Transformational Leadership Takes Guts

Becoming a transformational leader takes guts. It involves listening to your inner wisdom, following your emotional compass, and doing what’s right–even when the right thing is difficult, unpopular, or controversial.

Why Guts Matter

Today’s leaders lack guts. There. I said it. Many leaders would rather lie to themselves, their teams, and their customers than do the hard work of getting to know their gut so that they can produce better results.

What are guts made of? The collective wisdom of your emotions, intuition, and experience. When you learn to listen to your gut, you can get better results, realize new possibilities, and maximize the talents of others. And that, my friends, is transformational leadership.

Unfortunately, many leaders have become gutless and are poorly equipped to engage in transformational leadership. Gutless leaders create elaborate stories to avoid confronting the hard truths of the day. Why all the gutless lies? Because it’s easier than listening to your gut and becoming a transformational leader.

The bottom line is this: transformational leadership is hard work and does not come about through incremental development efforts or “off-the-shelf” leadership training. It requires more intense work than classroom instruction or web-based tutorials. Transformational leaders have to learn how to listen to their inner wisdom and continuously reflect to promote transformational change.

Steps for Becoming a Transformational Leader

The majority of leaders don’t listen to their gut. They listen to conventional wisdom that is usually wrong. They act in ways that maintain the status quo because it’s easier than transforming themselves.

However, the new leadership reality is that the status quo isn’t good enough. You can’t simply get away with leading to keep up with the market. You have to lead in ways that transform and reinvent the market. You have to use your gut to lead transformational change.

Here are the five steps for becoming a transformational leader.

Step 1: Know thy Gut

The first step in this process of discovery involves knowing yourself better. This step involves gaining awareness about your strengths, weakness, likes, dislikes, passions, desires, and fears. This is not easy work. It takes honesty and courage: two things that most people lack. In order to become a transformational leader, you have to stop lying to yourself and get to know your gut.

Step 2: Find Passion, Build Belief

Your gut is a source of wisdom because it’s based on what you really want and what you know to be true with ever fiber of your being. The second essential step involves surfacing your passions, desires and wants, and then building belief that those wants are justified, achievable, and aligned with you know your are good at and capable of (see Step 1). Building belief in yourself is critical to engaging others to join you, to support your vision, and/or to follow you down an uncertain transformational path.

Step 3: Observe and Commit

Human beings are observers by nature. We can’t help taking in information, making up a story about it, and acting upon it. What we observe impacts the results that we get. In any given moment the right choice is hard to discern because there’s so much data and information to observe and make sense of. This step teaches you how to observe what your gut is telling you, make sense of it, formulate and commit to action. Acting upon your gut instincts will be energizing for you and more authentic to people whom you lead.

Step 4: Overcoming Resistance

Transformational leadership and change are challenging because they are full of resistance. If I do X, then what about Y? In this case “Y” is what we fear, what is costly, what is risky, what others might reject, and what people have told us that we can’t or should not do. Step 4 involves asking yourself what forms of resistance you are currently facing in changing your leadership behavior? Learning how to say, “So, what!” Asking yourself how current forms of thinking and acting are serving you? Your team? Your organization? These are difficult questions to ask yourself. In my experience working with high-potentials and experienced leaders, resistance can be overcome more quickly by partnering with a trained coach who is committed to helping you achieve your desired results.

Step 5: Holding up the Mirror

Listening to your gut is essential for self-mastery and for becoming a transformational leader. From time to time, we all need a trusted partner to hold up the mirror for us, reflecting what they see. As the Beatles wrote, “I get by with a little help from my friends. I get high with a little help from my friends.” Step 5 teaches that in order to tap the power of our gut, we must commit to continuous learning and personal reflection. Coaching, open and honest dialogue with others, and individual reflection are powerful tools for getting in touch with your gut and using what you learn to become an even more effective transformational leader.

The End…or The Beginning

Transformational leadership is the process of leveraging talent and resources to generate something new so that you can improve your results. Organizations are desperate for transformational leadership because the old way of leading won’t get us to where we need to go. Period.

Beginning your transformational journey involves asking yourself: is the way I’m leading working? What would my results look like if I had the boldness and courage to listen to my gut more often? How could I serve others if I led with guts? Where am I in the five steps? What support do I need to help me get to know my gut, build belief, commit to action, overcome resistance, and/or hold up the mirror?

Now go change something for the better; and have the guts to start with yourself.


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