Taking steps along the Footpath to Transformational Leadership

January 2, 2017


Just about every day, I am disciplined to take a walk. It is one of my favourite leadership pastimes. During walks I seek to set priorities, consider how I need to change and build my self-awareness, and how I can pray for other people. I usually have a distance objective in mind too - to cover about 4-5 kilometers each time I walk.

My life has been governed, to a large degree, by certain metrics. This way I seem to know when I have accomplished what I set out to do. But my recent life journey has taken me deeper into a consideration of a different kind of leadership metric - transformation. Many people have defined transformational leadership, but for me it all rests on stepping out of a self-centered form of leadership measurement and stepping into "other-centered" leadership measurement. In other words, how does what we do positively affect the transformational journey of other peoples' lives? For leaders, developing the talents and capabilities of others is essential.

 New Year's Eve is a special walking time for me. It is a time that I reflect on things of the past and dreams of the future. New Year's Eve 2016 was particularly poignant for me. The temperature was cold but comfortable, the world was snow-laden, and the sound of the silence of falling snow was soothing (I wrote a poem on the sound of falling snow a number of years ago - Singing Winter Oaks © ). This New Year's Eve sojourn also encouraged me to think of several imperative things for a transformational leader to seek out in 2017:


  • Know the anchor of your leadership calling - every leader needs to have a central anchor to their lives. This is because leadership is always in perpetual motion and it can be unpredictable. Ethical dilemmas are a normal part of leadership decision-making. For stability and refreshment, the transformational leader knows his center of stability. Jesus gave us persuasive guidance on this point. He stated that we are to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength" (Mk. 12:30). Jesus leaves no doubt as to where our leadership strength comes from. And it doesn't come from us. He also left no doubt as to what and Who our priority should be. With this foundation, everything else just becomes strategy.


  • When you know your center as a transformational leader, you look outward (away from yourself) to others - The second part of Jesus profound statement on commandments focuses the transformational leader's attention away from himself, to others. Jesus said, "The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these" (Mk. 12:31). The priorities are clear - God first and then others come next, in close proximity. This is counter-cultural to today's vision of "all for me" leadership.[1] The message is clear: transformational leaders are constantly thinking about building others up.


  • You are called to serve - so many leaders revel in their positions and status. Having the power to get things done is a leader's currency for success. However, power used for one's own gain is ultimately shallow and of little eternal value. As counter-cultural as it sounds, transformational leaders are called to serve. This means that they consider others to be more important than themselves (Phil.2:3).     The Apostle Peter said it in a wonderful way: "Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms" (1 Pet. 4:10). This astounding statement rattles us in a couple of ways. The first is that leadership must be seen as a gift. The second is that we use it to serve others. The third is that using the gift of leadership in this way means that we are stewards of God's grace given to us already.


  • As a transformational leader, you seek noble things - followers move in the same direction as you because you are authentic. Authenticity is a word to carefully ponder. Authentic leaders match up their noble character with their noble actions. Notice how I have stressed what is "noble". There are leaders who sometimes align bad character and bad actions and admittedly they seem to get something done. Yet when we are genuinely focused on transforming others' lives for the better, only noble actions have an eternal impact. The prophet Isaiah said, "But the noble man makes noble plans, and by noble deeds he stands" (Isa. 32:8).


These transformational components of leadership are worthy of implementation whether you lead a corporate team, or if you are a civil leader, a pastor, or a board member.         

[1] It is interesting to note that the two admonishments in Mk. 12:30-31 as articulated by Jesus were actually His own summation of the Ten Commandments. The first four commandments are all about our relationship with God. The last six are about our relationship with others.

Copyright © 2017 Rev. Michael F. Dell, Footpath Leadership, All rights reserved.