In a changing workplace we need leaders who inspire

13 Feb 2023
The workplace at the start of 2023 is almost unrecognisable from the one at the start of 2020. Covid, inflation and labour shortages have had a huge effect on businesses. What’s needed now, perhaps more than ever, are leaders with vision, flexibility, and the ability to inspire – leadership that is transformational, says Julie Graham, CEO of Employment services at Ingeus.

Transformational leadership is not a new concept. It first emerged in the 1970s but has grown in popularity in recent years and, I would argue, is particularly relevant to the marketplace and workplace in which we find ourselves now.

‘Blended working’ – a mix of office and home based – brings new challenges in creating the one team, one goal ethos that businesses need to succeed.

And as the cost of living rises and jobseekers enjoy greater choice when it comes to finding or switching jobs, there is a need for inspiring leadership that can boost morale, improve motivation, and achieve higher levels of workforce satisfaction.

This, in turn, will help recruit and retain good people while increasing performance for the benefit of the business.

So, what are the hallmarks of a transformational leader?

There is a theory that employees have been over-managed but under-led. Transformational leadership has a much greater focus on leading, rather than managing, through techniques like empowerment and inspiration. I see it as leading by teaching – showing their team members what it is that they need to do and setting a good example. 

To achieve that, leaders must communicate a compelling vision for the future, with clear goals that stretch employees and recognise potential, as well as being positive about their development. 

Maintaining a broad perspective
Transformational leaders need to have their eye on the big picture and inspire their team members to work towards it. They must have trust in their employees to make the right choices when it comes to managing their time and completing projects.

Encouraging innovation and creativity
In any business, and particularly in today’s fluid situation, change is essential for survival. New ideas need to be encouraged and employees must feel they have space to be creative. A transformational leader will encourage their teams to think creatively in everything they do.

Having integrity
Integrity, although it means different things to different people, is about strong moral principles and a desire for honesty. These qualities are enshrined in the Ingeus value ‘Do the right thing’ and leaders that are seen to have integrity can inspire others to emulate them. 

Being inspirational yet accountable
Finally, transformational leadership works by encouraging team members to think for themselves and grow as individuals. However, a team needs a leader responsible for failures as well as successes. A transformational leader will take responsibility for every eventuality.

What do employers need to do to? 

For this sort of leadership to work businesses need to:
•    have a challenging yet achievable vision, preferably arrived at with the input of employees;
•    have confidence and optimism about its implementation; and
•    celebrate small but planned steps and successes on the way.

Interestingly, in some ways these traits of transformational leadership are reflected in Ingeus’ relationships with our participants: we give them the tools to transform their lives, we show trust and belief in them, we set clear goals, we challenge their mindsets, and we encourage them to think outside of the boxes their previous lives may have placed them in.

But of course, this leadership style is not a cure-all and may not work for particular people. This could be because they work better when they have more direction and focus, rather than being encouraged to be creative in their problem solving.

And transformational leadership is not the preserve of people in the leadership roles. At Ingeus it might well mean colleagues with lived experience. Those, for example, who have been through the criminal justice system or overcome physical or mental health challenges, and who inspire others to break free from their past and transform their lives.

That transformation element of leadership is reflected in our Continuous Improvement Academy. It offers tools and techniques to give colleagues at every level of the organisation a voice and confidence to put their hand up when they know something isn't working well on our customers’ journeys. It equips them to identify problems and empowers them to come up with solutions.

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