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Transformational leadership in a world of change


Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher, is quoted as saying "change is the only constant in life." 


Although this idea originated so very long ago it has proven to be true and never more so than the times we have been living through recently. With so much conversation about how our lives have changed due to the pandemic, it’s interesting to think about how such times call for a particular style of leadership. Are different types of leaders needed for different circumstances, and particularly during times of turmoil and change, be that planned or unexpected?


Changing times for the workplace


Without doubt we are living in a VUCA world where change seems to be the only constant these days. Originating from the US military, VUCA refers to the features of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity, that characterise the world of work today. Four key forces are causing this disruption to the working environment. These include technology such as AI and digitisation which are changing our work environments; new flexible working patterns as we emerge from the pandemic enabling remote and hybrid working; climate change and the enormous behaviour changes required to address the consequences for our planet; and the demand for equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) for all to be achieved both at work and in society. With such profound changes to be navigated by organisations, what particular type of leadership does this call for?


Leadership in times of change


If we define leadership as being about getting the best out of others, then the environment and context in which people are working will impact the type of leader needed in order to do this. At such times we need leaders who can recognise and support those they lead to believe in the change required and work towards the longer-term goal. This is where transformational leadership comes in.


What is transformational leadership?


Transformational leadership has been identified as one particular style that may be well suited to the changing environment we are in. Originated by James MacGregor Burns in the 70s, this is where the leader focuses on motivating and inspiring those in their teams to transform into the leaders of the change initiative. They inspire their team members to excel beyond their own expectation in terms of performance.


Transformational leaders are particularly suited to times of change as they see the longer-term vision and work towards enabling others to achieve this. They are comfortable with allowing others to work autonomously with a high level of personal control and they achieve change by inspiring others. This can be compared to a transactional form of leadership which focuses more on having the systems, resources, and processes in place to achieve a particular target or output. So, we could say that transformational leading is means-led, that is focusing on inspiring and supporting people to achieve change. Whereas transactional leadership is end-led, that is focusing on the achievement of end outputs.

Trust in leadership


But is this also about trust? A transformational approach is about giving people the motivation, inspiration, and autonomy to get on and achieve the changes within the system that are required. Autonomous working calls for a high level of trust in the relationship between the two parties. Leaders who are comfortable with high levels of autonomy in their teams and who delegate authority readily are demonstrating trust in the capabilities and commitment of their people. This can in turn lead to strong level of loyalty and engagement on the part of team members.

Could transformational leadership empower individuals to create change?


If we are to gain significant achievements across the big change issues of technology; new ways of working; climate change and EDI then we need change to be the responsibility of all and not just top-down, tick-box initiatives within organisations. If empowering people to recognise their role in making change happen and giving them the authority and autonomy to do it is the route to dealing with the challenges we face, then a style of leadership that is comfortable about leading transformation in this way has to be the way forward.


If you'd like to find out how coaching sessions could help you to understand your leadership style, or empower you in your career then please get in touch and book your free 30 minute consultation!




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