the ceo magazine, transformational leadership,
Daina Middleton, Author, Grace Meets Grit: How to Bring Out the Remarkable, Courageous Leader Within

In a time when a company’s most valuable asset is harnessing the hearts and minds of employees, effective leadership is a must. Transformational leadership can provide organizations with unique differentiation in attracting and retaining young talent, including those in the millennial generation, and driving organizational performance and is, therefore, a powerful leadership skill. Transformational leaders act as inspirational role models, motivate others to go beyond the confines of their job descriptions, encourage creativity and innovation, foster good human relationships, and develop the skills of their followers. These are the qualities I refer to as “Grace.”

The most compelling case for having women in leadership may be that women more naturally apply what is arguably the leadership style of the future: transformational leadership. Companies are adopting transformational leadership in an effort to meet the increased demands of collaboration in a highly competitive global market and the requirements of a young, demanding workforce.

Unfortunately, this emphasis on connection, empathy, consensus building, collaboration, and questioning is often misconstrued as the inferior leadership style. During my career, I have witnessed two women lose their jobs because their managers, who were men, did not value or understand their approach to problem solving. Instead of perceiving that these two talented young women leaders followed a different approach to decision making, their bosses judged them to be incapable of solving problems because their process was not the cultural norm.

These women involved many more individuals in the decision process, which meant taking more time. Their solutions addressed the bigger picture—and, proactively, future problems—in addition to the more immediate ones. It was a progressive approach to problem solving that fit the transformational model. Through a better understanding about how communication style is directly tied to leadership style for both genders, women can have greater success in management positions. This is especially true in environments where they are surrounded by male peers and have a man for a boss.

The key insight is that this success does not come because women change their innate approach to leadership or adopt the male standard of leadership to fit in; rather, it is important that they embrace strengths they naturally bring to leadership and hold onto them. Recognizing the differences enables women to better understand the leadership environment that they are entering and level-set expectations about what they face when working closely with a fundamentally different style. Retaining their intrinsic superpower and transformational leadership style actually benefits the entire organization, in addition to improving their personal success in ascending the leadership ladder.

While women more often exhibit the characteristics of transformational leadership naturally, the leadership style is actually androgynous, meaning it incorporates both masculine and feminine behaviors.

This is where Grace meets Grit in the context of leadership is important. Both women and men can use the transformational leadership style to become remarkable, courageous leaders. This androgynous mixing of the masculine and the feminine, or the style of leadership where Grace meets Grit, will create the next generation of inspiring, driven, decisive, confident, powerful, resilient leaders.

Using divisive language, such as “men do this” or “women do that,” can cause tensions and trigger biases that impede progress. And we all understand that the definition of gender is broad today. Instead of framing these differences as a battle pitting men against women, I use the term “Grit” to describe how men tend to display leadership behaviors, and “Grace” for the leadership style more associated with women. This is an intentional overgeneralization designed to inspire the conversation.

Neither leadership style is right or wrong. Having a mix of both is best. Through a blend of Grace and Grit, organizational cultures can evolve to accept and actively seek out a wider spectrum of “good” leadership practices. This will create the transformational leadership style of the future and an environment that invites and inspires more women leaders to participate.

That future requires that women see other women in leadership, as role models. Women recognize that promoting more female leaders as role models is a bigger issue than parity—it would result in an improvement in the quality of life for all women within an organization. Because men hold the majority of leadership positions and are therefore making most of the leadership decisions for organizations, it is they who must understand what their organization is missing by not having women represented in leadership.

Given our increasingly complex and competitive global economy, organizations have an even greater need to ensure that the most talented employees rise to the top. It is my hope that, through Grace meets Grit, women will bring their real, transparent, honest, and authentic selves to work and be recognized, valued, and appreciated for their unique contributions.

About the Author

Daina Middleton is a former CEO, executive coach, consultant and author of Grace Meets Grit: How to Bring Out the Remarkable, Courageous Leader Within. For more information, please visit


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