Transformational leadership and leading in a digitalized world

Setsoto Hlohlomi
Setsoto Hlohlomi

Leadership is not something that can be left to chance. Teams and organizations are successful because of the people holding the reins as well as people at the forefront, delivering value. But, with the various types of leadership styles that one can employ such as autocratic, laissez-faire, bureaucratic et cetera, which leadership model is best to use? There is no one size fits all approach in leadership. Leaders must often tailor their leadership style to specific people and scenarios and may require a combination of various styles.

In this article, much scrutiny will be on transformational leadership and how technology is impacting leadership. cites that “the transformational leadership approach encourages, inspires, and motivates employees to innovate and create the change necessary to shape the future success of the company. Transformational leaders inspire and motivate their workforce, and transformational leadership is designed to give employees more room to be creative, look to the future, and find new solutions to old problems”. From this description, I would like to dwell on three concepts, inspiration, motivation, and change.

A leader needs to consistently strive to help people see the vision and what their part in achieving it is. This will inspire people to do more and to think outside the box. Leading by example here is very important because to be an inspiration you need to appeal to people in some way – strong values, work ethic, or your passion to help others grow among other qualities.

The idea of inspiration links directly with the concept of motivation, specifically intrinsic motivation. While we are very quickly motivated by external factors, such as recognition and reward, the satisfaction from these just as quickly falls away. Don’t get me wrong, I love branded corporate gifts and all as a way of appreciation, but the intrinsic motivation that can come from a sense of belonging, autonomy, being a part of the solution, and consequently the bigger picture is often more sustainable. Hence as leaders, we need to deliver a vision and do it so well that people will want to see it through. We need to listen, encourage innovation and create safe working environments where people can challenge without fear.

Encouraging and managing change is hard. It is very easy to settle in the comfort of the known, and the ability to help people recognize the need for change, to have them actively take part in driving change and embrace it, is a necessary skill to have as a leader. Leading change warrants the leader to help people see the bigger picture, and why it is important because without this, resistance will surface, and it is often one of the main reasons why change efforts fail. Resistance often arises when it is not clear how the change will affect people and therefore it is crucial to communicate this clearly from the get-go.

Of course, transformational leadership may seem to apply in an ideal world, where people are inspired, motivated, and innovative. This may lead to burnout as people strive to take an active part in initiatives. As leaders, we need to recognize this and encourage downtime when necessary and have people recharge so that their contributions are impactful.

With all these and a diverse world where ways of working are changing, in a world where technology is transforming how we live, how is this affecting how we lead? Such a digitized world demands embracing change, from attaining the skill set required to the tools at our disposal. It has had a significant impact on leadership. Commuting to the office and daily in-person interactions have been part of the traditional way of working for so long. But the recent advances in technology, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic have forced us to interrogate our ways of working and what is possible.

As a leader in the technology field, I have learned that people can deliver work outputs without being confined to a single location every day of the week. However, other people and roles are less able to successfully deliver work outputs in this environment as I have seen from my IT support background. It has shown us that people can be accountable and in control of their work and that others continually need guidance.

We have learned to be more considerate because now, with people working remotely, and us communicating via text and phone calls, it has taken away the personal interactions where cues were easier to pick up – seeing when someone is unwell or extremely swamped as we would if we were in the same room. The tone of voice is easy to misinterpret without the corresponding facial expressions and we are required to be more careful when communicating. It is easier for teams to knowledge share as people can easily walk to each other’s desks and hear meaningful discussions in the office. It solicits patience due to the lack of visibility, and the same lack of visibility can lead to micromanagement and stringent control over employees, we need to be careful.

A chunk of being a leader involves making decisions and ensuring that their execution is well done. In this digital era, we have better access to information to provide insights and aid better decision-making. We have access to more tools to help us and our teams work more effectively. Of course, these benefits do not come with negatives such as increased cyber threats. Our job as leaders is also to help our employees recognize the need for change when it becomes necessary, to help them acquire the necessary skills and support to grow and thrive in this era and this just beautifully goes hand in hand with transformational leadership.

In summary, being transformational leaders is one of the cards we need up our sleeves and in this era of technology, we need to be able to inspire the workforce to embrace change and actively take part in it and to keep them motivated to deliver. Especially in a world that continues to evolve due to technological advancements.

About the Author

Setsoto Hlohlomi is a techie, an aspiring writer, and a leader. Excited by how technology can transform business and be used as an enabler for success, her passion also lies in continually honing and utilizing her skills to help others grow.