Why transformational leadership will help your company thrive in a disruptive world

Brexit, COVID, the war in the Ukraine – for business of all sizes, the last few years have been challenging in the extreme. As well as having to successfully navigate operational issues such as supply chain pressures and price increases, they’ve also had to deal with the changing expectations of their employees with working from home and hybrid working becoming increasingly the norm. 

The reality is the repercussions of the last few years is changing the face of the business world as we know it and many business leaders have simply been focusing on responding and recovering. 

But the real trick is to learn how to thrive and one of the ways of achieving that is through transformational leadership. 

We take a look at what that actually means, why it’s good for business and some initial steps you can take. 

What is a transformational leader? 

“Transformational leaders…are those who stimulate and inspire followers to both achieve extraordinary outcomes and, in the process, develop their own leadership capacity. 

Authors Bass and Riggio – Transformational Leadership

The term ‘transformational leadership’ was first coined by James V Downtown in 1973 and subsequently built on by James Burns and then Bernard Bass

In essence, a transformational leader helps followers grow and develop into leaders by empowering them and responding to their individual needs. They ensure the goals and objectives of the organisation are aligned with those of the individual, helping create an engaged workforce who have a say in shaping a company’s future success. 

Great transformational leaders included Barak Obama, Martin Luther King, and Phil Night. 

In comparison, a transactional leader is results driven. They aren’t interested in motivating or inspiring others, but rather in telling them exactly what to do and using rewards and punishments to achieve the optimal results. 

Being a transactional leader isn’t a bad thing, just look at Bill Gates, but in times of uncertainty and disruption a transformational approach is likely to be more successful. Not only will it help raise morale and self-confidence, but also inspire people to come together to work towards a common goal. 

And while adopting a transformational leadership style takes time and effort to fully understand and apply, here are some things a business leader can do immediately. 

Decide what good looks like for a leadership team

Responsible for making important strategic decisions and articulating the purpose of an organisation, a leadership team isn’t just a group of senior executives, but rather the nerve centre of a business. How they behave and work together, especially in these challenging times, sets the tone for the whole organisation. Therefore, it’s imperative the right team is at the helm, but to do that you need to understand what good looks like. 

A leadership team with different skillsets and strengths is a given, but in addition, they should also: 

  • Embody the values and culture of the company 
  • Remain ethical in words and actions, even when things are difficult 
  • Motivate and empower their own teams to do the best they can
  • Have a ‘greater good’ mindset with a willingness to put the aims of the company and others before their own personal aspirations.  

A good leadership team will let an organisation thrive; a bad one will see it fail. 

Review how to evaluate a leadership team 

Whilst measuring results against objectives is important, a transformational leader will place more emphasis on other factors such as: 

  • Clarity of communication: are they able to clearly describe the vision and values of the company and inspire their own teams to embody them?   
  • Commitment: are they fully committed to the goals of the company and happy to make personal sacrifices to help others with their work? 
  • Set a good example: does their work ethic and how they conduct themselves ensure they are a strong role model?
  • Integrity: do they treat all their team members equally and avoid favouritism?   
  • Resilience: how have they coped during these challenging times? Do they receive critical feedback openly and work to make improvements? 

This provides a more rounded perspective and helps ensure they in turn are supporting and empowering their own teams. 

Assess how to support your leadership team 

Measuring the success of a current leadership team isn’t just about reviewing what is going well, it’s also about identifying ways you can support them to do better. This could include: 

  • Providing training or upskilling opportunities
  • Communicating on a regular basis so everyone has ample opportunity to clarify expectations or express concerns
  • Encouraging members to express their ideas  
  • Providing actionable feedback 

Support is also about eliminating the fear people have of making mistakes. A true transformational leader encourages their team to think outside the box and take calculated risks without worrying they will be castigated for it. 

Provide mental health support

A new report has just found that two-thirds of people would not feel comfortable raising mental health issues with their employer. 

Given the impact the pandemic has had on mental health, it’s more important than ever that companies provide an environment where people feel supported, something that is at the heart of being a transformational leader. 

Developing an approach that protects and improves mental health for everyone is the first step and the Mental Health Foundation provides a useful employer checklist. In addition, you should encourage the leadership team to:     

  1. Look out for signs of loneliness, the theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week
  2. Offer reasonable adjustments, such as changing someone’s working pattern, or suggest home working to help manage anxiety or stress
  3. Communicate effectively if there are any significant changes to the business, such as restructuring or redundancy, so people have time to come to terms with the changes. Also offer additional support, both internal and external. 

There’s no doubt that the last couple of years have been difficult, and sadly it doesn’t look like it is going to get any easier any time soon. But being a transformational leader, who supports and encourages employees, develops an environment of mutual respect, and has a clear and inspirational vision of the work to be done and the team’s role in doing it, will enable a business not just to recover, but also to thrive. 

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