Transformational leadership often means taking bold steps outside the status quo in order to generate an inspiring, engaged work environment. This leap opens up the possibility for new strategies, ways to engage others, and breakthrough results.

Where do you begin in creating a new culture that will inspire others to join in?

This post explores one access to building such an environment—an environment where inspiration can be cultivated, and where people throughout the organization will naturally begin to show innovative leadership.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines inspiration literally as “the action, or an act, of breathing in or inhaling”, however, it is another more figurative meaning that applies here:

“A breathing in or infusion of some idea, purpose, etc. into the mind: the suggestion, awakening, or creation of some feeling or impulse, especially of an exalted kind”.

This infusion of some idea, or purpose—this awakening to something new or greater—is exactly what transformational leadership provides. You take in something that inspires and share it with others in a way that inspires them. This inspiration builds and grows along with new results.

The idea or purpose doesn’t necessarily have to be “exalted”—although it does need to move people to look beyond the status quo.

Nothing stops an organization faster than people who believe that the way you worked yesterday is the best way to work tomorrow.”    Jon Madonna (retired, former CEO of KPMG)

Lifting people beyond “the way you worked yesterday”—those assumed solutions to today’s challenges— is the fruit of inspiration, and the heart of transformational leadership.

This is exactly what Campbell’s former CEO, Doug Conant, did in diversifying the organization.

Conant stepped outside of Campbell’s “yesterday” ways of working by looking beyond the conventional assumption that operational agility is the best competitive advantage.

In fact, he found that it is people “and more specifically, a diverse and inclusive group of people” that provide the greatest advantage. (Insigniam Quarterly, Summer, 2014)

With Women comprising 80% of Campbell’s customer base, Conant stepped outside tradition in establishing a business case for opening up the pipeline and developing women in leadership.

Since the old ways of identifying diverse applicants was too limiting, his team invented a new strategy for seeking qualified applicants. Doing so meant rejecting the old, and generally accepted idea that there just weren’t enough “qualified” female candidates.

Through Conant’s transformational leadership a new environment grew—one where employees felt recognized, valued, and represented in the decision-makers, they then became naturally more engaged.

Cultivating inspiration, like growing anything, takes creating the right environment for it to flourish.

It can all start by stepping beyond yesterday’s ways and building new conversations. These conversations then become the “environment” and organizational culture in which people work.

When this kind of conversational “environment” is infused with a sense of future possibility—it becomes fertile ground for the blossoming of real breakthroughs in performance.

What new environment or culture would you like to see in your organization? What would inspire those around you to defy tradition and open up a new bold path forward?

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