Although the terms transformative leadership and crisis management are used interchangeably, nothing could be further from the truth. Whereas crisis management assumes a critical, time-bound event with a beginning, middle, and end, transformative leadership is a framework for aligning people and changing an organization, which takes an evergreen approach. In short, there’s no finish line.
So, once you’ve created a direction for your organization, and begun executing the strategy that will create the value you desire, how do you make sure the transformation you have worked so hard to initiate endures to deliver results for the long term?
Often, it’s when the execution of the strategy begins that transformation efforts can start to unravel and move sideways rather than forward. This is usually due to leaders losing focus and disengaging with their teams who need frequent motivation to keep on delivering. For the leader, maintaining that focus boils down to two things: energy and visibility.
As a transformative leader, what can you do to help ensure your people are still as energized and motivated as they were at the outset? What can you do to help them push on through the inevitable obstacles and resistance that will arise and to avoid game-changing conditions like burnout?
First and foremost, leaders must be mindful of change fatigue. Anyone who has worked in an organization for a long period of time is likely to have seen many attempts at transformation, and they may well be sceptical about whether change is achievable, or whether it can last. Overcoming that initial scepticism is about making transformation personal – in other words, making clear to individuals ‘this is what I want you to do as part of this change, and this is what’s in it for you.’ But scepticism can creep back in if employees start to feel that the people leading the transformation aren’t as focused as they should be.
That’s where visibility comes in. Leaders need to show those around them, through the way that they lead and the way they communicate, that the transformation still matters. You cannot expect your people to still be committed to a challenge if they sense you’ve already moved on to something new. You must be visible, verbal and engaged – at every stage of the transformation.
Ultimately, maintaining focus through a process of transformation is about staying close to your people, which is another way of saying engaged. Leaders need to be able to detect when energy levels are starting to drop – and not just those of their employees, but themselves too. That’s the signal to talk, to ask questions, to take whatever actions are necessary to reaffirm the ‘why’ of the transformation effort.
Organizational structures matter in this context quite a bit. We talk a lot about the spans and layers of leadership. We’ve worked with organizations where 20 individuals report to a single leader. It’s impossible to stay close to that many people and understand exactly how they feel about their role and their organization.
Transformative leadership is a collective effort, not a solo mission. It’s not about being a hero. It should never be left to just one person – or even one team – to maintain that focus, that energy and visibility. Leaders at all levels, from senior executives to middle managers, need to recognise their role in keeping those around them focused on the road ahead, even when there is no chequered flag in sight.