Increasingly, companies are leaning (or hoping to lean) on technological innovations to drive business transformation – and who can blame them? Advances in artificial intelligence, data and analytics, or digital technology offer businesses seemingly countless opportunities to save more, waste less, and move faster. There’s no doubt these advancements can drive change to the business, but technology-driven change can only go so far. Meaningful change requires executives to demonstrate transformational leadership characteristics as an imperative for business change.
So much of an organization’s ability to execute true business transformation is contextual. The industry, products, and customers will ultimately shape and finetune a transformation strategy. Below, however, we’ve outlined the transformational leadership characteristics agnostic to company type or position that can help an executive team align and commit to the strategy and the necessary business changes that emerge from change.
Shared Goals, Information, and Decision-Making
A robust roadmap, budget, and resource plan will all be for naught without a leadership team that understands the end goal and what it takes to get there. The term alignment is often used to convey mutual understanding – in the case of business transformation, there’s no opportunity to allow alignment to be anything but complete and omnidirectional understanding by all stakeholders. Transformation projects often squander money and time and not because the plan isn’t suitable but because stakeholders do not hold a shared understanding of the vision.
In order to combat the potential for misalignment, have the macro, big picture discussion about where your company is headed early and often. The path to buy-in will vary by stakeholder so taking that into account and driving focused discussions around the goals and impacts to each individual, their teams, and functional areas will draw a more complete awareness and comprehension. Once individual discussions have taken place, bringing all stakeholders together to discuss where there’s overlap and impact cross-functionally, and where decision-making is shared, can be tremendously valuable.
Once alignment has been established, leadership must become laser-focused on maintaining continuous alignment in the face of changing conditions. Inevitably, assumptions will pan out differently than originally planned but as long as the transformation vision, goals, information, and decision-making are shared, a transformational leadership team can remain aligned and continue the evolution. The democratization of knowledge should be a centerpiece of the project so that both leadership stakeholders and impacted individuals and teams understand the path to transformation, its milestones, and cross-functional effects. This level of alignment serves as one of the core transformational leadership characteristics as it enables sustainability in the transformation process and facilitates effective collaboration.
Embracing Friction Where It Counts
In true transformation, shared understanding and friction aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. Transformation is hard – and it should be. Transformation requires the elimination of strongly held business models and paradigms, and forces individuals to stretch or abolish their preconceived notions about the business and its goals. A lack of friction in transformation often means that the business isn’t actually changing, it’s repositioning or shifting but not actively transforming. Embracing the friction ultimately drives a better outcome for the business as a whole. That’s not to say that a leadership team should be overrun with discord but that, in removing the conflict powered by egoism or fear, the remaining friction empowers business transformation.
Friction forces leaders to reexamine positions, test boundaries, and challenge their strategic beliefs – all elements of a genuine transformation. As long as leaders are aligned to the ultimate goal and committed to transformation, friction serves as a positive means to the end. At the end of the day, friction indicates a diversity of thought and perspective which numerous studies have proven have positive correlations to improved innovation and long-term success. Mandate open and authentic communication among leadership teams where individuals are encouraged to check egos and find the optimal balance in opposing views to ultimately enable a more successful transformation.
Failing and Succeeding Successfully
In the transformation journey, leaders must be prepared for episodes of both success and unfortunately, failure. Part of any transformation requires a degree of risk and experimentation so inevitably some aspects of the process fail to meet intended outcomes. In the same vein, those same risks and experiments will pay off and lead to intended (and hopefully improved) outcomes. Part of the modern approach to business transformation requires continuous improvement – which is defined by assessing and correcting failures small and large, and also recognizing and capitalizing on successes for long-term sustainability.
For many companies in a transformation mindset, mistakes arise when the business views success or failure as an inflection point. In success, they may scramble to take credit or maintain status quo, where in failure, they may assign blame or drastically alter course. In either case, the way in which leadership reacts to intervals of success or failure should be more similar than many would assume – assessing the event, identifying its cause and effect, and contextualizing it to the high-level purpose of the business transformation. And, being courageous enough to simultaneously praise and critique the individuals and teams involved in both the failures and successes.
Motivating with a Transformation Narrative
Large-scale transformation initiatives can be perfectly planned but without leaders and teams being committed to the transformation and motivated to achieve it, success will ultimately fall short. Solving integration challenges or identifying points of process improvement are inherently much more straightforward than leveraging the necessary emotional intelligence to motivate yourself, your peers, and your teams. By nature, each individual is motivated differently – a broad approach to motivating teams to commit to the transformation will only come across as out of touch and inattentive.
In order to drive commitment and motivate the organization, members of the leadership team must first develop the transformation narrative. Driving this is a commitment to open, genuine channels of communication where each leader can relay the narrative and its application to their teams and functional areas. Through this, leaders create a story that each individual in the organization can champion. By nature, human beings are storytellers, it’s one of the most ancient forms of communicating ideas. Creating a narrative around transformation not only engages your teams, it humanizes the transformation from processes, timelines, and budgets to something more accessible and real.
The rate of change in the business landscape continues to grow exponentially. As leaders look to drive transformation within their own business to match the accelerated pace externally, it’s critical to develop the necessary transformational leadership characteristics to drive effective change.