In business today, more than ever before, the only certainty is change. With consumer preferences and expectations growing rapidly and a host of technological innovations transforming the way we think about work, productivity, and interaction, the status quo is a distant memory, and the future is a kaleidoscope of endless possibilities.
All this change and uncertainty have led to a new set of requirements for leaders looking to maintain engagement, productivity, and loyalty within their organizations. After all, when employees aren’t sure where their teams are headed or what their roles will look like in six months, and when they feel uncertain about their own futures, that anxiety compounds in the workplace, taking a toll on morale, quality of work, and eventually even the business’s bottom line.
So how do successful leaders help their businesses survive—and even thrive—through nonstop change?
What organizations need today are transformational leaders. As we’ve written recently, transformational leadership is an approach designed to inspire change in individuals, social systems, communities, or organizations. Because of its focus on long-term vision and openness to growth, transformational leadership is a style well-suited to navigating uncertain and rapidly evolving terrain.
The goal, in a nutshell, of transformational leadership is to create an environment in which employees not only understand but also embrace what they’re setting out to achieve, feel a sense of pride and ownership in their contributions, and feel safe sharing ideas and trying new things. Only under these conditions can an organization stay the course through rapid change, adopting new technologies, policies, and procedures and adjusting products, offerings, and messaging as appropriate—without making employees fear that their positions and the salaries and benefits that come with them are constantly on the chopping block.
3 Keys to Transformational Leadership
So how can a leader create this change-friendly culture? The way we see it, transformational leadership starts with three things.
1. Clear Vision
In a landscape where it often feels like there are new “shiny objects” to distract us every half hour, it’s all too easy to veer off target in your business, chasing every idea (and giving the team whiplash in the process) rather than staying the course and working diligently to achieve an established goal. When this happens, employees are likely to feel like they’re wasting time starting and stopping new projects every few weeks, wondering whether their hard work will amount to anything in the end. The results: burnout, disengagement, costly turnover, and very little to show for it.
But leaders who can remain true to their visions have a much easier job steering their teams through change. This confidence in their long-term goals actually gives them more flexibility to try out new processes or technologies with the understanding that every experiment is in service of the ultimate vision.
With the destination in mind, a transformational leader can make educated decisions about which pit stops, detours, and landmarks are worth exploring and which ones are best left for another day.
2. Commitment to Growth
As the demands on leaders change, so will the demands on their teams. But leaders who constantly expect more, different, and/or better work without giving employees the support they need to meet those expectations are more likely to inspire mutiny than transformation. Successful transformational leaders understand that innovation and change require constant growth, and they work to create a culture that values learning and development.
In fact, a survey from the Center for Creative Leadership found that investment in leadership development is critical in creating competitive advantages for organizations because it allows them to do four things that drive long-term success:
- Improve financial performance
- Attract and retain top talent
- Execute on strategy
- Successfully navigate change
Elaborating on that fourth point, the CCL says, “Leadership development increases people’s ability to respond rapidly in unpredictable business environments. […] We found that when facing an unpredictable business environment, 86 percent of companies with strategic leadership development programs were able to respond rapidly.”
It makes sense, doesn’t it? As the market and the tech evolves, our own teams’ skills will also have to evolve in order to stay ahead of the game.
In a recent article for Forbes, career coach Kathy Caprino defined the key characteristic separating successful, transformational leaders from others:
It’s the ability to listen and connect wholeheartedly—with compassion, respect, and emotional balance—with all people, regardless of their different ideologies and beliefs.
We agree (we’ve even done our own research on this kind of empathy and inclusivity in leadership), and we believe the root of that connection is communication. Leaders who can communicate in an open, authentic style—avoiding the temptation to put on different personas for different audiences—will inspire their employees to do the same. And a steadfast commitment to transparency and clarity at every opportunity will help ensure teams understand what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and how their personal investments contribute to the organization’s long-term success.
No matter what kind of environment a leader is trying to build, it’s critical to remember that culture comes from the top. If you’re a leader who wants your team members to embrace change, you have to embrace change. If you want them to engage in open, honest conversation, you have to engage them in open, honest conversation. Transformational leaders understand that they’re responsible for leading by example, building a culture of openness, trust, and constant learning in order to manage the organization successfully through whatever comes its way.