If you were to gather the world’s most imaginative storytellers and its most pedantic planners in one room and ask them to come up with a vision of the future, how accurate would that future be?

Most likely, it would not be accurate at all if the trajectory of the past few years is any indication. Even ignoring the unprecedented pandemic still affecting our communities, certainly the most meticulous business strategists of 2010 could not have imagined that Bitcoin – valued at a meager 10 cents that year – would pave the way and legitimize cryptocurrency, with over 4.3 million Filipinos ready to test their luck at the gamble. Or that the big crypto crash earlier this month would stoke real fears from experts of affecting the stock market, likening the phenomenon to market crashes that preceded recessions.

Unexpected as it is, the crypto market crash is but one example of the economic disruptions that we must now account for as business owners and corporate leaders. The modern world has brought with it a host of new and modern problems. And the best way to solve them, according to practitioners of transformational and agile leadership, is to make a firmwide mindset shift from “reactive” to “creative”.

What is transformational leadership?

Rather than reacting to problems and situations as they arise, transformational leaders embrace risk and inspire creative collaboration from their teams to bring new ideas to the market. Even the ethos of transformational leaders is totally modern. They are guided by a compelling purpose and compassion and lead primarily by example, influencing their employees to share their vision and express the same commitment to the organization’s overall success.

The culture created by this philosophy emphasizes an individual’s importance in the attainment of collective goals. Transformational leaders clearly communicate expectations and provide employees with the resources, training, and support needed to achieve them. As such, it is no wonder that organizations helmed by transformational leaders often also have empowered members. Recent studies have found that such settings more frequently result in positive employee behavior. Employees are reported to perform better at their roles, help their colleagues more often, be more confident in their ability to make strategic decisions, and be more satisfied and proactive overall.

The purported strengths of transformational leadership signal business health and resilience, making it a perfect fit for the constantly evolving and disruptive landscape that we have. Those wishing to adapt and reap the benefits of this management style can do so: first, by finding a purpose to move the organization towards; and second, by ensuring the organization has empowered employees and agile leaders.

Leaders as advocates of improvement

Any big organizational shift must first be embraced at the top before effectively cascading down to the regular staff. Especially in the case of shifting towards a more visionary and autonomous mindset, executives have the difficult task of being innovative themselves to inspire these sentiments in others.

As cliché as it sounds, this innovative mindset starts from thinking and being outside the box. The most lauded transformational leaders, such as Reed Hastings or Satya Nadella, are notable for being industry “outsiders” or previous members of their company’s experimental growth pipelines. Thus, their limited familiarity with the organization’s norms allowed them to envision new paths that it could take.

Organizations can achieve the same effect by training their executives to detach, ask mission-critical questions, and consider the company’s outlook and impact from the perspectives of multiple stakeholders. Moreover, having executives participate in regular training for agile leadership capabilities – such as decision-making, storytelling, and ideation – engages senior leadership and allows for easier adoption across the firm.

Teams as autonomous units

But the real strength of transformational leadership is found in how it affects team members and the organization’s operations. Once leaders have made the creative shift and determined their organization’s purpose, the following steps would be transforming the core business and exploring new growth paths to ensure the company is future-proof.

Again, looking at Hastings’ journey, Netflix has gone into DVD rentals, streaming, and original content production almost simultaneously. Such a multifaceted transformation would require all hands on deck. Hence, forming a network of smaller autonomous teams, each tasked with creating value for the business and customers, would foster diverse ideas and allow faster implementation and response.

In this kind of business model, leaders must learn to relax their rein on the controls in order to allow individuals to thrive and gain confidence in their problem-solving skills. Instead of bosses directing their subordinates, transformational leaders are more like supervisors and pioneers. They ensure compliance with the organization’s purpose and expectations, but mostly their role is to safeguard employee empowerment and allow employees to provide their best work. So, that means setting goals that are purposeful, intellectually stimulating, and attainable; elevating leaders who inspire trust and collaboration among the stakeholders; actively seeking out and implementing employee suggestions; providing a supportive environment; and most important of all, embracing the process of trial and error.

Needless to say, an organizational transformation would require the efforts and enthusiastic participation of the entire staff. Though it may seem like a formidable task to be the figurehead of a visionary future, remember that the core of transformational leadership is trust. First, trust in yourself and your ability to move people to action through real purpose and betterment. Second, trust the people who are with you precisely because of their experience and expertise in their respective fields. As a leader, you can hold your people accountable but never hold them back.


As published in The Manila Times, dated 01 June 2022