What Makes A Leader A Transforming Leader? (Part 1)


This is the first post in a three-part series about transformational leadership. To understand it and develop it one must dispel four myths of leadership.

To an extent leadership is a lot like beauty: It’s hard to define, but you know when you see it.
— Warren Bennis

He was 65 when he stepped into the national spotlight as Prime Minister. It was surprising that he was in leadership at all. Twenty-five years earlier Winston Churchill had led a disastrous military campaign with ghastly consequences: 250,000 causalities, including 45,000 deaths.

How would you feel knowing 45,000 soldiers (sons, husbands, fathers) went to their graves because you made a poor decision?

Churchill resigned his post. He stepped into the shadows. Many thought he would never lead again. But now Great Britain was engaged in a fierce conflict with Germany. It needed a battle-tested man to lead them through WWII. Winston Churchill was that leader.

The situation was bleak:

  • Germany was a superior force.
  • The British army was poorly equipped.
  • British allies were weak and losing the war.
  • Many in government doubted Churchill’s ability to lead.

Sir Edmund Ironside was one such doubter. On Friday, May 17, 1940 the head of the British Army was walking out of a meeting with Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden. Ironside morosely opined to Eden:

This is the end of the British Empire.

Churchill saw things differently! Just the day before, Churchill was talking with his son, Randolph, while preparing for the day. Standing at the mirror shaving, Churchill wheeled around and said to his son: “I think I see my way through.” Randolph replied: “Do you mean that we can avoid defeat…or beat [them].” Without a pause, Churchill declared:

Of course I mean we can beat them.

Churchill, Ironside and Eden all witnessed the same depressing circumstances. Only Churchill saw a way through them. All three men were leaders, but Churchill was a different kind of leader -- a transforming leader.

What Makes A Leader A Transforming Leader?

What makes a . . .

What makes a leader a transforming leader?  Transforming leaders take the initiative to raise their people and their organization to a higher level. They refuse to accept the status quo. They are not satisfied to “keep the ship afloat”; they want to sail. They are not content to work within the existing organizational culture; they want to transform it.

Transforming leaders take initiative to raise people & their organizations to higher levels.

Like Nehemiah, transforming leaders set an example. They challenge the status quo. They give people a fresh vision. They empower them. They encourage them. 

The result: Walls are rebuilt. Detractors are silenced. Hope is renewed. Nations are reborn. Transformation!

If transformational leadership influences such all-encompassing change, how does a leader become transformational? It begins with releasing one's grip on four leadership myths. 

Four Myths Of Leadership

To understand transforming leaders we need to understand what leadership is — and is not. Here are four myths of leadership:

  1. Leadership is a rare skill.
    Actually, leadership is very common. As my friend Dr. Angie Ward is a fond of saying: "Leadership is a gift, a skill, and an art." It is complex, but it is not rare. You may be thinking, "I can't lead" or "I can't lead at that level." Think again.
  2. Leaders are born, not made.
    Yes, some seem “born to lead,” but the reality is that leadership can be learned. Leaders are made everyday in communities, on the athletic field, in businesses and in churches.
  3. Leaders are charismatic.
    Yes, some leaders are magnetic and mesmerizing. One thinks of Bill Hybels in the U.S., Jeremias Pereira in Brazil; Richard Coklin in the UK for example. But if you think one needs to be charismatic to be a leader, read Dedication and Leadership by Douglass Hyde. It will change your opinion forever. Or just read Acts 5:33-39. What what happened when a very level-headed leader by the name of Gamaliel took charge of a very volatile situation.
  4. Leaders exists only at the top of the organization.
    Not so. Leaders exist throughout the organization. Bryan writes that we need to distinguish between leaders “of” organizations and leaders “in” organizations. You may not be THE leader OF your church, but you can still be A leader IN your church. You may not be THE leader OF your team, but you can still be A leader IN your team.

Have you "bought in" to one of these leadership myths? If so, that mindset will hold you back from being all that God has made you to be. It will also keep you from seeing what some prospective leader could be. Transformational leadership begins when old mindsets end.


Today we looked at Winston Churchill as an exemplar of transformational leadership. Churchill took the initiative to raise the hearts and will of the British empire to new levels. His efforts changed the course of history. That does not mean one must be Churchillian to be transformational. Transformational leaders exist at every leadership level. As true as that is people cannot become transformational nor lead in a transforming fashion as long as they cling to any of the four myths of leadership.

Your next step

Take a moment to evaluate your attitude toward yourself and others. Have you been believing a myth? Have you refused to step up, tackle a challenge, or take on a project because you don't think you have what it takes to be a transformational leader? Or, has clinging to one of these leadership myths made you blind to the capabilities of prospective leaders around you. If so, let go of the myth. Reflect on these six words from Jesus and ask God's help to change.

With God all things are possible.
— Matthew 19:26

Coming Up:

In Part 2 of "What Makes A Leader A Transforming Leader" I will ask you to take a look at three types of leaders and assess your leadership tendencies. Only one of these leadership types can be a transformational leader. In Part 3 we will examine five steps every transformation leader takes and help you identify your next step on the transformational journey. Read it here.

Don't Want To Wait?

Read the three posts in full here.


  1. "To an extent leadership is ..." from 4 Myths of Leadership from Warren Bennis & Burt Nanus.
  2. "This is the end of the British Empire" from Winston's War: Churchill, 1940-1945, by Max Hastings. Alfred A. Knopf: New York, page 26.
  3. "I think I see my way through . . ." from Winston's War, page 25.