Conscious leadership: Being able to show up fully, on fire, and free in every meeting and moment to lead the change. This does not mean being perfect but means being super-aware, at all times, of our foibles and flaws, our limitations and traumas, and using every day to heal, upgrade, and transform our patterns so we become more whole, more elemental, and more powerful (to, not over) every single day of our lives.

We are living in the Renaissance of Work. Just like great artists know that an empty canvas can become anything, great leaders understand that an entire organization — and the people inside it — can become anything, too. Master Artists and Mastering the Art of Leadership draw from the same source: creation. In this series, well meet masters who are creating the future of work and painting a portrait of lasting leadership. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Nick Jankel.

With over 25 years of hard-won experience advising ambitious leaders and organizations on the front lines of disruption, Nick Jankel is one of the world’s pre-eminent theorists and practitioners of transformational leadership and breakthrough innovation. He has worked with over 100,000 leaders in organizations like Google, Pfizer, Nike, PlayStation, and LEGO; and has designed and led c.100 breakthrough innovation projects for companies like Disney, Microsoft, Diageo, and Virgin. He has a Triple First from Cambridge University in Medical Science and Philosophy of Science and studied Clinical Medicine at UCL. Nick is the co-founder of Switch On Leadership and the lead developer of Bio-Transformation®. He is a world-renowned keynote speaker and futurist who has taught at Yale and Oxford and has coached celebrities and addicts on two international TV shows (BBC and MTV). He is the co-originator of the Self-to-System™ leadership curriculum and author of many books, including his latest, a book for teenagers about personal leadership, which was featured on the cover of Publishers Weekly and won a global award. To work with Nick Jankel, visit

Thank you for joining us. Our readers would enjoy discovering something interesting about you. What are you in the middle of right now that youre excited about personally or professionally?

I have to share two opposing polarities of my life’s work. One is developing a disruptive AI-driven transformational leadership development platform that will hopefully revolutionize how the leaders that want to transform the world can get the support, learning, coaching, and tools they need to do it. We’ve been developing different versions for 15 years, and the AI tech is now there to realize the vision in its full glory.

The other is the “Operating System” on which this platform and all our transformational leadership programs run. I don’t mean an OS of digital code but one that contains a source code for leading and landing change and transformation as fast as humanly possible. It has taken me alone, and then lots of collaboration with my business partner Alison McAulay, 40 years of combined research, study, experimentation, and practice to develop it. It’s called Bio-Transformation®, and it’s a cohesive theory for leading and landing lasting, positive change in individuals, teams, and organizations as fast as humanly possible — from the inside out — to adapt to the outside-in changes in our complex, disrupted, and crisis-hit world. Bio-Transformation® is underpinned by the latest brain, behavior, and complexity science integrated with trauma-informed therapies and wisdom and practices from the contemplative and embodiment traditions.

We all get by with a little help from our friends. Who is the leader that has influenced you the most, and how?

My various business partners have all taught me a vast amount, sometimes because of their genius, sometimes because of their foibles.

Sometimes our biggest mistakes lead to our biggest discoveries. Whats the biggest mistake youve made as a leader, and what did you discover as a result?

I have taken people at face value and trusted what they say to be true. That is an effective collaboration strategy for most potential employees, clients, or partners. But it is a major mistake for a few bad actors who are dangerous. So now I am much more circumspect, checking people out, seeking reviews/testimonials/recommendations, doing background checks, and above all, ensuring radical transparency in all transactions and conversations. The sunlight from radical transparency cleans and purifies lies, nonsense, and manipulation best.

How has your definition of leadership changed or evolved over time? What does it mean to be a leader now?

Leadership of any kind always means leading change, adaptation, or transformation, which is why we call it transformational leadership. In addition, most people think that innovation and business transformation (the outer work of transformational leadership) and leadership development (the inner work) are different, as they sit in separate silos and budgets in the organization. But for me, this is a profound category error and leads to many ineffective investments and fails. Innovation/change and leadership are two sides of the same coin. Leadership exists to drive forward and realize change/innovation/business transformation. These outcomes can only be landed with the competence, confidence, and consciousness of a truly transformational leader.

Success is as often as much about what we stop as what we start. What is one legacy leadership behavior you stopped because you discovered it was no longer valuable or relevant?

Doing too many things has gone in parallel with the nature of my broad interests, deep purpose, and a joyful passion for all things to do with lasting positive impact and profound human development. My old school reports say I spread myself too thin. While this polymathic ability and activity have been core to all my success, it is now getting in the way of delivering something extraordinary to the world in the form of our leadership programs, products, and platform, all based on the Self-To-System leadership curriculum we have developed over the last 20 years. This coherent approach has allowed me to fit all my polymathic goodness into one focused offer, and it’s been revolutionary for me.

What is one lasting leadership behavior you started or are cultivating because you believe it is valuable or relevant?

