7 Core Beliefs of Transformational Change Leaders

by Robert S. Tipton


I’ve been assembling the list of “7 Core Beliefs of Transformational Change Leaders” (TCLs) over the past several years, and I’ve come to discover that these folks are just — well — different. You “know” it when you’re in their presence…

Keystone Collaborative @ Robert S. Tipton, 2009

@ Robert S. Tipton, 2009

TCLs live an attitude of “been there, done that,” and have an approach that is calm, accepting, and wise. TCLs never seem to have their “hair on fire” about anything, and usually have a good answer for virtually any question.

What do TCLs believe?

Take a look at their 7 core beliefs below.

(NOTE: I’ve contrasted the beliefs of a transformational change leader with what I call a “transactional manager.” As you read, ask yourself — which am I? Which is my boss? My CEO? etc.)


Transformational Change Leaders:



1. Take the situation seriously, but not themselves.


Transactional managers keep score when it comes to the times and places “they” are viewed as contributing. It’s almost like they’re playing the game of “Survivor” when it comes to change — where alliances and immunity (playing the “game” the right way) are more important than doing the right thing.

Transformational change leaders don’t think less “of” themselves, they think less “about” themselves. In other words, they demonstrate a self-less confidence when it comes to the situation at hand. They are able to quiet their ego’s need to “be right,” and focus on the big picture, the overall benefits to the organization. And — ironically — they become indispensable to the organization as a result.



2. Understand that paralyzing anxiety is representative of leadership immaturity.


Transactional managers start with a “confidence deficit” related to change, and will not promote transformational change until they have sufficiently satisfied their personal fears and concerns. They may begrudgingly “go along” with the change (out of fear, usually), but they will not become an advocate for the change until their confidence deficit is satisfied.

Transformational change leaders understand that anxiety is the ego’s way of expressing fear of the unknown. These leaders know that the unknown is a normal, everyday kind of thing, and realize that fear solves little. As such, they look beyond their ego’s limiting perspectives and far more quickly move toward exploring the benefits of any change.



3. Know that transformational change cannot happen “through” them unless it has happened “to” them.


Transactional managers search for “silver bullet” answers related to change from sources outside of themselves (books, CDs, podcasts, conferences, etc.). They tend to operate from the perspective of “do as I’ve been told to do.” They don’t “own” the answer, they just go through the motions of “doing” the answer.

Transformational change leaders internalize the wisdom they have PERSONALLY gained related to transformational change (the good, the bad, and the ugly). They then are able to empathize and feel compassion for those whom they are leading through the change. “Do as I have done” is their mantra — been there, done that.



4. Believe that innovation is an attitude and is not just something on a “to do” list.


Transactional managers view innovation as a reaction to something — poor customer service, declining profitability, etc. Only when the status quo has been failing for a while will they begin to look at innovation as a “way out” of the dilemma. Then, when things return to a good place, innovation can go on the back burner again.

Transformational change leaders view innovation as being central to everything: product / service life cycles, customer relationships, marketing, etc. Everything can be innovated — from a brand new product line to the automated reply email that comes after a customer places an order. Innovation is tied to improvement, and improvement is a continuous thing.



5. Understand that people don’t resist change; instead, people resist “being changed” without their permission.


Transactional managers seek buy-in related to change. They think if they just put on more webinars and send more emails, eventually ”the others” will eventually get it, and will finally buy-in. And, if that doesn’t work — it’s time to bring out the “performance management” systems to MAKE people change.

Transformational change leaders understand that transformational change starts with a grieving process (endings) followed by a process of each individual “choosing” to become part of the change (new beginnings). They know that aligned, focused, positive energy is an unstoppable force when it comes to change — and this type of energy comes by choice, not by force.



6. Invest only in the “best” options, and have the courage to let the other options fall away.


Transactional managers have little desire to place their bets on only one option — and seem to hedge in favor of “covering all the bases.” This approach dilutes the limited resources of their organization, and creates little focus when it comes to strategy or direction. They try to be “all things to all people” out of fear of missing something or upsetting someone.

Transformational change leaders are able to effectively weigh one option versus another — and allow themselves to make decisions based upon “maximum potential” for success. They demonstrate decisiveness and courage when it comes to implementing only the “best” right answer.



7. Focus on what “wants to happen” instead of myopically trying to “make things happen.”


Transactional managers operate from a “to-do” list most of the time, or simply react to a never-ending list of action items in a “whac-a-mole” fashion. Their success is measured by the quantity of their activity, and not by the quality of their results. Often, they will invest weeks, months or even years is pursing failed projects — just because their “to-do” list keeps telling them to check things off.

