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The Transactions of Transformational Leadership

Monday, December 31, 2018

When you think of a transformational leader, who comes to your mind? Nelson Mandela? Abraham Lincoln? Martin Luther King, Jr.? Mother Teresa? These individuals, and many others who perhaps came to mind, are incredibly diverse in terms of their personal characteristics, leadership styles, and even respective causes. Yet they had, and still have, incredible influence over the world, even long after death.

Clearly, characteristics such as ethnicity, gender, nationality, or mission do not define or determine what leadership, transformational or otherwise, looks like. We know a transformational leader when we see one because they create a lasting positive impact and transformation. It’s easy to recognize such leaders as transformational after their impact has been felt, seen, and understood. Leaders are in every company, industry, community, and country, and can be very effective in using their influence positively or negatively. But, not all leaders are transformational.

Leadership is influence. Influence can be positive or negative and is largely based on the relationship between leader and follower. The relationship is largely based on trust, created by the transactions between leader and follower, the actions of the leader, and the observed transactions of the leader with others.

Transformational leadership is positive influence that creates positive transformation. It’s more than improving culture, initiating change, managing an organization, or leading a team. Far beyond short-term initiatives, transformational leadership is about lasting, long-term, positive impact and transformation in the lives of others.

Our values are the foundation for our thoughts, emotions, and actions. Transformational leaders have transformational leadership values because they have experienced transformation for themselves. They think, feel, and act differently than someone who doesn’t embrace the same values. This creates different transactions in their leadership style, thus increasing their ability to gain trust and influence others. Transformational leadership isn’t about doing something different—it’s about being something different. This enables transformational leaders to affect lasting transformation, but it doesn’t come without a cost.


Transformational leaders are required to sacrifice personal interest for the sake of others and the sake of their cause. They must also sacrifice time, energy, personal gain, and money. Transformational leaders often exchange private success for public significance as they help others become successful. Shifting from a mindset of “me” to a mindset of “we” requires sacrificing personal interests. For this reason, not everyone who has the potential to become a transformational leader will do so. The impact will be determined by the values. The transformational leader values the long-term positive impact more than the cost. The greater the impact, the greater the cost.

Whether influencing the world, your organization, or your family, becoming a transformational leader means you must first undergo personal transformation as you shift from a “me” mindset to “we” mindset and begin to embrace transformational leadership values. Transformational leaders do the following:

  • Establish influence through relationships to lead with moral authority and authentic influence.
  • Build trust with integrity, character, humility, vulnerability, courage, and authenticity.
  • Are self-motivated and encourage others to be. Their positive energy is contagious and spreads to those around them.
  • Develop long-term vision. They learn to delegate effectively and focus on doing what only they can do.
  • Resolve conflict in a positive manner facilitating growth.
  • Simply say no to the status quo.
  • Are always on the go and always on the grow. They have developed the mindset of continual growth and development.
  • Continuously develop themselves, so they can continue to develop others.
  • Highlight the importance of teamwork and shared results.
  • Facilitate decision making among their team members.

Transformational leaders know it’s not about them, but it absolutely starts with them.

Ready to learn how to become a transformational leader? Join us in Alexandria, Virginia on April 11-12, 2019, for the LearnNow: Transformational Leadership workshop!

About the Author

Mack and Ria have an amazing story of professional growth, personal growth, and transformation. Mack began his career working on the front lines of a machine shop while Ria started hers in healthcare administration, after overcoming years of difficult childhood. Working in completely different industries, they both began to apply leadership principles to their respective careers with incredible results personally and professionally and developed a passion for leadership.  They founded Top Story Leadership, and offer motivational speaking, leadership development training, coaching, and consulting. Their clients include Chick-fil-A, Auburn University, Koch Industries, and Kimberly-Clark. Together Mack and Ria are now creating and living the life they want, rather than the life they were given. 

1 Comment
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I appreciate ATD's positive psychology and faith that everyone can be a leader. You've found an ally in me. However, your steadfast refusal to recognize (let alone explore) the darker side of leadership does ATD a disservice. Leadership is a serious calling.
Jesus Christ and Mahatma Gandhi were exemplary transformational leaders. So were Adolph Hitler and Pol-Pot. Inherent in the verb “to transform” is the mandate to destroy the old system. Let us do so cautiously.
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