“Leaders must be close enough to relate to others, but far enough ahead to motivate them.” – John C. Maxwell
It’s well documented at this point in society that leaders who are transformational — that is to say leaders who are empowering, liberating and inspiring — are amongst the most effective in the world of business.
The days of rigid, micromanaging and dictatorial leadership may not be fully over, but organizations where archaic leadership styles are pervasive are often those struggling with declining innovation, employee and customer retention, and revenues. It’s no coincidence.
Nor it is any coincidence that many of the organizations announcing consistently stellar results are spearheaded or otherwise strategically led by transformational leaders. Leaders like Warren Buffett, Larry Page, Bill Gates, Satya Nadella, Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, to name but a few.
Here are 9 key tips to being the kind of transformational leader who inspires and cultivates high performance, lasting impact and profitability.
1. Think about the qualities of the leaders you most admire.
Not those you fear, or necessarily those simply “above” you, but those you genuinely and deeply admire. We always admire most in others that which is within us or we are destined to be. Think about who you admire and why. They are mirroring your authentic greatness to you. Consciously emulate them. Further, a great fallback in times of turmoil or uncertainty, if you find yourself second guessing your own compass, is to ask yourself “what would the leader(s) I most admire do in this situation”? This can really help you step outside the box in moments when you might feel consumed by a significant organizational transition or leadership challenge.
2. Be the real you.
People don’t expect you to be a robot, nor do they desire it. There’s a reason robot CEOs aren’t a thing (and hopefully never will be!). Your most powerful self comes from you sharing your personality and your humanity (within reason), not just the formalities. Share yourself in full-color, instead of black and white. Share a playful joke, a personal story, triumph or struggle (again within reason) with your people that you wouldn’t have previously considered sharing, especially if it’s relevant to your current organizational goals or challenges. Not only do personal stories help your people feel more connected to you, you can also use them to illustrate your message in an allegorical fashion, which tends to be more memorable.
3. Share lessons you’ve learned along the way.
You don’t need to be perfect to be admired. Just as with sharing personal stories, sharing lessons you’ve learned from your early life and career make you more accessible and relatable. When you share a personal or career faux pas that didn’t cause a catastrophe, you’re also sharing that making a mistake isn’t the end of the world, which can make your employees more willing to take the kind of bold risks that are often behind the biggest breakthroughs in business performance and profitability. Courage breeds courage.
4. Share your insights about your business.
Share what you’re learning as a leader of your business, including the surprise learnings as well as things you might think are obvious. Employees tend to be naturally curious to know what it’s like to be at the helm, and they love to learn from you. When you share what you’re learning you normalize the learning and growth process. This makes leaders in the making more willing to step up into – and importantly to stay in — leadership roles themselves because they recognize they don’t need to know it all already. Authenticity and honesty will also make you more trustworthy in their eyes and the insights you share will leave your employees feeling more connected to the bigger picture. Consider creating designated “ask me anything” times for specific teams or unit.
5. Stay curious.
Never stop learning. Stay committed to continuously expanding your own growth, and your colleagues will be inspired to do the same. Do things outside your comfort zone, in life as well as business, and share your accomplishments and psychological breakthroughs with your employees. If you’re on a team away day, be brave and bold, be the first to take the leap, metaphorically or literally, even if you’re afraid to. Be willing to look your fears and insecurities in the eye and to conquer them. Take new courses to expand your knowledge and skills that are most pertinent to the business. Hire an executive coach to help illuminate your blind spots and keep you grounded.
6. Practice public speaking.
Speaking articulately and authentically is a huge part of what makes a magnetic leader, even if it isn’t a key part of your position yet. Seek out opportunities to speak both within your organization and elsewhere. Ask to share your team’s successes at large internal virtual or in-person meetings and conferences. Inquire with conference producers about being on an expert panel or the speaker bill at key industry events. Find opportunities to speak in your local community, for example at your local school, college or church about what you’ve learned about life and business so far to empower young people. You could even take a stand-up comedy or drama class, or attend a Toastmasters meeting. Practice, practice, practice, no matter the topic. And when you stand up, prioritize the passion and truth of your message over appearing perfectly polished; the latter is usually a distraction.
7. Listen to your gut and your heart.
Don’t make decisions purely from your rational brain or based purely on numbers. This is where many leaders and their organizations fail. Listen to the wisdom and expertise in your gut and heart too before making a decision, big or small. The more you do this, the more naturally it will flow without you even consciously trying. Factor in the human cost of decisions, the cost to workplace culture and to the wider world. Does the decision you are considering make sense not only on paper but also feel good? Or does it appear to make perfect sense on paper, but leave you with a terrible sinking feeling in your gut? If the latter, consider the implications and viable options further before reaching a firm conclusion. There is a huge amount of expertise and foresight in your instincts.
8. Monitor your self-talk.
If you entertain ideas that you’re not good enough, others will follow suit, and your daily life will feel like much more of a drag. Catch yourself entertaining any thoughts of being afraid, or not confident enough, or not knowledgeable enough, and recognize that they are just thoughts, not the truth. Many people – high profile leaders included – think and act as though their thoughts and feelings are the truth. They’re just thoughts. Just because you think something, doesn’t make it so. Prioritize mindset work, such as meditation and daily affirmations to counter any of these thoughts or feelings and keep you in a state of energetic coherence.
9. Build relationships outside your organization.
It can be tempting when you’re at or near the top of your company to cut yourself off from your wider community in the interests of leveraging every possible moment in pursuit of your goals and that never-ending to do list. When you’re at the top, you can also miss out on your colleagues calling you out on your blindspots and weak spots, as they’re more likely to want to avoid offending or alienating you. Surrounding yourself with smart and direct people with different perspectives to you both in and outside the office is incredibly valuable. Mastermind groups were a concept created by Napoleon Hill more than 80 years ago, but people have been coming together to share and brainstorm about challenges for hundreds if not thousands of years. Explore the possibility of joining or creating a mastermind group bringing together your smartest friends from different industries and leverage the power of collective intelligence free from agenda. You’ll be amazed at the ideas and solutions that come forth.
Jaimie is the founder of Definitely Definitely, an organization dedicated to helping leaders consciously create, expand and sustain their dream businesses. She is a certified life, business, wellbeing and leadership coach, and also uses her branding expertise drawn from nine years in corporate marketing with FTSE 100/NYSE listed companies to provide invaluable expertise on messaging and positioning businesses for maximum impact. She was previously with SAP and Thomson Reuters in both London and New York and now lives in Kensington, London and works with clients worldwide.