Five Steps To Becoming A Transformational Leader

Contributed by CEO Coach Henna Inam

Are you fully engaged in the work you are doing? Do you feel like you are both achieving success and also creating a legacy that is deeply personal and important to you?

For a long time in my own career I was happy climbing the corporate ladder, but after a while this success was not fulfilling enough. It got me searching for a broader impact I could make. I discovered that what is really fulfilling work for me is to help empower women leaders to transform their businesses, teams and communities by transforming their own leadership.

Do you know what is deeply fulfilling work for you? Are you pursuing it? As human beings we all have a deep desire to achieve success and create a legacy that is beyond our personal success. In Part 1 and Part 2 of the Transformational Leader series I talked about who transformational leaders are, why this leadership approach is so needed in today’s organizations, and how women often naturally exhibit some of these traits. To briefly recap, transformational leaders are able to tap into the discretionary energy, the full creativity and potential within themselves and within the people around them. They are purpose-driven. They play the role of mentor and coach to the people around them. They constantly encourage intellectual stimulation, dialogue and debate. They inspire others by their own passion, and by creating a culture of trust and high integrity.

So how can we each powerfully express the transformational leader that is within us? I use a five-step process with my clients that I would like to share with you.

Step 1: Engage

Make a decision. This is simple. Make a decision to be a transformational leader in your organization, team, or community. In college we had the opportunity to “audit” certain courses. It meant we could show up, listen, but not actually have to take the tests or get a grade for the class. It meant we could be a bit more lazy, not have to care too much. For some years in my career, I was “auditing” work and life without even realizing that is what I was doing. In fact, Gallup studies show 70% of employees, on average, are disengaged in their work. Making a decision to be a transformational leader means you have to step out of the “audit” mode and pursue life and work with greater awareness, purpose and tenacity. You’ve now decided to re-engage and be in the game. None of the steps below work until you fully engage. And re-engage when you find yourself disengaging.

Step 2: Purpose

In my research, interviews with transformational leaders, and experience with clients I have found that at the core of each transformational leader is clarity about their purpose. This great clarity about their purpose helps them deeply engage in the work that they are doing. It also helps them understand and articulate a big picture mission for their organization or team and connect with the purpose they see in others.

A great example of this is a client Guanming Fang, who is a Partner at law firm Womble Carlyle. She is of Chinese origin and has lived in the US for a long time. She articulates her purpose as helping build bridges between the Chinese and US cultures. She is deeply engaged and excited by her work closing cross border M&A transactions. Instead of drudgery, her work is deeply meaningful to her as she is able to put it in the context of a broader mission that is important to her. Apart from legal expertise, her fluency in both cultures allows her to translate beyond language and help her close major deals that would otherwise stall.

The key questions you want to ask yourself are:

  1. What is my core purpose (see more detailed info on discovering purpose here)?
  2. Am I clear on the mission of my organization and the work I’m doing and how it connects to my purpose? How can I more powerfully engage in that?
  3. How can I have the opportunity to do more of what I do best every day?

Step 3 – Core Values

Clarity on core values is another element of transformational leadership. By articulating and “walking the talk” on their values, leaders instill trust in organizations. With trust levels in our institutions being at historical lows, this is a critical trait more valuable now than ever. People follow those they trust.

One senior corporate executive I met recently articulated one of her core values as”“when people leave my presence they feel more comfortable in their own skin.” This clarity enables her to be accountable for every interaction she has with people, and it proved true in our own interaction. Another leader, a client of mine, Diana Keough, who is the CEO of media platform company ShareWIK, is a Pulitzer prize nominated journalist. She talks about her core value of “truth.” She came from a very well-respected and high profile family where the truth of her family life (a life of physical/spiritual abuse) was never revealed. Her company is now focused on telling deep stories of truth in the health and wellness space, and the passion she has for “telling the truth” is infectious.

The key questions you want to ask yourself are:

  1. What are the values I hold dear?
  2. Who are my role models and what traits do I admire most in them?
  3. What core values do others see in my actions?

For more details on discovering core values, read this.

Step 4: Innovation

A key trait of transformational leaders is their incredible capacity as change agents. This is what makes them so valuable to organizations. What drives their passion for innovation is their desire for impact, and what makes them invaluable change agents is their ability to enroll others in the change process (see below).

Tammy Allen is an entrepreneur and CEO of a company called Do Good Get Rewards. I recently interviewed her for my radio show. She has created a company that helps non-profits reward their volunteers. She signs on large non-profits and their volunteers driving traffic to her rewards site which then generates advertising revenue. It helps corporate organizations get turnkey opportunities for their employees to volunteer in the community. An accomplished musician, the idea first came from a line in a song she wrote. It is connected to her purpose to recognize those that are doing good so more good can happen in the world.

The key questions you ask yourself are:

  1. What is a key area of opportunity in my organization or community where I can make a significant impact?
  2. How does this connect with my purpose and legacy?
  3. How do I engage with others to help them express their best ideas?

Step 5: People

A key trait of transformational leaders is their ability to enroll people around them. What makes this easy is that their passion and sense of core purpose is contagious. They believe in what they are doing. They see people as individual. Many of the key drivers of employee engagement in the Gallup survey closely related to the kind of people environment the leader creates.
The key questions ask yourself:

  1. Do I understand what are the motivators and drivers of the people I work with?
  2. How can I individually reward and recognize people based on their specific motivators?
  3. How can I regularly (meaning daily or weekly) recognize the good work of the people around me?
  4. How can I encourage the growth and development of the people around me?
  5. How can I encourage people to fully express themselves around me?

Admittedly, the questions above require a lot of self-reflection and feedback from others. Rather than being linear steps, these traits all work to help reinforce each other and working with one helps you deepen your skills in the other. I would love to hear back from you about what worked for you in the above and importantly, are you going to take the first step?

Henna Inam is a CEO Coach focused helping women become transformational leaders. A Wharton MBA, and former C-Suite executive with Novartis and P&G, her passion is to engage, empower, and energize women leaders to transform themselves and their businesses. Sign up for her blog at