One of the critical areas I have been working hard on as a leader is to try and find the “authentic” individual I am leading, whether an employee, service provider, or client. This means first locating the authentic character within me, in my embodied self as I exist at that moment, and letting go of any front or patterns I am running to look good or feel safe. Then I harness my executive presence to find the embodied core of the person I am attempting to lead. I try to reach the individual’s character before all the defensive personality patterns and ‘front’ arose during their formative years. I do this with my voice and tone, with specific questions, with my way of holding space, with my authenticity in what we call the ‘relational fields’ between us all. With many defenses built up over many years, it’s not that easy for some people. For others, who may have personality difficulties or differences, it is nigh on impossible to find them. But most people open quickly to a connected, authentic, and ‘loving’ presence.

What advice would you offer to other leaders who are stuck in past playbooks and patterns and may be having a hard time letting go of what made them successful in the past?

Burn it all up (well, not all of it, the outdated stuff that is outmoded and holding you and the world back). Don’t be afraid to let go and release anything that is not working. The great news is that there is a trusted process for doing this, which includes the genius work human beings have developed with many wisdom traditions for grief and release; for healing and transforming. It is usually both scary and painful at the beginning. But with practice, the intensity of the pain and fear dampen down. The process is less extreme and much faster. And the upside of having breakthroughs in capabilities, confidence, compassion, and consciousness is so exciting that they start to make up for what they lost and what has been least!

Many of our readers can relate to the challenge of leading people for the first time. What advice would you offer to new and emerging leaders?

Distinguish between when you are in management mode (get stuff done well, to time and to budget, and improve it continuously over time) and leadership mode (inspiring, influencing, envisioning, storytelling, empowering, coaching, etc.). One way to help is that management conversations are always for the organization’s good. Leadership conversations are always about the good of all living things and our planet. They are aimed at multi-wins: a win for the organization, a win for the customer, a win for society, a win for the planet… and a win for you as a leader and your people too.

Based on your experience or research, what are the top five traits effective leaders exemplify now? Please share a story or an example for each.

These are the five critical areas of our Self-To-System™ approach to leadership.

Conscious leadership: Being able to show up fully, on fire, and free in every meeting and moment to lead the change. This does not mean being perfect but means being super-aware, at all times, of our foibles and flaws, our limitations and traumas, and using every day to heal, upgrade, and transform our patterns so we become more whole, more elemental, and more powerful (to, not over) every single day of our lives.

Wise leadership: Being able to make sense of enormous complexity using the two great strands of information, information from the outer world (science, evidence, results, intellect, models, data) and information from our inner world (awareness, presence, insight, intuition, imagination, empathy, compassion); make decisions that create a middle way between our abiding purpose/morality/love with our desire and need for productivity/excellence/strategy; and then build things in the world that deliver these two and move the complex world forward — so wise sense-making, decision-making, and form-making.

Relational leadership: Being able to foster strong, reciprocal, interdependent relationships with our employees, customers, collaborators/suppliers, and the animals/plant/land itself that unlock the change, innovation, and transformation we envision — and crucially, having the confidence, capability, and humility to repair the ruptures in relationships that inevitably occur between two or more people doing big and bold things (whether a breakthrough innovation or a lifelong love affair). This relationally requires us to slow down, invest in connection and much as production, come into emotional resonance and cognitive coherence with others, be more seasonal and rhythmical with our work and efforts, etc.

Creative leadership: Being able to listen to unmet needs and unexpressed ideas “from the future” that show up in weak signals, customer frustrations, emerging problems that matter, etc.; turn these insights into ideas with our imagination, then commit to building something bold and bold but also purposeful; and then going on the very long journey of realizing that vision with small, modest daily steps and celebrate the efforts as much as the excellence, the mistakes and learning as much as the awards and exits as we break through limitations and conventions on the path of transformation.

Influential leadership: Being able to use storytelling, narrative structures, ethical influencing techniques, systemic change wisdom, multi-stakeholder processes, and regenerative thinking to bring everyone you need to bring with you on the long path of transformation: resistors as much as champions; employees as much as investors; emerging customers as much as the giant whales. This requires us to use our intelligence to develop metaphors, memes, and feelings of membership and mastery as much as spreadsheets and strategies. It requires us to balance chutzpah with chochma (Hebrew for wisdom) and humility and hubris as we lead from the inside out to shift a system.

American Basketball Coach John Wooden said, Make each day your masterpiece.” How do you embody that quote? We welcome a story or example.

I do everything I do, literally everything, to the best possible quality that I can… while also forgiving myself for needing to boundary my time at work so I can also be a great dad, dog owner, husband, friend, son, brother, and more. These non-commercial forms of leadership are as necessary, if not more important, than my purpose and passion work and influence and inspire me to be a better entrepreneur and leader of leaders.

What is the legacy you aspire to leave as a leader?

A game-changing way of doing leadership development (embodied, trauma-informed, wisdom-wired, experiential, transformative, tool-empowered, practice-based, etc. at Switch On Leadership), a leadership development curriculum (Self-To-System™), a leadership development platform ( and a leadership development theory (Bio-Transformation®) that together fundamentally transform what people think leadership is, what leadership development can be, and how to do it so it transforms people, planet, and organizations for good.

How can our readers connect with you to continue the conversation?

Now Lead the Change: Repurpose Your Career, Future-Proof Your Organization, and Regenerate Our Crisis-Hit World by Mastering Transformational Leadership

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to experience a leadership master at work. We wish you continued success and good health!