What do these 5 great leaders have in common?

These remarkable human beings lived in different generations, on different continents, had different life circumstances. And yet, each embodied the four qualities of transformational leadership.

The goal of transformational leadership is to “transform” people and organizations in a literal sense–to change them in mind and heart; enlarge vision, insight, and understanding; clarify purposes; make behavior congruent with beliefs, principles, or values; and bring about changes that are permanent, self-perpetuating, and momentum building.

Steven Covey, Author of 7 Habits of Highly Successful People

Two were born about a century apart, trained as lawyers, and became political leaders.  Abraham Lincoln and Nelson Mandela both brought about irreversable positive changes to their people, nations, and the world…that is still in the process of transforming.

An ‘ordinary Kenyan village woman’ (as she liked to call herself), Wangeri Maathai became the first environmentalist and African woman to be awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her global activist work planting millions of trees. As with most transformational leaders, she was ahead of her time…but persisted against all odds to bring her vision to fruition. She helped transform our understanding of global ecology.

Some transformational leaders change the way we live our lives through business and the world of work.  Steve Jobs co-founded Apple Computer with his fellow inventor Steve Wozniak in 1976.Together, with their team of developers, designers, and marketers, Apple creates electronic devices that have transformed how and where we work; how we listen to music; and how we communicate…around the globe.

Often, our most significant transformational leaders are thought leaders. These men and women challenge existing beliefs/assumptions about some important aspect of our lives, develop new theories, test them rigorously, and put them into practice. As a graduate student in cognitive and developmental psychology at Harvard University in ’70s, Howard Gardner challenged the prevailing viewpoint about human intelligence: we are born with just a single intelligence that we inherit. He went much further than a challenge. Instead, he developed a new theory that states that each one of us, as human beings, are born with multiple intelligences (So far, he’s identified 8 distinct intelligences). Gardner’s superior insight of how our intelligences are used in daily life, coupled with the new brain science of  neuro-plasticity  is transforming how we educate young people…and sustain healthier brains in older adults.

By now you’re probably asking what exactly are those four qualities that these transformational leaders embody? Each one:

  • Articulates a compelling vision of the future so effectively that it attracts others to ‘the cause’
  • Behaves in ways that allow him or her to serve as a role model…earning admiration, respect, and trust.
  • Stimulates their followers’ efforts to be innovative and creative by questioning assumptions, reframing problems, and approaching old situations in new ways
  • Pays attention to each individual follower’s need for achievement and growth by allowing for new learning opportunities in a supportive environment.

Great concepts…but how does a someone in a leadership role bring them to life within him or herself… in your own context?

For the next several months through this blog, I’ll be unpacking each quality, providing deeper insight into their importance, and offer some practical skill-building exercises for anyone committed to improving their own leadership capability.

I welcome your thoughts, reflections and perspective as we undertake this journey together.

Until the next time

Marguerite Callaway

4 thoughts on “What do these 5 great leaders have in common?”

  1. It is amazing how we have lived our lives day to day without taking note of how transformational leaders become transformational hence we have stumbled and fallen over the same mistakes our ancestors made and keep wondering where things went wrong. Thanks Maggie for these insights. ..transforming the thought process in itself #transformational leadership #@tembe3

    1. Alice, we are very fortunate that there is a body of knowledge about what distinguishes transformational leaders from others. There a observable qualities that result a way of assessing their circumstances, undertaking specific actions, and a particular way of engaging with others. Our shared conversation will bring all of these insights into the light, which can also result in specific skill-building exercises.
      My goal: demystify transformational leadership.

  2. A very insightful read this is, Maggie. When we look at all those leaders that you have mentioned, we view them as extraordinary human beings. But to me they were/ are people who had a vision of what they wanted to achieve and were not satisfied with their circumstances. It is in sharing their vision with others that they made headway in their respetive fields as observed by Kotter 1995.
    Todays world needs such leaders. Not just in the highest positions but also at every level and area of our society. It is when more people are willing to change their situations that we can achieve much. #@thandolwakhe_t.

    1. Thando, your perspective is ‘spot on’. Each one of the remarkable people had a different vision of the future beyond existing conditions, i.e. the status quo. Not only did they have a vision…they did the hard work to make it reality. I used these examples because they stand out and we know about them. Transformational leadership happens at all levels of an organization, a community, a family. Transformational leaders don’t seek titles…the engage in impact. We’re going to deeper into the ‘how they do it’ in future blogs.

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