5 Traits of Transformative Leaders

five traits of leader

By Erik Korsvik Østergaard, 22. November 2016

I’ve been supporting, supervising, and mentoring leaders and organisations for about five years, helping them transform from the old, traditional style into the new, modern approach.

Here are the five traits of the leaders who transform themselves; traits that ensure that they actually transform, and that it can be measured.

Five-traits of a transformative leader

1. They get it, immediately

The people who transform are the ones, who immediately “get it” and have a natural tendency to thrive with it.

It’s like turning on the lights in the room they are already in, or cleaning their glasses.

To them, speaking of Future of Work and The Modern Workplace comes natural, and they are aware of technological and societal trends, and are curious, eternal learners. The leadership style makes room for new abilities, and amplifies the existing, but untrained skills.

They typically have some kind of epiphany moment that they can remember clearly, and once they have tasted it, they want more.

2. They focus on people, planet, and profit

The transformative leader focuses on both purpose, meaningfulness, and value creation, as well as results and profit.

Clearly, the transformative leaders goes to work to create more than just profit, and does not care about “being the strongest in our business industry”. Capabilities is nothing without leading to values, hence the transformative leader focuses on how he/she can create value for the receiver, i.e. for the colleague, for the team, for the customer, for the customers customer, for the planet.

Results and profit still takes a professional, strong place, but it is outbalanced (and sometimes outshined) by the quest for meaning and purpose.

I’ve seen that both in the financial, pharmaceutical, IT, and energy sectors.

3. They break the pattern

Entering the world of the Modern Workplace requires a lot of patterns to be broken. The transformative leader focuses on a vast amount of things at once, all at the same time.

The successful transformation starts, when the leader understands to replace the existing mindset with a new one, and that it implies breaking a lot of systems, habits, and behavioral patterns. And, that they cannot change just one thing at a time. They need to work with all of the elements, simultaneously: Purpose, innovation, culture, organizing, and leadership.

It’s like eating a large elephant. In the old days you ate it bite-by-bite. Now you start with a smaller elephant.

4. They experiment

When breaking the patterns you need to test new things and experiment a lot. The transformative leader experiments, and tries new approaches to feedback, 1:1-conversations, project methodologies, visual planning, remote work, IT tools etc.

I’ve seen leaders experiment with network-based mentoring, visual strategy planning, stand-up meetings on top-level, speedfeedback, 24hour sprints, hackathons … followed by evaluation and adjusting.

Especially I’ve seen the transformative leaders experiment with their own role, trying to actively remove themselves from the epicenter of power, leaving room to the team members and their leadership.

5. They actively seek feedback and input

The transformative leader seeks feedback often, and uses it openly and transparently for improving the culture, wellbeing, and behaviour.

Also, the transformative leader constantly listens to input from inspirational sources, reads articles, listens to podcasts, and in general stays alert and hungry.

The results are substantial and measurable

  • Example: Significant increase in ratings in employee evaluations (several cases document this).
  • Example: Continuous increase in weekly happiness-measures
  • Example: Employees nominate the leader to a competition for Best Young Business Leader
  • Example: Continuous decreasing sick leave
  • Example: Significantly more network relations created both in the team and across the teams

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