Transformational Leadership vs. Change Management – What’s The Difference?

What has someone rise to the top to become a truly great leader, versus a top-notch manager? How is Transformational Leadership different from Change Management?

What is Transformational Leadership?

A Transformational Leader creates a future, a vision that’s inspiring, worthy of people’s time, thinking, and actions. This future is often something that you don’t already know how to accomplish. If you do, management is required, not leadership.

A Transformational Leader is not encumbered by current circumstances, beliefs, or assumptions. The past often has us focus on avoiding failures or replicating successes, which can shape or limit our choices. A Transformational Leader goes beyond what is predictable to invent and create the future.

“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”

George Bernard Shaw

Isn’t Change and Transformation the same thing? Not really.

Change = to make or become different (often includes more or better). This is where incremental improvement resides.

Transformation = a thorough or dramatic change in form or appearance. This is where breakthroughs live.

Transformation vs. change is about bringing new possibilities into reality. It requires thinking that is broad and expansive, with a strong sense of curiosity and discovery.

People who manage well get people to do things, take actions, and perform tasks. People who lead well inspire people to be a particular way, and are people who see the future through a new lens of possibility.

Transformational Leadership starts with creating a vision that will alter the predictable.

The word vision comes from the Latin word visionem, meaning wisdom. Having a vision is having the wisdom to see past certain events in expectation of a greater outcome. Having a vision is being able to answer the question, “what does it look like when the future is bright?”

Creating a vision starts with identifying your commitments and intentions. Take a stand, declare what others can count on from you, and be up to something bigger than yourself. Make this vision your North Star.

Here are a few examples of Transformational Leadership that have changed the course of history and mankind.

  • Ghandi – the British will leave India peacefully
  • Martin Luther King – a land where each person would be judged by the content of their character, rather than the color of their skin
  • John F. Kennedy – this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.


How do I exhibit and practice Transformational Leadership?

  • Make time to think (leadership), not execute (management).
  • Identify your commitments and intentions.
  • Make a declaration, take a stand for that future vision.
  • See the future already accomplished, stand in that accomplishment, then ask:
    • “How did I get here?”
    • “What happened that led to this future?”
    • “What accomplishments or milestones would be worthy of the time and energy required?”
    • “What would be a fulfillment of the vision?”
  • Create a timeline and keep tying the milestones back to the vision.

“It always seems impossible until it’s done”

Nelson Mandela

Find your North Star. Follow it. Share it with others. Dare to dream big. That’s Transformational Leadership.

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