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As much as the concept of leadership can spark a debate as to who are good leaders and who are bad leaders, the essence of the debate rarely touches on an often overlooked, seldom mentioned, but critical component of the dialogue. Though personality, skill, style and circumstances are the most frequently researched elements, it is interesting to note that the ‘mindset’ of a leader has only begun to inch its way into mainstream recognition. The notion of mindset has little to do with high or medium intelligence, street smarts, political aptitude or business cunning. These are all by products of the greater positioning of a thought process that moves beyond established boundaries and into a realm in which the product or service transcends the existence of the leader. This ‘transcendent leadership’ mindset represents more than a leader making a contribution, which satisfies many of the short term requirements for living, but is fueled by the idea of making a difference, which addresses the long term requirements for advancing humankind.

While research in this area has just started to emerge, the concept is not without working models in which to analyze and stimulate the thinking for future leadership development activities. The framers of the United States Constitution were clearly well-schooled, committed scholars and fighters who, individually, understood the importance of braking from the restrictive practices of an established government. The numerous biographies written about these men are woven around a common thread of dissatisfaction with the status quo and the recognition that something needed to change. As individual leaders, the effectiveness of their styles have been picked at and picked on through a series of scholarly reviews of their writings and actions from that era. However, collectively, the framers were a perfect example of the transcendent leadership mindset. They knew that what they were creating would be something that would outlast and transcend their existence. The long term effect would be for future generations to enjoy the benefits of a country in which individual freedom would be more important that governmental restrictions. As the last signer of the constitution faded into oblivion, he had to take some delight in knowing that many of their names would not be known among 21st century school children, but they would truly feel the impact.

Walt Disney understood something about the nature of human beings that went beyond the classic debate as to whether man is good or evil. As a cartoonist and creator of ‘basic-values based’ entertainment, it must have dawned on him that man’s good or evil is rooted in being ‘playful’ and if given the opportunity to play, we will. The thought process that went into the formation of Disneyland is indicative of a ‘transcendent leadership mindset’. While there were competing studios that managed to grind out a slew of characters designed to entertain the short term requirements of their audience, Disney saw beyond the silver screen and into the long term access to playfulness that would draw generation after generation to the Magic Kingdom.

A transcendent leader connects today with tomorrow by looking past the inner drive that anchors personal behavior and ego-centric limitations and focuses on how any organization can move beyond just meeting its goals. Having the ability and fortitude to take something that is static and make it dynamic, to elevate behavior to the next level of interaction and to position the mind to think as a ‘difference maker’ are only a few of the known qualities that are gleaned from the models established by the Founding Fathers, Disney and others. There are overlapping qualities from other models that also serve the mindset of a transcendent leader. Clearly the ability to formulate a vision that moves an organization to think beyond its bottom line is an important piece to this mindset model. We have thousands of examples of how to transact and transform organizations, but those organizations that are rooted in a transcendent leadership mindset are, understandably, few and far between.


© 2013 Lee E. Meadows
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