necessary to conjure change, provoke creativity, and make active decisions.

Flexibility – transformational leadership is about accepting the need to modify and identify innovative ways to react to the morphing variables of an organisation. 

Mindfulness – by noticing what stories are living and breathing all around you and their power to open doors, you have the strength to contradict any opposing narratives. You can remain calm within any tornado around you and develop a discipline of not projecting your emotions on others.

Risk-taking – having the support from your team to collect the right intelligence and adding this to your pure gut instinct can be incredibly powerful and enable you to take the right risks at the right time.

Ability to listen – by understanding that growth comes from a team effort, there has to be a willingness to hear and be open to ideas from everyone, no matter who they are or where you meet them.

Inspiring – to learn from others and be an unguarded teacher enables inspiration to not just come from the odd speech or two, but from the exchange of mutual energy and respect.  

Ego awareness – its human nature, that once in any position of power it’s easy to let your sense of self to get the better of you. Transformational leaders have to keep this in check and put the collective of the organisation first. After all, success is a shared objective. 

Visionary – transformational leaders have to be able to set the vision, align this to the values of the organisation’s culture, and efficiently communicate this in order to gather buy-in and have everyone working with a passion towards a common goal. 

How to become a transformational leader

As touched upon briefly above; mindfulness and transformational leadership are directly connected.  The word ‘transforming’ means the process of moving from one form to another. Like a tadpole transforms into a fully developed frog, the potential for this water born creature to live on land already exists but just can’t be realised until the transformation process happens.

By truly noticing our environment, giving attention to our vision and not letting emotion or habit lead us to an unconsidered response, mindfulness can help us move from the state we currently occupy and into the form we want to get to. It takes practice and mental discipline to train our minds to be a tool, rather than a wandering jumble of thoughts. Only with this stillness can we then become more conscious of the wider significances around us and lead with the required authenticity and transparency.

There are also many other personal benefits of practising mindfulness. When you have peace of mind, worries dissipate and there’s an acceptance in just being here and being good enough. In nature, everything is here and now. The outdoor environment can be participative in helping you to explore ways to do business in a harmonious way and how to nurture the best in others – at HotHouse we sometimes call this ‘thrivability’. 

HotHouse uses nature and the environment of the inspirational Eden Project to run workshops on how to take positive steps in how to thrive. Its aim is to answer questions in relation to transformational leadership, such as: how to engage everyone in positive change; how to enable all your projects by having a clear way of working collaboratively towards thriving; how to be completely rejuvenated and a strong sense of purpose? As a transformational leader, you can balance mind and spirit and align your intentions with the benefit of the whole. Because of this, everyone swaps lessons, your workplace grows and your community becomes a successful and better place.


Photo: Jeremy Bishop