Transformational Leadership in Times of Great Change

be a transformational leader

Transformational Leadership in Times of Great Change

Did you ever take one of those behavioral assessments? You know the kind with questions like these:  

When entering a party, you:
a.) look for someone you know
b.) start a conversation with anyone
c.) stand in the corner and look at your watch? 

Or, in a business meeting, you:
a.) Sit at the head of the table
b.) stand by the wall until everyone else is seated
c.) sit next to a colleague so you can safely complain about why you need to be in this meeting.  

Behavior, particularly in leadership roles, needs to adapt to the circumstances. Here is a simple example: 

My normal behavior is to avoid any proximity to a snake. That has served me well as I have yet to been bitten by one of the reptiles. However, a few years back I had a few teammates run into one at a distribution center we were just opening. A large, agitated snake was in the entrance way. As the senior person in that group, my behavior had to change. Armed with a very long push broom, I escorted the beast to a more suitable home.  

I adapted to the circumstance, but after the task, my behavior reverted to avoidance.

We are headed into a time of operational transformation. Supply chain constraints, labor shortages, real estate capacity shortages will all require a response. How we lead through that transition may require a modification to your typical leadership skills. The transactional leadership style that is successful in day-to-day behavior managing in steady state operating environments, won’t succeed.  

What is transactional leadership? 

“Transactional leadership is a style focused on organization, supervision, and performance. Transactional leaders value structure, order, and predefined rules. These rules are considered necessary to keep the organization running efficiently.” 

While those are all very important skills, they are not always the best during times of great change. Often transformational leadership is required to lead a change journey which then gets handed off to more transactional leadership for the steady state process. This is the ideal – the right leadership for the right circumstances. 

How many of us have the capacity to bring in a different set of leaders for change/transformation than what is there for status quo? Often the current leadership team also is tasked with managing the transformation. 

Since we already have a definition of transactional, that begs the question for transformational, “What are the skills needed to be a transformational leader?” 

Transformational Leadership requires specific skills. Let’s review the most critical ones and why they are so important. 

A transformational leader must have a vision; that’s the start of the journey. The vision and the future operation environment need to be the goal and while the path to get there may change, those two things stay in sync and consistent. The vision needs to be consistent with company culture and communicated and embraced by the internal team and other stakeholders. This allows the leader to be open to the unique strategies that can be employed to accelerate transformation rather than creating roadblocks.  

As you embark on a transformation in your warehouse operations, there will be a lot of planning and building out of a successful strategy. Then something will go wrong. It is so hard to anticipate what will go wrong, but regardless of the bumps, they cannot stop progress. To best handle these times, the ability to adapt is critical, especially when faced with a surprise. That type of behavior aligns well with a comfort-level in decision-making, where you want progress, not analysis paralysis.  

Transformational leaders need to be open to taking risks. Not random, poorly evaluated risks, but there will always be some ambiguity. A leader needs to act. The transformational leader gets the relevant data, gathers feedback from the team, and reviews alternatives to the situation. They are receptive to new ideas from the team and others, but in the end, they take responsibility for their decisions.  

It’s Contagious
The characteristics of being an adaptable visionary who makes well-thought out decisions in spite of occasional risk, and also takes responsibility, will develop confidence and inspire those around them to model those behaviors. This will help develop a new group of transformational leaders. 

Can a transactional leader modify their behavior to become a transformational leader? Change is never easy, but people are capable of change. A great deal of introspection is required that will also bring great opportunities for growth. Bonus: it might be a lot easier than wrangling a snake.