What does it take to lead in the 21st century? At Georgetown University’s Institute for Transformational Leadership (ITL), we have been asking this question for more than three years. We know that leadership has always called for courage, a deep level of commitment, and extremely hard work. But in today’s complex and fast-moving society, it also requires a high degree of self-understanding. By creating space for inquiry, reflection, and exploration, we at ITL are learning together—as a community—what it takes to be a transformational leader today.
So…what have we learned? Here are five qualities of a transformational leader:
- Self-awareness—Transformational leaders are reflective; they develop a deep understanding of who they are. With this kind of self-knowledge, they can see how their personal goals can coincide with and be transformed by the needs of the larger group. For these leaders, becoming more self-aware is a continuous process; they never stop growing and expanding as human beings.
- Authenticity—Transformational leaders bring authentic presence to their work. They are courageously imperfect, embrace their true selves, and regularly exhibit integrity, vision, and compassion in a way that awakens and inspires others.
- The Ability to Collaborate—Transformational leaders regularly enlist the engagement of those they lead. They convene important conversations that include diverse stakeholders, then use the fruits of these discussions to address complex problems that they cannot solve on their own.
- An Understanding of Interdependence—Transformational leaders learn how to develop, empower, and mobilize networks. These networks allow for the emergence of movements, which often lead to social, cultural, and systemic change.
- Humility—Transformational leaders have a sense of humility. They are constantly learning and listening to others. They do not get too comfortable. Knowing that they do not have all the answers enables them to be more flexible, so they can cope with and even thrive in an era of rapid change.