While so much is being written today about how to become a truly remarkable leader, most of it falls very short. Transformative leaders don’t just achieve phenomenal business success: they foster a culture that nurtures in people the ability to feel they are contributing at the highest level towards something that is making a true difference in the world. To learn more about what is required to become a transcendent leader, Kathy Caprino caught up Fred Kofmam, an advisor, leadership development at Google and former vice president of executive development and leadership philosopher at LinkedIn.
According to Kofman, transcendent leaders are rare, but they do exist, and he profiles a number of them in this book. They inspire followers not by relying on carrots and sticks (offering a nice salary, bonus, and tangible perks, or threatening them with demotion or the loss of their job) but by appealing to the belief that they are spending their waking time making a difference in the world. Here’s what Kofman shares:
Kathy Caprino: From your view, what’s going terribly wrong today in leadership of our companies and our country today? What’s missing and how can we fix that in a practical way?
Fred Kofman: People equate leadership with formal authority. They confuse leading with bossing. Bossing is to use formal authority, rewards and punishments, to get people to do your bidding. Leading is eliciting their internal commitment to pursue the mission.
Leadership has nothing to do with formal authority; it has everything to do with moral authority. You can’t threaten or buy hearts and minds; you can only earn and deserve them.
Caprino: In your book you talk about how can we “die before we die,” and discover our own legacy we want to leave behind, while we still can shape it. How do we do that, exactly?
Kofman: The first reference to “die” here means to “confront the fact of your mortality” by reflecting on it, bringing it fully into your awareness, and considering its implications.
The second reference means to die literally. Dying before you die means coming to terms with the limited nature of your existence in order to fully grasp life’s richness and possibility. If you leave thinking about your death until you are about to die, you will miss death’s counsel—which is a very wise one.
To do this you can think about it, journal, meditate, talk, paint, watch a movie, or do anything that allows you to connect with such an awesome (and perhaps ominous) presence, and engage it “coolly.” That is to say, with calm intelligence rather than fear or anxiety.
Caprino: For those of us who want to lead a truly heroic life, what do we have to overcome in ourselves first?
Kofman: The first thing to overcome is the belief that heroism is beyond our ordinary lives.
We have been conditioned, by comic-book superheroes, to believe that we require superpowers to live heroically. This is false. Heroism is about values and virtues, not about power. Responsibility, respect, humility, truth, justice, freedom, and love, are the essence of moral heroism.
Every day, we confront situations that give us the chance to demonstrate these virtues. We just have to realize that it is precisely in those situations where we need to behave heroically, and not wait for the life-or-death struggle against a super villain — which will likely never come.
Caprino: Finally, how can people who aren’t top leaders and influencers still make the meaningful impact they dream to?
Kofman: I can’t do better than quote Mother Theresa: “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love”.
Read more on Forbes.com.