Transformational change leaders regularly “feel the pulse” of their customers, their markets, their industries, their staff, and their stakeholders to sense emerging desires, trends, and perspectives. Their radar is finely tuned to the “energy” associated with situations, and they become highly adept at trusting their intuition. They are willing — even eager — to shift direction in order to stay connected to the “gulf stream” of positive energy flowing within their organizations.


No doubt, there’s a giant mindset shift between a transactional manager (TM) and a transformational change leader (TCL).

Which do you think you are right now? Which would describe members of your senior leadership team? Your CEO?

If you’re a TCL in the land of TMs, you’re going to be in for a battle. TMs are threatened by TCLs! TCLs don’t accept the status quo, aren’t satisfied with “safe” solutions, and continuously challenge limiting beliefs. Conversely, if you’re a TM in the land of TCLs — well, let’s just say your career will be “limited.”

Obviously I have a bias here — TCLs are needed in more quantity than ever before. The world is become MORE complex, not less, and the more time we spend transactionally managing things, the further behind we get.

Don’t get behind. Become — or stay — a TCL!


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20 Responses to “7 Core Beliefs of Transformational Change Leaders”

  1. Greg Waddell May 9, 2012 at 8:29 pm #

    Great post! I can’t imagine anyone reading through this and, at some point, saying, “Hmmm, I’m a bit of a transactional leader rather than a transformational leader.” I know I did. So, that leaves me with the desire for a follow-up post. What do you do if you find out that, in certain areas, you’re not manifesting transformational leadership? Is all hopeless? In other words, can we become more transformational? Or is this a given?

    • RobertSTipton May 9, 2012 at 10:19 pm #

      Hey Greg — thanks for your comment! And — I agree with you. Most of us have some (or in some cases, a LOT) of the transactional manager in us. But, the journey toward transformational change leader is something that’s needed in the 21st century more than ever.

      Also — you’re on to me. My “not so secret, secret agenda” is do exactly what you’d suggested. I’m writing a follow-up post all about ways that we can move more toward being TCLs.

      Thanks again!

  2. David Friesner May 23, 2012 at 4:36 pm #

    Hi Robert, thanks everso for this, just what business and enterprise needs. Reminds me about the discussions about and differentiation between leaders and managers – managers control whilst leaders direct….

    So, why is it that we appear to have so many more managers than leaders in business today…..hmmmm?!

    Your article minds me to mention Covey, the 7 Habits and the excellent title, Principle Centred Leadership. Reckon it all moves success in organisations along the same lines….

    That said, I discovered and researched the Balanced Scorecard over 10 years ago now. Excellent stuff from Kaplan and Norton. How their 4 Perspectives aim to create the overall balance to, and ‘dashboard’ of effectiveness and efficiency.

    So there it is…. thank you and I shall follow your further developments closely in the future.

    People make the difference, processes and system support and underpin, continuous improvement must be embedded into everything that happens, as in learning organisations and finally, any business to be the best, must focus upon its people relationships at all levels – internally and externally.

    Well done!

    • RobertSTipton May 23, 2012 at 7:09 pm #

      Hello David!

      And thank you very much for reading — and for commenting too. As to your question, “Why is it that we appear to have so many more managers…” I have a belief about that. I believe that organizations have created the cultures, the organizational structures, etc. that they’ve ASKED FOR. In other words, most organizations don’t askf for leadership — they “accept” management instead.

      However, the world is moving far too fast and become far too complex for the “management-heavy, leadership-light” organizational model to work very well.

      Anyway — I am a huge fan of Mr. Covey’s wisdom, and have done a fair amount with balanced scorecarding as well. It fits with one of my other beliefs — there is no patent on wisdom. Central truth is central truth — it’s just “how we receive it” that differs.

      Thanks again, and have a marvelous evening,
      Bob

  3. David Davis May 24, 2012 at 2:24 pm #

    As always Bob, and excellent article. I shared with the guys that I work with on our Innovation Team. I’m sure they will get as much out of this as I do. Also, looking forward to your next article on this. :) Hope all is well…its been a while, since we chatted, things are great on my end.

    • RobertSTipton May 24, 2012 at 4:56 pm #

      Hello David! It’s always great to hear from you — and I’m so pleased all is well at your end. I appreciate you reading my post, and then sharing it EVERYWHERE! That’s just terrific.

      And — I’ve published the follow-up post called, “5 Essential Behaviors of a Transformational Change Leader” — it’s available here: http://www.changemanagementpro.com/5-essential-behaviors-of-transformational-change-leaders/

      Again, thank you! Have a terrific day,
      Bob

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