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Interchange - June 2022

Transformational Leadership  

There are many definitions of leadership. One that we've used in the past is “generating a view of the future that others see as their future”. This points us to the fact that leaders need to generate some future state that others see as valuable and attractive. Whether it's a mission, a vision, a goal, an objective… doesn't really matter. What matters is that people relate to it and see it as something they want in their lives.

People frequently talk about inspirational leadership. But what does it mean to inspire.? To inspire is to put spirit in. Therefore when we're inspiring we are elevating the spirit of either ourselves or those who are listening. Elevating the spirit is just another way of saying we're creating a positive emotional experience. Leadership appeals to emotion when it's effective. It generates excitement, enthusiasm, energy.

Transformational leadership is taking inspiration and adding another dimension to it:  The transformation in transformational leadership is creating a shift or a change in focus from fear or focus on one's self, to love or focus on contributing to others; making a difference. I read a Bible verse every morning and on this Memorial Day the verse was John 15: 13 which says:

“Greater love has no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends.” A fitting tribute on Memorial Day to the tens of thousands of veterans who have laid down their lives for us so that we may enjoy the freedoms and the quality of life that we enjoy in this country. They did it because they were focused on contributing to the lives of others…otherwise they would from battle, as fear would have any of us do.

Transformational leadership call on us to be continually shifting our own focus to making a difference for others. To be continuously remaining inspired so that we may be inspiring for others. There is perhaps no greater example of transformational leadership then Dr. Martin Luther King during the 1960s. I remember my Dad suddenly became engaged in the civil rights movement when he heard Dr. King's Speech. Which is quite something for a white suburbanite who had never been exposed to anyone of color other than the cleaning lady who worked for the rich people up the street.

Let's look at a few of the parts of doctor king speech. First Dr. King lays the groundwork by giving us a word picture of the plight of black people:  

“Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand signed the Emancipation Proclamation… One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land.”  

He then goes on and generates for us a view of the future to which he is committed:  

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal." I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.”

The entire Speech is a brilliant juxta positioning of the current reality; the conditions that were in place at the time, and the future to which Dr. King was committed.

I select this speech because of all the leaders in my lifetime Dr. King perhaps had the greatest impact. He had no power of office, no authority. He was from a little known organization in the southern States and the member of a marginalized race… yet when he spoke presidents listened.

In order for Dr. King to be the leader that he was, he had to shift his own focus from fear to love. He was afraid for his life, he was afraid for the lives of his family and his associates… and rightly so. But he chose over and over again to focus on and stand up for the cause to which he had devoted his life.

I don't expect any of us to be as eloquent as Martin Luther King… but maybe I should. It may seem arrogant for me to claim that possibility for myself, or for you. It takes great courage to claim the ability to inspire others, and more courage to do so. Every leader that I have worked with over the years, has some level of fear when standing up for what they believe. Will people think me arrogant?, idealistic?, a dreamer?, unqualified? Again I looked to the Bible for guidance:

Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.  

Matthew 5:14-16.    

I takes courage to lead, and your first job is to inspire your people. To keep them focused on the purpose for which your organization exists. Without continuous leadership peoples’ focus will revert to self-preservation, to a focus on themselves.

Now that we have laid out the essential function of leadership and provided food for thought for who you need to be as a leader, we offer some tips. This is not a comprehensive list, but instead a few tactics you can use to ensure that your keeping a clear picture of an inspiring future in front of yourself and your people.  

  1. Post your Life Purpose Statement and talk with co-workers about what it means to you.  

  2. Talk about the organizations’ mission statement. Have a “mission moment” at every meeting; (a) What does our mission mean to you? (b) If we use our mission as the guide, how might we address this situation?

  3. Use your strategic goals as a directional guide in meetings and for decision making. Make sure all involved or affected understand how the action or decision relates to the strategic goals.

  4. With your team, develop an inspirational goal (purpose) for your department. Post and talk about how the daily tasks and routines advance that goal.

  5. Acknowledge people for their daily contributions to the mission and goals. Celebrate Successes.

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