Chicken or the egg? It is an age-old dilemma that has riddled philosophers for millennia. Perhaps an equally perplexing question that’s plagued business philosophers: Are leaders born, or are they made?
It is my belief, having tested this question by working alongside top-performing leaders and businesses across many industries and verticals over the course of several decades, that leaders are made, not born.
What does it take to make a transformational leader? Moreover, what distinguishes a leader as transformational in the first place? (Simply stated, transformation entails taking what you’ve got, putting it — and the past — aside, and inventing something entirely new. For a definition of “transformation,” please read my article, “Stoking the Fires of Transformation,” in the fall 2014 issue of Insigniam Quarterly.)
Simply the act of rising up, declaring, and holding oneself accountable for being a leader is a transformation. For business leaders, transformation can occur on three levels: individual, organizational, and strategic.
Leading the transformation of an organization or strategy typically requires a transformation of the women or men who will be leading it. Individually, when someone shifts from being anybody to a leader, and acts in concert with the ways of being a leader: being authentic, being the cause in the matter of everything in their life, being committed to something bigger than oneself, and being a person of integrity — they achieve a transformation.
(For those unfamiliar with the ways of being a leader, I recommend The Four Ways Of Being That Create The Foundation For Great Leadership, A Great Organization, & A Great Personal Life, by Werner H. Erhard and Michael C. Jensen, from the winter 2013 issue of Insigniam Quarterly.)
Just today, I was completing a catalytic interview with a technology company’s head of R&D who is participating in our Leadership Intensive. He told me that he wanted to lead the transformation of the company. I challenged him to consider that he could not do that as the leader he is today, and furthermore, he would need his own transformation. He generously responded, “Now THAT gives ME a reason to do this program.”
Furthermore, to actually transform a department, function, operation, process, company, or industry, it requires a special kind of leadership: transformational leadership. This is a much different type of leadership than sustaining a company or incrementally improving an organization.
Why? Because transformation — and being a transformational leader — requires a great deal of courage. This defining quality — a departure from what is known or established to what is unknown and cannot be predicted — takes grit and boldness. It is also the focus of the next post in this series: Courage Amid The Unknown Through Transformational Leadership.