In the not too distant past, I held a callous and shallow definition of a leader, which did not distinguish between normal and revolutionary ones. Over the years though, I have come to question every aspect of what a leader must endure and exhibit to understand both the technical and emotional aspects of any organization. My new understanding has allowed me to establish a framework within which problems and solutions can be tackled, no matter how wicked they may be. The most important step in the process, therefore, was having a clear and decisive definition of what a revolutionary leader is, how it is different from others, and how anyone can utilize it to move forward.

Being Revolutionary

In the past few decades, leadership has taken a turn to focus on bringing out positive change for more than just financial gain or guiding others into battle. A revolutionary leader not only brings these changes about for the triple bottom line of people, planet, and profits, but teaches others how they accomplish this so that ideas can spread and evolve. Regular leaders guide a group, focusing primarily on completing a goal. They focus only on what involves themselves and their organization and the futures of each. Revolutionary leaders expand these approaches, taking the initiative a step further by developing and executing catalysts that create other leaders with the same values. They also look inwardly to consistently cultivate a higher self-awareness where normal leaders would settle on a plateau of achievement. This allows them to transform their effectiveness, to revolutionize it, instead of simply advancing with maturity.

Revolutionary leaders are the bodybuilders of leadership. They are constantly looking for areas of improvement, being nitpicky and “rinsing their cottage cheese“. Normal leaders attempt to exert control over the uncontrollable and can find themselves frustrated with a lack of results. A revolutionary recognizes they have control over only their own actions, and therefore reactions. Things are going to change, and if they don’t account for that, they’ll be left behind. High levels of resilience signify a growth mindset, wherein leaders learn from what went wrong. These leaders recognize that something must and will go wrong, but it is a learning opportunity rather than a setback.

It is no longer appropriate to lead from the shadows and build personal power and assets. To rise above, these leaders today must be accountable in the public eye, not just when they’re backed into a corner, but as an ongoing behavior. This means that revolutionary leaders cannot stay neutral about subjects with which they or their team members are intertwined. The growing millennial population wants activism from their leaders, which requires an open-air accountability and commitment to everyone. With this, a revolutionary leader also carries a growth mindset not just for themselves, but for everyone and everything else. They see nothing as insurmountable or inalterable because they consider themselves as innovative, design thinking change-agents who chiefly need to fail enough times to find an optimal solution.

Nuts & Bolts

To accomplish this, revolutionary leaders need to be present to those in their charge, which requires knowing what others are thinking. Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, points out that forty percent of a leader’s emotional intelligence is made up of relating to other people, represented by empathy and social skill. These components directly affect networking by determining our awareness of other people’s emotions and ability to manage relationships. If a leader wishes to develop the necessary skills to improve their effectiveness, building a network is necessary.

Emotional intelligence is not the only correlating conduit however; individuals will eventually meet the limitations of their own social skills. It’s necessary at this point to branch outside of one’s own professional domains in order to gain perspective, referrals, and coaching. Effective networking, therefore, stretches the revolutionary leader’s capabilities beyond what they can do on their own. The closer a leader is to their network, the more they can see the important factors in others’ lives. Ultimately, the leader can form and voice an opinion that protects and strengthens the very people they are leading.

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Philip Clark
Philip Clark is a former business consultant who currently writes about where leadership meets psychology. On occasion he mixes in education and social impact, aiming to improve the world one person at a time. Earning his degree in Psychology and an MBA from the College of William & Mary, he offers insight into looking past a standard checklist life by digging into what makes you tick and then improving it.