What does it mean to be a leader at a time when so many disruptive forces are simultaneously at play–climate change, social justice, COVID-19, remote working, to name just a few?

Leading through disruption is not the same as crisis management. It is not a matter of riding out a storm until you can revert to the old ways of doing things again. Transformative leadership is about recognizing that the old ways of leading no longer work very well in a world where disruption is continuous; companies–and their leaders–must continually evolve.

Ultimately, the role of a leader is to create value and they do this by mobilizing others to execute the strategy and deliver the results that creates the necessary value. For a leader to be able to mobilize their team, they need to be able to establish the context for the required behaviors and then drive the execution of the strategy. There are four distinct components that take the desired strategy from a Vision to Results:

  • Creating the Direction for your organization
  • Building engagement
  • Executing the strategy
  • Maintaining and sustaining focus

Transformative leadership transcends the rational

To master each component, leaders must harness the rational and non-rational, i.e. emotional, aspects of human behavior. Both rational and emotional realities impact how employees respond to their work environment and to the goals that have been set for them. Historically, the emotional aspect has been neglected or even treated with outright cynicism in the world of business, but leaders can no longer afford to ignore it if they seek to engage their teams on a deeper level for longer periods of time.

Businesses are locked in a war for talent that has been supercharged by the pandemic and understanding employees’ emotional needs is now, more than ever, critical to success. The labor market is increasingly made up of Gen Z and younger Gen Y, who want to work for organizations where the senior leaders will be vocal in support of their mental and physical health, creating workplaces that are diverse and inclusive, and conveying clear organizational values and purpose.

After decades when leadership teams have oftentimes treated people as interchangeable widgets, rather than three-dimensional beings, today’s leadership requires greater connection with each member of the team to understand their motivations, values and expectations.

CEOs like Yannis Rodocanachi, who we spoke to earlier this year in our When Leadership Really Matters series, show what can be achieved. Rodocanachi, who took the reins at BH Cosmetics just before the pandemic hit, has delivered results while also demonstrating strong leadership on issues such as sustainability, female empowerment and diversity and inclusion.   

The ideal goal for any leader is to create an environment where their people are doing exactly what’s required to drive their organization forward to create value, completely of their own volition, when nobody is looking. That’s even more of a challenge at a time when so many of us are working from home, with so many other potential personal distractions.

Ultimately, the only way to deliver transformation is by inspiring this kind of discretionary effort, and the only way to do that is through engaging with employees on both rational and emotional levels.