Authenticity and Transformative Leadership: Navigating the Winds of Change


By, Michael Mellinger – O2X Mental Performance Specialist


In the realm of leadership, it is becoming commonplace to explore the intersection of authenticity and transformative leadership. Rather than rehashing and further saturating this topic, the following article will illuminate how ‘authentic leadership’ can inadvertently work against us, whether consciously or unconsciously. Furthermore, we will look at some applied skills we can implement to help us identify when authentic leadership moves from a catalyst for effective change, to a potential agent of self-destruction.


At the heart of transformative leadership lies the ability to inspire and elevate individuals and teams beyond their current capabilities. This form of leadership is fundamentally rooted in a deeper connection to a shared culture, purpose, values, and shared vision. On the other hand, authenticity provides a bedrock from which a leader’s actions, words, and intention align with their true self. 


Authenticity and transformative leadership can be likened to the relationship between wind and a ship. Authenticity serves the ways and means by which we react to the changing winds, propelling the ship forward in a manner consistent with our genuine expression of values and beliefs. On the other hand, transformative leadership assumes the role as a course charted by the captain. Together, authenticity and transformative leadership not only provide the map and means for our journey, navigating through familiar territories and uncharted waters, but also serve as the catalysts for revisiting established ideas and uncovering novel ones.


In an ideal scenario, the wind behind our sails remains a calm and consistent force, ensuring a smooth and purposeful trajectory. However, like any journey, there can be moments of turbulence. The winds may become unpredictable, demanding the full extent of our attention. As such, the captain – or leader – is looked to for a decision a) to reevaluate our course, embracing change and adapting to the evolving winds, or b) remain steadfast and hold to our established route, navigating the turbulence with resilience and determination. Pending on how we approach change, determines to what extent of ‘authenticity’ is expressed.


Herein lies one of the most potent cognitive skills leaders might use to help provide guidance and structure when facing tough decisions. Looking at our role in a different, albeit similar, regard. This skill enables us to dispel some of our established ‘routine’ biases1 and approach uncertainty in a creative way to explore alternative routes or solutions. On its most basic level, this skill metaphor gives us a reminder between the relationship of authenticity and transformative leadership: where we invite accountability for our decisions and subsequent actions in the face of adversity and setbacks. 


While there are inherent strengths to this approach there lies a hidden and often disguised influence – mindset. In the field of performance psychology, therein lies a concept called ‘fixed versus growth mindset’. Put simply, a growth mindset embraces a willingness to take in different perspectives and adapt a training/business principle(s) around a common goal, therefore promoting growth; whereas a fixed mindset embraces more established principles, commonly built upon years of trial and error, therefore stifling innovation. In traditional Layman’s terms: growth is good, fixed is bad. 


However, while there might be an appeal to this simplicity, mindset can be much more nuanced than that. Let’s look back at our ship metaphor. To chart a course effectively, it is important to look at the lay of the land you are approaching and ask yourself what your priorities are. We want to look at where people have gone before and succeeded and where they have failed; we want to look at how technology has changed and if previous failures were due to technical, financial, or skill set limitations; and we want to look at the overall resources we have at our disposal – influencing and often dictating our plans direction, duration, and plausibility.


While fixed and growth elements are frequently intertwined, our capacity to discern the strengths and weaknesses inherent in each mindset element significantly enhances our position with course of action (COA) planning. Without this recognition, we risk leaving ourselves susceptible to potential self-destruction, as we may become overly fixated on the destination rather than the journey. This is a common scenario where unconscious biases masquerade as ‘transformative leadership,’ and ambitious goals cloak themselves as ‘authenticity.’ 


Leaders who can effectively connect with their values and purpose (authenticity) become the ‘captains’ of positive change, inspiring transformative journeys within their teams and organizations. Simultaneously, transformative leadership nurtures authenticity by fostering a culture of trust, inspiration, and continuous learning. As we begin to furl our sails on this narrative and effectively apply these skills, we reveal a leadership landscape where authenticity and transformation come together, putting our teams in the most advantageous position for future success.

About O2X Mental Performance Specialist Michael Mellinger:

Michael is an O2X Human Performance Mental Performance Specialist. Throughout the last 7 years, Michael has worked in various roles ranging from a humble research assistant, to the Director of Performance Psychology Operations within the US Army 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne). He has helped build independent human performance focused departments at both the United States Naval Academy and the US Army’s 7SFG(A), served as the USNA’s liaison for one of the world’s largest research projects, and has earned recognition as one of the world’s premier human performance subject-matter-experts (SME) within US Army Special Operations – developing and managing over 10 state-of-the-art human performance programs. Currently, he serves as an SME working alongside special operations forces, first responders, and business leaders around the world and focusing on developing new and innovative methods of coaching to enhance human performance during person-to-person and kinetic engagements. 


About O2X Human Performance:

O2X Human Performance provides comprehensive, science-backed programs to hundreds of public safety departments, federal agencies, and the military. O2X works with clients to elevate culture, improve mental and physical wellbeing, support healthy lifestyles, and reduce healthcare costs associated with injuries and illnesses. Driven by results and cutting edge research, O2X programs are designed and delivered by a team of Special Operations veterans, high level athletes, and hundreds of leading experts in their respective fields of human performance.