What David Bowie and Prince taught me about Transformational Leadership

Blog Post Transformational Leadership

You can’t fake authenticity. Nowhere is this more evident than in the realm of transformational leadership. In a recent conversation with a new leader who is accountable for a large-scale transformation, our discussion turned to the topic of traits of effective leadership. The client is a woman in a male-dominated organization and had concerns about how she would be received as a leader…about her being different from what she thinks people expect from a leader. I found some inspiration for our ongoing conversation in an unusual place: my running playlist.

Inspiration From Unlikely Sources
As I set out on my morning run, the first song that came on was “Moonage Daydream” by David Bowie immediately followed by “Kiss” by Prince. I stopped in my tracks with a thought…these two artists were undeniable leaders in transforming modern popular music. Over their careers, they both evolved their sound and personas and were among the most influential artists of our time.

What did they have in common? Authenticity. You can look at any stage of their careers and see that in spite of the transformations that might have been made – it was authentic. While they may have adorned outlandish costumes or make-up, it was in service of full-expression of their art. Like them, the most successful leaders of transformation personify authenticity.

Some Risk Required
Often, we look to model behavior from the past that has been successful. Benchmarking, scenario planning, and even mentoring while useful are mostly grounded in valuable lessons learned from the past. A transformational leader has their eye on the future and by definition, no one has been there. Yet, past behavior is used as a model.

Transformational leaders must be willing to assume the risk that is necessary to be authentic with their vision and how they aspire to get there. This does not mean that they know the path, but they know the destination and are willing to bring all contributing people on board for the journey. Nothing can derail a leader’s intent when the future is unclear, improbable, and poses significant challenge more quickly than being perceived as inauthentic. Authenticity is the coin of the realm in having organizations rally around their leaders in bringing the vision of the future to fruition.