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Transformational Leadership

Introducing a new series of monthly articles by the CEO of Kripalu, the first of which explains why transformational leadership is more important now than ever.

Introduction

I am delighted to be writing these words about something that is very important to me: transformational leadership. My aspiration is to share different insights every month and go on a journey together—not just as an intellectual exercise but as a path of practicing what we talk about at Kripalu each month. The purpose of this first article is to say hello. In Irish, we say Dia Dhuibh. Dhuibh.

I’ve been with Kripalu for five years, serving as CEO for the past three and a half years. They have not been the quietest of years for leadership!

A little about me: I am an Irishman, born and raised. I grew up on the side of a mountain near the Irish Sea in County Wicklow, south of Dublin, where a bus came every 90 minutes and stopped if you were lucky. I spent a huge amount of time in the hills exploring and tracking wild animals that I realized much later were only in my heart and imagination. I have three amazing sisters, a wonderful mother, and a great father who transitioned to the other world back in 2016. I am blessed to have a wild and sweet son who I co-parent with his mother here in the Berkshires. My upbringing was anything but normal in Ireland: My parents were very inspired by spiritual teachings, co-founding a K-12 school in Dublin to offer an alternative education that went beyond what the church and government were providing. By the time I had left school, I had spent at least 150,000 minutes in mindful meditation practice, my second language was Sanskrit, then I learned Latin and Ancient Greek followed by French and finally Irish. At home and in my school, I was incredibly fortunate to learn about big ideas, the people who have moved the world, and how love and service are central to it all.

Since graduating from University College Dublin with a business degree, I have had the incredible honor of working across many sectors, including as a CPA at PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers professional services firm), co-founding an award-winning social enterprise, running leadership development workshops all over the world, leading teams in India and five African countries to help reduce barriers to health services for women and children, and consulting with the biggest and smallest organizations and supporting leaders as an executive coach. For my full bio, please click here.

That is enough about me. For our journey together, each month we are going to explore different aspects of transformational leadership, covering emotional intelligence, decision making, leadership styles, managing our energy, letting go of the outcome, and other aspects. The hope is that each article will stand alone but also build on the previous one to help us collectively feel resourced as leaders in these mysterious times. I look forward to leading, learning, and practicing with you.

Photo by Shaun Laframboise

Article #1: Why Transformational Leadership is Needed Now More than Ever

There are many views on what makes a great leader. At Kripalu we talk about transformational leadership a lot. Not because we are perfect at it but because we know it matters. So, what do we mean by transformational leadership?

There are two fundamental aspects of leadership: the outer game, or what people do as leaders (doing), and the inner game, who they are and how they show up (being). We know leadership itself is not always the issue. The challenge is doing it live, in the moment, day after day, year after year, as conditions and priorities shift and change.

Our view is that a leader’s capacity to be in this dance of the inner and outer game creates many conditions necessary for a leader to be transformational. Too often, leadership theory and advice are focused on what we need to do to “redesign the product,” “change the process,” and “reconfigure the reporting lines in a department.” These are often part of the solution, but when we are solely focused on the outer doing and not equally focused on the inner being (and frequently the inner change), then our leadership will not be transformational.

This doesn’t mean we need to take up yoga or meditation, even though I highly recommend every leader try them out to experience the benefits. It does mean that, as leaders, we need to take the time and be humble and vulnerable enough to engage in an inner process of reflection, curiosity, and connection.

We move so fast as leaders, there is so much to do, and it feels like we don’t have time to do it all, let alone pause and engage in some self-inquiry, mindfulness, or “inner work.” Yet, at the same time, we are living in times of incredible uncertainty, with new generations joining the workforce that see the world differently. Additionally, many customers now ask not only for great products and services but also for organizations that align with their values. All these factors contribute to the need for leaders to evolve.

We can evolve intentionally or haphazardly, that is our choice as leaders. So, I invite you, with me, into a continuous journey of evolution as we explore what it means to be a transformational leader together.

One small step you can take this week—starting today—is to start noticing where you feel tension in your body when you are at work. For me, it moves around a bit. I feel tension in my chest, neck, and jaw and anxiousness in my belly. Just tracking these signals from my body helps me know I am pushing myself too hard. I am not taking a break to walk outside or laugh with a colleague. So, start tracking the signals your body is sending you and ask yourself, “What do I need?” and then be radically honest with yourself.

Photo by Emily Beaulieu
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But Not To Produce.