COVID-19 caused just about everything to go topsy-turvy for everyone. Industry leaders—including in public relations—were certainly not exempt. As 19th century British philosopher Bertrand Russel once said, “The issues we deal with are complex and require nuance, nothing is simple and clear-cut.”
The impact delivered by the speed and breadth of the coronavirus was followed and compounded by protests nationwide. The collective effect of these events threw a blinding public spotlight on brands and leaders to step forward and take positions that were certainly not on their minds when the new year began.
In 1978, noted American historian, political scientist and leadership authority James Macgregor Burns introduced two fields of leadership study, one of which he referred to as transformational leadership, in which leaders focus on the needs, beliefs and values of their followers. His belief was that when leaders recognize their employees as whole and not just employees, insightful and sustainable change can occur.
Burns compared this to transactional leadership, in which employees simply receive payment for their work. Unlike transformational leadership, in which leaders listen to and respect employee feelings, transactional has no regard for worker values or needs. Today’s current business environment of uncertainty, national tumult, and organizational flux are a call for transformational leadership to abound in all industries.
What it means for leaders
Emotional intelligence and the ability of leaders to connect with employees who share the same values and purpose of the company are paramount. Nothing speaks to employee loyalty than leaders who empathize and engage with their peers in elevating everyone’s morality and motivation.
Transformational leader attributes
A transformational leader shares a compelling vision that aligns with company values. It’s not only achievable but one that’s attainable by employees as well. He/she sets a strong example by demonstrating authenticity, while being appropriately vulnerable. Asking and getting everyone’s input to what the brand’s special value to society is can be extremely powerful.
Today’s transformational leader must find a balance between making a profit while deciding what’s best for its customers and employees. He/she must be adept and willing to communicate effectively within all levels of the organization, not just senior staff and the board.
While practicing and pursuing all these initiatives, attention should also be focused on ongoing improvement and education, particularly through diversity leadership development and career progression.
It was a little more than a year ago that the Business Roundtable changed what many thought to be the eternal purpose of publicly traded corporations, which was “Maximize shareholder value.” Most leaders now recognize that the corporate purpose must be much broader today.
As such, transformational leaders must exercise transparency and honesty in their communication to all their publics. Besides walking the talk, they need to be empathetic and listen to all their publics, including their employees. Equally important, they must be clear as to how employee efforts align with the purpose of the company and be at the head of positive accountability. Development and career progression, especially among minorities, is vital. Most importantly, the CEOs must “walk the talk.”