How Great Leaders Transform Organizations, Nations, Societies, and the World

What Makes Some Leaders Truly Transformational and Exceptional?

There is a difference between leadership and management. Similarly, there is a difference between leadership and outstanding leadership. The point to note here is that leaders and managers differ in a number of crucial ways.

For instance, leadership is all about having a vision and then actualizing it through a sense of mission whereas management is all about day to day execution of plans. Of course, leaders need to be excellent managers as well since leadership is as much about Twenty Thousand Feet vision as it is about on the ground execution.

However, the key aspect that distinguishes leadership and management is that leaders need to be transformational personalities who can influence and persuade their followers to buy into their (the leaders’) vision whereas managers do need this as well but more to do with ad hoc management and execution of micro-tasks.

Transformational Leadership with Specific Real World Examples

Having said that, there are again differences between leaders and outstanding and transformational leaders. Whereas all organizations and nations, as well as societies, have an abundance of leaders, there are only a few instances in time when truly outstanding and transformational leaders arrive on the world stage.

In addition, while all organizations do boast of a stable set of leaders, there are only some organizations that have the chance to witness transformational leadership. For instance, why did Microsoft and Apple become such huge behemoths whereas other technology firms continue to show record profits but are not talked about in the same breath?

The difference here is that both Microsoft and Apple were founded by truly extraordinary individuals (Bill Gates and Steve Jobs respectively) who not only had a vision but were also willing to stake their personalities on actualizing that vision. Also, both Microsoft and Apple were firms that were highly innovative and inventive thanks to the caliber and potential of Gates and Jobs.

Thus, it is indeed the case that leadership and transformational leadership are two different aspects that must be noted if one were to make sense of why not all organizations achieve greatness.

Traits and Attributes of Transformational Leaders

So, what is that separates leadership from transformational leadership? To start with, while all leaders are driven and motivated as well as focused and diligent, truly exceptional leaders are motivated and driven by an inner strength that very few individuals are blessed with.

Of course, this does not mean that not all leaders can become transformational as leadership is as much as innate qualities as it is about learned and acquired skills.

In other words, for those of you who are aspiring to become leaders, the learning and the lesson is that through due diligence and focus, you too can acquire the traits and attributes that make transformational leaders.

In addition, transformational leaders are also products of their times and circumstances. For instance, there are some leaders who are thrust into the spotlight whether they want it or not and expected to rise to the occasion.

Transformational Leadership Can Be Circumstantial

In other words, such leaders are often transformative since the circumstances and the occasion demands it. Indeed, transformational leadership is as much about leading from the front as it is about rising to the occasion and delivering the goods.

The example of Winston Churchill, who was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during the Second World War, can be taken in this context wherein Churchill, confronted with a grave and dire situation ensured that he rallied his country and the people to the common cause of facing the enemy.

Having said that, it is also the case that transformational leadership also means that one is prepared to stake one’s future and the reputation on the success of the task at hand. For instance, leaders who are truly transformational in nature almost always never give up and walk away when confronted by tough decisions.

The example of the Former President of the United States, Barack Obama, is instructive in this case. Obama, throughout his Presidency, was ready to stake his legacy and reputation on key initiatives and policies such as the Health Care Act and the Immigration Reform to ensure social justice despite the odds being stacked against him.

Indeed, the entire tenures of both Obama and Clinton were marked by extreme hostility from the Republicans and it is to the credit of these leaders that they delivered the goods irrespective of the difficulties they faced. In addition, truly transformational leaders also have a clear sense of right and wrong and moral certainty that guides them in their decision making.

The example of the co-founder of Infosys, NR Narayana Murthy, can be used in this context as he ensured that Infosys stands for principles and remained steadfast even after retiring from the organization on his beliefs. This means that transformational leaders are prepared to do whatever it takes to follow their passions and beliefs.


Lastly, transformational leaders are also about knowing when to stop and where to draw the line.

In other words, transformational leaders do not get carried away by the success and adulation and name and fame and instead, ensure that they quit or step aside when they feel it is the right time. The example of the former Indian Cricket Player, Rahul Dravid, is a clear instance of how leaders know when to quit and where to draw the line. To conclude, transformational leaders have the potential and the capabilities to transform entire nations and societies as well as the world and the organizations they lead.

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