Recognizing Transformational Leaders

Great leaders do not rise to the top of their fields by accident, but by practicing Self-awareness, honest Self-assessment, and a serious commitment to ongoing personal development. Emerging transformational leaders possess certain qualities of character that become the driving force behind everything they do. These qualities can be seen early on.

Leadership qualities can be developed with a focused commitment and the proper training.  Leaders come in all types and have unique gifting and styles all their own. There are however a few non-negotiables that all leaders abide by, whether or not they are conscious of them.

The most important quality of a Leader is by far good character. Good character reveals the heart of the leader and is the foundation upon which his or her leadership philosophy will rest. The fruit of their service will tell you all you need to know about their foundations.

All Leaders have a measure of Influence


Leadership is more about character and people skills than it is about position. When you function in accordance with good character and correct principles, you will have the offers for the positions. There are many people who hold the title of leader and may have little influence, while some one else on their team is carrying the weight of the influence and holding no title. A good leader will recognize the influencers in their midst, and make it a priority to mentor and empower them.

By its very nature leadership is “others oriented,” and will therefore influence those who are in contact with it.  John C. Maxwell in his classic book “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership,” said” The True Measure of Leadership Is Influence Nothing More, Nothing Less.”

It is this leadership influence that attracts and inspires people to follow those who have it. I’ve always found the early life of Israel’s King David to be an excellent example of transformational leadership, and one which certainly affirms the truth of Maxwell’s statement.

The Qualities of Transformational Leaders are Recognized

Long before David became king, the qualities and characteristics of a transformational leader were already attested to by those who knew of him. When king Saul inquired about a skillful musician his men recommended David. “One of the servants answered, “I have seen a son of Jesse of Bethlehem who knows how to play the lyre. He is a brave man and a warrior. He speaks well and is a fine-looking man. And the LORD is with him” (1 Samuel 16:18). What a ringing endorsement about a teenager to a King! David may have been tending sheep at the time, but he was an emerging leader.

The Qualities of emerging Leaders are Demonstrated

Although there are many qualities of transformational leaders, I will only mention a few here. Let’s continue with those leadership qualities in the character of David, as we see him first emerging on the public stage, on his own rendezvous with destiny.

1. Transformational leaders are Quick learners.


They learn from their experience because of their commitment to self-assessment. Good leaders are able to sharpen the skills that have served them well in the past, and apply them to a variety of situations in the future. The epic story of David and Goliath was made possible by David’s prior experience in leading and protecting his sheep.

The reason for his reputation “as a brave man and a warrior” is revealed in his conversation with King Saul prior to his confrontation with Goliath. “But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God.

The LORD who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.” Saul said to David, “Go, and the LORD be with you” (1 Samuel 17:34-37).  David fully intended to use what he had learned from his prior confrontations with the lion and the bear, and adapt that strategy to his confrontation with Goliath.

2. Transformational leaders know and use what works for them. 


They may glean from others, but in the end they will only use their own proven methods for success.  “Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head. David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them. I cannot go in these,” he said to Saul, “because I am not used to them.” So he took them off. Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine” (1 Samuel 17:38-40 ). 

3. Transformational leaders stand by their convictions.

Successful leaders are unafraid of conflict and will not compromise their convictions. David was a person of integrity, a man of faith and deep convictions. He was a man of war and unafraid when challenged. These qualities kept him safely anchored through many troubled waters in his lifetime. A leader must demonstrate that they can be true to their convictions under fire if they are to remain successful throughout their life.

“David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the LORD will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel.  All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give all of you into our hands (1 Samuel 17:45-47). David at such a young age was able to demonstrate solid leadership qualities and prove them in the heat of battle.

4. Transformational leaders inspire and empower others. 

“Whatever mission Saul sent him on, David was so successful that Saul gave him a high rank in the army. This pleased all the troops, and Saul’s officers as well” (1 Samuel 18:5). David was given a high ranking command and gained the respect and approval of all the troops. David’s success is an amazing demonstration of the powerful influence that transformational leaders can have on a nation.

His service to God and others captured the imagination of a generation. The people loved him, the troops fought alongside him, a nation was singing his praises.  David saw leadership not as an opportunity for advancement, but as an awesome privilege to serve.

5. Transformational leaders Shift Cultural Thinking 


“Saul was afraid of David, because the LORD was with David but had departed from Saul. So he sent David away from him and gave him command over a thousand men, and David led the troops in their campaigns. In everything he did he had great success, because the LORD was with him” (1 Samuel 18:12-14). Strong leaders often have different ideas than those before them.  They can be so innovative and creative, that the rapid cultural shift in thinking will unsettle current positional leaders. 

Their impact on their environment is so transformational, that it will push other leaders to the limits of their comfort zones, and test their tolerance for change. It will also uncover their insecurities, causing them to feel threatened like Saul was with David.
“Saul became still more afraid of him, and he remained his enemy the rest of his days”(1 Samuel 18:29). 

Keep the Big Picture and the End in View

The transformational impact of some leaders is so far reaching that, it will test the current leaders abilities of self-awareness and personal assessment. David used his skills to serve his God, his king, and his country.

Keep in mind that he was still a young emerging leader when these events took place. David is a classic example of a servant leader. He embodied good character and other sound leadership qualities, that would be an asset to any organization today.

How important it is for current leaders to remember that leadership is others oriented. That there is always a bigger picture in view cannot be overstated. Current leaders are at their best when thinking about tomorrow, and how to get everyone there together.

Securing a better future for people and organizations is what it’s all about. This is why it’s so important for leaders today to recognize the qualities in the transformational leaders of tomorrow. An inspiring legacy will be indelibly imprinted in the annals of leadership history if they do. – JSP







Leave a Reply