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How Do I Lead to Catalyze Change?

By: Patrick Williams, EdD, MCC

The universe of those who study leadership and coaching contain virtually limitless points of light published as an answer to this question. Many experts proclaim that leadership is solely an issue of inner conviction. In other words, you must find the leader deep within yourself. These voices seem to be saying that a person either has it, of they don’t. Either a person is born with leadership skills and digs deep within him or herself to lead others, or they don’t.

Other experts believe that transformational leadership arises first from the foundation of personal growth. They suggest that a transformational leader is someone who:

  • Becomes a person others will want to follow
  • Discover their own strengths, and used those strengths in the workplace
  • Increases their own self-awareness and authenticity
  • Becomes more emotionally and socially intelligent
  • Is first true to themselves, and then change around them begins to happen

In other settings, professionals who never received formal leadership training rise to the forefront of their field because of their superior communication or relationship skills. If we study how individuals in the marketplace earn and spend their influence, we could find virtually endless anecdotal support for these theories. Yet anecdotal evidence doesn’t answer our question, and this path leads to the uncomfortable conclusion that if we are either born with or without the ability to lead transformationally, we are essentially limited to our caste, and unable to change.

On the other hand, Stephen Denning, a senior scholar at the University of Maryland’s Burns Academy of Leadership provides real stories of how successful leaders communicate to motivate people into action (The Secret Language of Leadership, Jossey-Bass, 2007). He’s convinced that the words leaders use, and how they communicate can generate sustained energy and exponential results. Because he believes that transformational leadership revolves around communication skills, and that communications skills are learned, his work opens the door to explore how transformational leadership and coaching skills are learned and mastered by those who are not innately “born leaders.”

Sustained, enthusiastic change doesn’t occur by osmosis or extrasensory perception. Charisma and personality only go so far. Therefore, if leaders’ own inner commitment to change is to have any effect at all, they must learn to communicate or create that same desire in those they aspire to lead.

While a leaders’ actions speak louder than their words, effective, sustained transformational leadership gains momentum when the leader’s actions and words point in the same direction. The right words can create enthusiasm, energy, momentum and sustainable motivation. The wrong words, or even words said in the wrong sequence, can undermine your best intentions and plans, killing an initiative on the spot.