One of my favorite definitions for leadership is offered by Tod Bolsinger in his book, Canoeing the Mountains. He says, “Leadership is energizing a community of people toward their own transformation in order to accomplish a shared mission in the face of a changing world.” This requires a leader to lead “transformationally”. That is, leading well requires both the leader and people to change as the organization grows in its quest to attain its Christ-given mission. Jesus is at the center of this transformational journey. He provides ordinary Christ-followers with the courage and power to first be transformed themselves as they learn to lead transformation in the organization.

Leadership doesn’t come naturally for the majority of people. It’s a skill that must be developed and constantly nurtured. As leaders hone their craft they will stumble. They will disappoint themselves and others. However, this is normal and no reason to stop leading. Regardless of the difficulties and challenges, the church today needs courageous, humble, Christ-centered people who will respond to the call to lead.

As I’ve reflected on the development of transformational leaders I found myself exploring what holds people back from becoming leaders. To organize my thoughts I wrestled with this phrase, “You can’t be a Transformational Leader and…” I also posted it as a question on FaceBook and received some great answers. So, here’s a list of my responses, with help from friends, to “You can’t be a transformational leader and…” It’s my hope that by considering these negative descriptions we will all grow in the positive qualities and skills required of transformational leaders.

You can’t be a transformational leader and…Not be transformed yourself. Leaders are always in personal transformation, growing in their faith and competence.

You can’t be a transformational leader and…Refuse to be a life-long learner. By nature transformational leaders are curious. They ask questions. They read. They explore new ideas. They test new skills. They access a variety of resources to always be growing.

You can’t be a transformational leader and…Lack basic leadership skills. Personal integrity, follow through, good people skills, persuasion, attending to details, etc. are necessary foundational skills for instilling confidence that you are a trustworthy leader.

You can’t be a transformational leader and…Have no idea where you are leading. Leaders must be clear about their personal mission and the organization’s mission. Leaders know where they are going and inspire others to go with them.

You can’t be a transformational leader and…Be a one-man band. Leaders lean into teams, have an accountability group, they collaborate, and enter into partnerships.

You can’t be a transformational leader and…Believe you have all the answers, or, at least most of them. Leaders collaborate with others to find the best path forward. They are honest when stumped by challenges they face.

You can’t be a transformational leader and…Be arrogant. Yes, you want to be confident in yourself by being well grounded. Arrogance, on the other hand, is off-putting. Transformational leaders have the right blend of self-confidence, appropriate assertiveness and humility.

You can’t be a transformational leader and…Fail to execute. Ready, fire and aim is better than ready, aim, aim, aim and never pull the trigger. If you wait until you have every assurance for success you will not lead. Leaders execute, and adjust direction along the way. 

You can’t be a transformational leader and…Wait until everyone is onboard before moving ahead. There will always be nay-sayers and late adopters, people who struggle to affirm new directions. Attaining a critical mass of 70% to 80% supporters is a good benchmark for moving ahead.

You can’t be a transformational leader and…Expect to never fail. Risk-free ministry is an impossible expectation. Leaders experiment, and by nature experiments will often fail. In this way leaders fail forward. 

 You can’t be a transformational leader and…Lack the ability to influence others to embrace the overall organizational mission and join the team.

 You can’t be a transformational leader and…Force people to go with you. Leadership is about inspiring, clarifying and exemplifying why the status quo is unacceptable. Barking out commands like a dictator to get with it and move in a new direction is not leadership.

You can’t be a transformational leader and…Dislike people. Leaders love people, are motivated to know their stories and invest in the growth of others.

You can’t be a transformational leader and…Talk more than listen; a common weakness among leaders who find themselves in front of people speaking on a regular basis.

You can’t be a transformational leader and…Fail to recognize that people need to process the grief they feel as a result of changes in the organization.

You can’t be a transformational leader and…Throw in the towel at the first sign of opposition. Leaders are resilient. They stay the course in the face of setbacks, uncertainties and pressure to settle for the status quo. Leaders have grit.

You can’t be a transformational leader and…Expect everyone to like you. Leadership is not a popularity contest. Leaders know that to lead means to disappoint some of their constituency.

You can’t be a transformational leader and…Run from conflict. No one likes conflict except a kick-boxer. However, avoiding conflict is non-leadership behavior. By nature leadership is polarizing. If you lead, conflict will erupt. Visionary leaders learn how to navigate conflict, and although conflict is never welcomed leaders act pro-actively when conflict arises.

You can’t be a transformational leader and…Become angry and defensive when people disagree. Transformational leaders expect push back, criticism and even betrayal. Leaders make course corrections and improvements in response to constructive criticism. Leaders maintain a non-defensive, non-reactionary stance towards critics.

You can’t be a transformational leader and…Avoid facing current reality and/or failing to describe current reality for the organization.

You can’t be a transformational leader and…Blame others for your failures. Visionary leaders embrace radical responsibility for the success or failure of their initiatives, and ultimately for the organizations they lead.

You can’t be a transformational leader and…Believe lack of resources is a reason to abandon the mission. Leaders are not held back by what appears to be lack of resources. Resources—finances, volunteers, buildings—follow vision not the reverse.

You can’t be a transformational leader and…Never apologize, ask forgiveness, confess weakness and/or confusion. Leaders readily admit when their words and actions have caused hurt and confusion.

You can’t be a transformational leader and…Always take personal credit for the success of your organization.Leaders honor others and give credit where credit is due.

You can’t be a transformational leader and…  Engage in constant “Programming ADHD” as in moving on to the next big thing quickly after having introduced the previous next big thing just a month prior. People tire quickly of zig-zag leadership, aka “post conference leader syndrome.”

So, in reviewing this fairly long list, where do you find yourself needing to grow? I suggest you share this with a close friend or coach, and stretch yourself as you continue to grow in your leadership abilities. God bless.