Transformational leadership needed to take businesses to new level

01 December 2016 6 min. read

Faced with rapidly changing global developments, executives should embrace transformational leadership as one way through which they can drive their business to respond to tomorrows challenges – remaining sustainable.

In a period of considerable change, from sustainability to rapidly progressing innovation, leadership is often required to act responsively to future demands. Changing behaviour, particularly when those whose behaviour needs to change cannot fathom the reason for the changes, has historically been hard to achieve. People tend to become set in their values, ways of doing things and expectations, even if they do not fit with the reality facing companies, or the wider environment in which civilisation, as such, might thrive.

Leadership is one key driver to bring about changes in employees’ practices, in light of new goals, standards, and ways of working. In a new report from Korn Ferry, the recruitment and consultancy firm explores in how far businesses are developing effective leaders. The report, titled ‘Real World Leadership: Develop leaders who can drive real change’, is based on a survey of 7,500 managers from businesses in 107 countries.

Rank the most pressing strategic business priorities

Strategic priories

In terms of the most ‘strategic business priorities’ for the organisations surveyed, ‘improving profitability’ remains the number one ranked, at 23% of respondents ranking it as number one, 16% as number two and 12% as number three. ‘Increasing organic market share’ takes the number two spot, at 20% ranking it number one, 14% ranking it number two and 15% ranking it number three. ‘Accelerating the pace of innovation’ comes third, cited by 16% as their most pressing priority.

Meeting these strategic targets, as well as others that may be on the horizon, transformation is in many instances required, as David Dotlich, president of Pivot Leadership, a Korn Ferry company, explains, "Companies understand that we’re in a long era of slow global growth. They’ve reduced debt, downsized, and re-focused their businesses. They’ve done everything that’s easy to do. Now they are in the search for growth. And they know that it’s going to come from innovation, creativity, change, and finding new ways to do things." 

Most important leadership development priorities

Leadership development priorities

In terms of leadership development priorities, ‘developing leaders to drive strategic change’ is ranked the most important leadership development priority by 29% of respondents, while 19% rank it as number two. ‘Filling gaps in your leadership pipeline’ is ranked number one by 22% of respondents, while 16% rank it number two. ‘Driving cultural change’ is ranked third, at number one by 16% of respondents, while 16% rank it number two. 

‘Diversifying the leadership pipeline’ ranked number one by 6% of respondents, while 12% rank it number two, ‘becoming more purpose and values driven’ is ranked number one by 8% of respondents and number two by 9%. 

Remarking on the need to develop new leaders to execute strategic business priorities, while business values appear to remain relatively constant, Andrew Pek, Senior Partner at Korn Ferry, says, "This has been building for some time, and is now more pronounced than ever. It is about getting talented people with great ideas in the right positions with the right support. For example, organisations want leaders who may have worked at a successful start-up or a product development incubator within a larger organisation." 

Leadership level in-house

Leadership capabilities

When asked whether the current leadership capabilities are in place to drive through the strategic business plans set out by companies, 17% say definitely yes, 56% say ‘somewhat yes’ while 16% say no in some capacity. The report notes that ‘change leaders’ are different to everyday management level, requiring the ability to articulate a vision and inspire others to higher levels of performance – through, among others, being agile, flexible, resourceful, and have the ability to navigate unknown situations, while also being a good listeners and open to new ideas.

The research also explored in how far, organisations have a leadership team that ‘demonstrates the leadership and behaviour needed for your organisation to successfully deliver on its strategic business priorities’: 17% of respondents said that such leadership was in place, 55% said ‘somewhat’ yes, while, again, around 15% said no, somewhat or definitely.

Tapia asserts that to effectively bring about change, "a change leader must be tuned into the reality that not 'one size fits all' when it comes to motivating talent within the organisation. The challenge for leaders is to find the right message for each and every internal audience so organisations pull together to achieve their goals for strategic change." 

Barriers to successful implementation

Barriers to strategic leadership

According to the report, a number of barriers exist that inhibit the successful implementation of leadership development. A key issue is a ‘lack of executive sponsorship’, as cited by 32% of respondents as their number one issue and 21% who rank in number two. A ‘lack of budget’ was cited by 26% of respondents as their number one ranked barrier, and 21% as number two. A ‘lack of alignment between stakeholders’ was cited by 26% of respondents, while 28% of respondents ranked in number two. A lack of delivery resources was cited by 14% as their number one reasons, number two by 24% of respondents and third by 30% of respondents. 

Michael Van Impe, Senior Partner Korn Ferry, remarks, "Top leadership is the most active in implementing strategic change." But, he says, leaders do two things that undermine their own efforts. "First, they try to force change from the top down and skip the steps involved in engaging people at all levels and developing buy-in for implementing the change. Part of that involves failing to develop the leaders at all levels to implement the change." He advises leaders to better understand that change strategy and leadership strategy go hand in hand.

Second, he remarks, leaders should groom their willingness to spend money on new types of development programs that result in "the leadership skills necessary" to drive change and innovation. "They can’t skimp on this part. You can’t solve million dollar / euro problems with hundred dollar solutions," Van Impe concludes.