There’s no “best” leadership style, no “magic bullet” when it comes to leading a company. But a certain style of leadership is ideal for certain circumstances.

At a time when companies are trying to think of out-of-the-box methods to navigate a post-pandemic future, when the old ways of doing business or work may no longer be applicable, leadership styles may need to change too.

Visionary leadership is said to be ideal for times when organisations are rethinking business models or setting new directions. Visionary leaders see the world differently. They are not limited by “shoulds” or “this is how things are always done”. They encourage others to experiment and innovate.

But vision without action is useless. Leaders who have their heads too much in the future will be “all ideas but no results”. Often, I find that leadership is not lacking in vision – they often have an abundance of it. What they lack, however, is good execution.

That’s why I prefer “transformational leadership”. It means being proactive instead of reactive. Getting things done instead of procrastinating. Turning vision into reality.

Cultivating transformational leadership

Leadership expert James MacGregor Burns is said to have come up with the concept of transformational leadership in 1978.Transformational leadership, he said, will be transformative for both the leader and the follower.

In an ever-evolving world, organisations need to be proactive. They need to come up with new solutions to stay ahead of the time. During times like these, your company’s management will differentiate it from average to extraordinary.

Transformational leaders are needed because they:

  • Encourage and unite people with a common goal
  • Inspire people to reach higher  
  • Innovate and experiment, take risks and head out to new directions
  • Make strategic plans on how to get there

They inspire people with the vision of change and help others see it. They realise that for transformation to happen, everyone needs to be aligned to the same goal and must know how they directly contribute. They take time to engage and communicate the vision to their people.  

When we think about transformational leaders, we imagine the Steve Jobs and the Elon Musks of the world.

However, this style of leadership is not just reserved for the C-Suite. Middle and lower-level managers should practice this type of leadership too as they carry out the strategic change.

Danger comes when executives are not aligned with the transformational strategy. Visionary leadership without organisational alignment may create confusion with employees. (Managers are often not aligned because they’re too focused on their departmental goals instead of the big picture.)

So whilst transformational leadership starts from the top, to be truly effective, it must be clearly deployed down the ranks.

Reshaping for recovery

As signs of recovery tentatively creep back into the economy, forward-looking organisations are working to redefine their “business as usual” and arrive at a transformational strategy. Along the way there are important aspects that you, as a leader, should consider:

Establish a compelling need: In 2020, your organisation endured a crisis, pivoted, and changed. An important reflection is the fact that this rapid change happened because there was a very compelling need to change. Make sure that for your future strategies you identify and constantly communicate a compelling need for change.

Communicate with empathy: Good change leaders consistently communicate the purpose of the change, tie it back to company strategy and explain how it will benefit employees. This is Leadership 101. However, during unprecedented times like these, communication needs to be blended with empathy to build trust and establish buy in.

Build resilience: Leaders must be resilient physically and mentally so that they can maintain the energy required to facilitate the change. Everything is difficult before it is easy – high levels of time and attention must be sustained to drive through significant transformation. You may be a leader, but you are also human. Be sure to take care of yourself first before taking care of others.

Balance patience and support: Effective transformational leaders remember that people need time to change. They may need to be patient and give people space. However, they also need to recognise when support is required. Failing to address people’s capacity to change (this can be bandwidth, capabilities, resources, or tools) is one of the top reasons change efforts flounder.

Build on the culture of change: During the pandemic, the factors that enabled the rapid changes – the champions that rallied employees, the systems that were put together overnight –are still alive in the company. Success breeds success. So, build on the recent culture of change that your people have experienced. If we’ve done this before, we can do this again!

Walk the talk: To garner participation, you yourself must participate in the efforts. Be an example and encourage others to be the same.

During the height of the pandemic, most organisations operated in crisis mode. As the world moves towards a post-pandemic recovery, leaders must be ready to guide their organisations out of emergency mode into something of a semblance of normality. Yet, the crisis remains in the background. Supply chains remain overstretched and working restrictions continue. So, it’s still important to steer organisations on a transformational journey.

That is a big job.

You may well have heard the expression: “It’s 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” In the end, transformational leadership is much less about vision but more about delivery. Do you agree?

Krishna Paupamah has worked with companies globally to transform their business for over 35 years. He is the Founder and Group CEO of Renoir Consulting.

This article first appeared in Business Today.