Having a leader who is prepared to take responsibility for implementing transformation is one thing, but never underestimate the importance of a leader who knows what qualities are required to lead one, and which ones he or she has.
Most of the technical aspects of a transformation, such as governance and stakeholder engagement, can be to some extent learned. But the genuine leadership qualities that make up a transformational leadership style – the type that can empower, motivate and win hearts and minds, are paramount for any business going through a significant change or transition period.
So what are the key qualities of a transformational leader? And why are they so important when driving business transformation?
Business transformation starts with a vision - a target operating model - of what the evolved business will look like. That vision needs to serve as a following and as a form of influence for the entire workforce. After all, a vision means nothing without buy-in from the whole organisation. People are the ones that make change happen and if they’re not engaged, the change programme simply won’t deliver.
Transformational leaders have the ability to motivate, inspire and convince everyone in the business to join them in their pursuit of the vision. It’s not just about communicating a sense of purpose so people know where the company is going. While communication is key, it’s the “Eureka moment” when employees accept and adopt the messages, that engages and embeds change.
Today, organisations exist in a disruptive environment, where change (or the requirement for change) is the norm. And business leaders acknowledge that to remain competitive they need to focus on creating adaptable organisations. To do this, they need to create an environment where employees think proactively about continuous improvement; where looking for opportunities to be more innovative is part of the culture.
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Effective leaders are ones who make people feel valued, encourage contributions and establish a positive environment for everyone in the business. Ultimately, managing change isn’t just about hard business skills and a rigorous approach to programme management. This needs to be coupled with the high emotional intelligence that is conducive to a transformational leadership style.
In large corporations, emotional intelligence is often not at the top of the agenda - but it’s important across all industries. In a disrupted world, success isn’t always about being strong and being right. It’s about being open to change and holding the wellbeing of your employees firmly in mind.
Transformation can be accompanied by uncertainty, unexpected events and setbacks, which can cause stress for people in the organisation. Leaders with a high emotional intelligence are better equipped to manage this. They are also empathetic and receptive to feedback, so will listen to everyone involved in change, consulting and involving them in the transformation process. By simply treating people like people, transformational leaders can make considered decisions that will increase the chance of a successful transformation.
Transformational leaders should be able to recognise the gaps in their own expertise; the areas in which they might require outside help. This is not to find fault with the capabilities of successful business leaders - but simply to understand that, as more and more organisations find themselves in unchartered territory, they may require input from someone more familiar with the terrain.
Interim executives can be an indispensable resource for business leaders in these instances. Interims with the specific skill set needed to fill these gaps can be brought in as and when needed. Transformational leaders leave their ego at home, and are more open to bring in outside help when needed to successfully deliver change.
Transformational leadership plays a crucial role in driving any change or transition within companies. By engaging employees to truly believe in the vision, creating an adaptable environment, taking a human approach to people and recognising where they need support, transformational leaders are equipped to deliver business transformation successfully.
You can read more about business transformation here.