Transformational leadership, focus, and the power of conversation

In more than twenty years of collaborating with leaders to transform themselves, their teams and their organizations, it’s so apparent what a powerful tool conversation is.  Conversations can be transformative.

Conversation, and how a leader is being are probably a leader’s most powerful tools. Conversations can open opportunity and possibility that had not existed. And, we have all been in conversations that shut everything down.

We can think of transformational leadership as an approach, or way of being that produces sustainable, positive, inspired change in others and systems.

In working with clients at global organizations, at privately held firms and at academic institutions, I have seen over and over how the types of conversations a leader is having, and how the leader is being has profound impact on what’s possible and happens in the team or organization.

Often, I have found that a leader’s focus may be important to discuss. This may seem obvious, but when focus is clear and all actions, practices, conversations and people are aligned, amazing things happen. Exponential shifts in productivity, dramatic sales increases, and, greater well-being. Energy can be high. Too often, specificity about what we are all working to accomplish may not be clear. We may think it is, but we can see by what is happening around us when it is not. Meetings, practices, conversations then don’t accelerate what we are up to.  Confusion, gossip, turf jockeying will waste time and energy.

Abe Ankumah, chief executive of Nyansa, the rapidly growing software firm calls this focus “first principle” thinking. Quoted in an interview in The New York Times, he says, “it’s all about making sure that everyone understands the problem we’re trying to solve. And to do that, you have to maintain a broader perspective and listen very carefully to people.”

I spoke last year with Katy Lynch Ulliott, co-founder of Codeverse. You may know her as the former CEO of Techweek, or from the first business she founded, Social Katy.

Katy founded Codeverse® to bring more girls and minorities into tech and STEM fields overall. She says Codeverse is “the world's first fully interactive coding school and educational tech platform that teaches kids as young as 6 to learn to code.” The curriculum introduces all the foundations of computer programming while incorporating common core subjects including art, history, science, and math.

Katy credits focus with her successes, and says without clear direction and communication, leaders often stumble.

To engage others in achieving transformational goals, she says, “First and foremost, a leader needs to align everyone in the organization with the mission, vision, and values – what the company stands for and doesn't’ stand for. These serves to guide making decisions.”

In addition to focus, transformational leadership requires courage and skill. People also have to be willing to address what is out of alignment, and doesn’t work.

“People have to be willing to challenge, and look at even why a great idea may not make sense.”


This is an occasional blog about leadership and transformation. Let’s have a conversation. Please share your experiences, thoughts and ideas.

Jackie Sloane specializes transformational leadership retreats and interventions, and consulting and coaching leaders in transforming themselves, their teams and organizations . She is founder of Sloane Communications and has a cat named Catalena. Contact her at jackie@sloanecommunications.com.