Develop skills through constant learning and improvement.

In recent articles, I’ve discussed the importance of developing leadership and strategic thinking skills throughout every level of the organization. While the origins of leadership stretch back as far as ancient Egypt, it has only really been studied in a meaningful way since the 1930s when theories of leadership began to emerge. In this month’s column, I’ll examine some of the qualities that have been proven to provide truly transformative leadership.

Transformative leaders generally emerge from an organization during times of chaos, struggle, division, or major change. It requires resilience, a powerful ability to read emotion, strength and mercy, confidence and humility, patience and persistence. Transformative leaders can mediate between various groups in the firm while keeping morale high. So how can a leader infuse people’s lives with purpose and meaning?

Quickly acknowledge where failure has occurred and demand change. We hear it too often: “This is the way it has always been done.” That is not the right answer. For innovation to flourish, we need to try new things, recognize failure, and change direction.

Anticipate different viewpoints and pushback. The key is to think ahead and welcome reactions from those who may view things from a different perspective. Everyone needs to feel heard. Anticipating points of contention allows you to be prepared with an answer to each objection.

Know when to be restrained and when to push forward. This will be key to preventing disenfranchised team members and allow them to coalesce at critical times.

Set the example. To borrow a phrase from Michael Jackson, “Be the change you’d like to see” in your firm. Exemplify compassion, self-awareness, and humility.

Understand your team’s emotional needs. Spend time with everyone, be aware of perceptions of favoritism, and provide feedback. People need praise as well as correction. Psychologically, praise has been proven to be more effective in changing behavior. The hardest part with celebrating wins and providing positive feedback is that it needs to be timely. Don’t wait until a yearly review.

Refuse to dwell on past failure or disagreement. Move forward and make sure your team does as well. Learn what you can learn and move on.

Control emotional outbursts. Reacting with anger or inappropriately intense emotion to situations undermines your credibility. Worse yet, you will be operating without the benefit of higher-order reasoning. You rarely make a good decision in a state such as this.

Protect your team from blame. Take extreme ownership for the faults or failures your team makes. It will not demean your worth and will build your character in the eyes of the firm. Develop sensitivity, patience, and empathy. Allow things to be tolerated as long as your team pursues their duties with passion and skill in the direction you’ve prescribed.

Keep your word and establish trust. The final two are self-explanatory. Do what you say you will do for your team and your clients. Trust in your leadership is vital.

These qualities will take life-long work to develop and uphold. Leadership is about constantly learning and improving. No one expects you to be perfect, but in times of uncertainty, development of these skills will allow you to truly transform your firm for the better. Elevating our profession to a higher level starts with you.


Phil Keil is director of Strategy Consulting, Zweig Group. Contact him at pkeil@zweiggroup.com.