Why transformational leadership is the approach teams need during challenging times

By Matt Weston on 27th April 2020

Business is not the same as it was a month ago. The level of extraordinary change to what we used to consider business-as-usual has seen many executives re-evaluate their entire approach to leadership. And rightly so.

Business decisions now have much wider implications than simply missing a revenue target. The health and safety of employees, colleagues and customers should also be considered. This takes the notion of transformational leadership and lends it an entirely new gravitas.

A transformational leadership style has been defined as according to Burns (1978) as the process where leaders and followers engage in a mutual process of raising one another to higher levels of morality and motivation. Today, this relationship between leader and employee creates a positive working environment which supports the development and empowerment of employees. It is, without a doubt, the leadership approach best suited to times of crisis.

The disruption is likely to continue for an unknown period of time and, as the situation develops, circumstances will continue to change on a daily basis. What does this mean for business leaders worldwide? How can leadership approaches be transformed to best serve workforces and customers?

The following key considerations take the transformational leadership style and demonstrate how it can be used to support teams, customers and business impact going forward.

Instilling leadership autonomy through clear priorities

Now is the time to set aside common business goals and strip everything back to a clear hierarchy of essential priorities. There is no room for ambiguity; every business leader must understand exactly what each priority outcome looks like.

Through this, teams are empowered to make dynamic decisions more quickly, assured that they are still acting within the business remit and the best interests of their people.

Greater autonomy should also be extended to employees further down the chain of command. Challenging home-based work circumstances (such as home-schooling obligations or limited resources) may mean that employees aren’t able to work traditional business hours. Leaders who can trust that each individual is aware of responsibilities and deadlines will support them strive to meet them in the most effective way possible.

Nurture operational resilience

During periods of extreme disruption, a positive company culture and autonomous work ethos will be the cornerstone of employee resilience.

Through a transformational leadership style, individuals are encouraged to problem solve in more exploratory ways under the clear hierarchy of business priorities laid out for them.

Transformational leadership will lean further into the notion of giving independence to employees, imbuing them with the confidence to take initiative without fear of failure.

Similarly, times of adversity often provide top performers and innovators the unique circumstances they need to thrive. Our sister company, Protiviti recently released an operational resilience insight report which found merit in using current challenges to identify and nurture these new leadership contenders.

Maintain open lines of communication

Never has effective communication in the workplace been so essential. Business processes will remain in a state of trial and error while workforces stress test them. By maintaining open and clear lines of communication, processes can be amended and evolved in real-time as a response to employee feedback.

Clarity on working arrangements, employee status, and business strategy are essential to combat the understandable fear and anxiety employees may be experiencing. Transparency is paramount. Communicate with empathy and encourage your managers and their teams to do the same.

Find unity through company culture

It is understandable that employees may feel a sense of disconnect and isolation under social distancing measures. Company culture can be leveraged to create a support network and keep morale high during uncertain times.

Remote working for long periods of time may erode the culture which underpins the business at a point when it is most crucial. Keeping everyone connected, collaborative and communicative will continue to ensure good morale and high productivity.

We all hope that the actions take every day will positively affect business outcomes. To get us all through the coming days, weeks and months, our leadership habits must change to the support and encouragement of our teams. We are all in this together and must embrace the uncertainty of the future with empathy, understanding, and a desire to transcend difficulty.

Find more hiring and management advice we have available at Robert Half.

Robert Half Managing Director Matt Weston

Matt Weston, Managing Director, Robert Half UK

Matt has worked for Robert Half for more than 20 years; he began his career as a recruitment consultant for Robert Half Finance and Accounting in 1999. Matt quickly excelled as a top consultant and earned a number of prestigious awards including being recognised four times as Robert Half’s worldwide number one consultant. With extensive experience in financial recruitment in the UK, Matt is a familiar industry figure and a valuable spokesperson on current trends affecting the market. 

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