8 steps to transformational leadership

The coronavirus pandemic challenges leaders to do even more to change the way they work and manage.

Add the coronavirus pandemic to the reasons leaders should change their playbooks.

Effective leadership was difficult enough before the coronavirus emerged. Technological advances and globalisation required finance professionals and accountants to adjust to ever-changing business dynamics. The increasing generational diversity in the workplace required them to better understand the complex relationship between an organisation and its employees.

“We are surrounded by so much transformation in business, at work, in society as a whole,” said Elisabet Vinberg Hearn, author and CEO of Katapult Partners, a UK-based company that helps organisations harness the human potential in digital transformation. “Status quo is a thing of the past, as is any leadership that isn’t, at least to some degree, transformational in nature.”

The economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic challenges leaders to grow, to be and do even more, and to transform the way they work.

“Transformational leadership means being the type of leader who can identify and communicate a vision of how an organisation needs to change for survival and growth,” said Rick Crandall, author, public speaker, and chairman of Donnelley Financial Solutions, a US company that provides software as a service product to public and private companies in global capital and investment markets. “A successful transformational leader is part visionary, part strategist, part communicator, and part people motivator.”

8 steps to become a transformational leader

“It’s not about you, it’s about the people you lead,” said Paul Leroue, a leadership coach and partner of US-based accounting firm Wipfli who spoke at the 2019 AICPA Corporate Finance, Controllers, and Global Manufacturers conference. “As the share of next-generation employees increases, leadership has to understand these dynamics and know how to adapt in order to create higher engagement levels and transform the creativity into business value.”

Here’s how to do it:

Be an active listener. Listen to understand rather than listening to respond. Becoming a more active listener takes practice, but it is a skill a leader can learn to master. Leroue calls it the courage to “shut up and just listen”.

Be aware of your attitude. A good leader creates meaningful interactions and develops a powerful and supportive culture. Attitude and the way a leader comes across to others has significant impact on the behaviour of others. 

Develop emotional intelligence. Leaders with high emotional intelligence have the ability to recognise the emotion in the room and turn it into energy. Transformational leadership is about changing energy, the ability to manage it and inspire people and get them excited. 

Learn to collaborate versus dictate. Stay in control but be open to working together. This transformational approach to leadership relies on encouraging and motivating employees to drive and become part of the change.

Learn to share power. Your job as a leader is to delegate and elevate above that decision. It’s not about giving up power, it’s about sharing power. Sharing power with people doesn't mean you let go, it means you let people participate in what you do.

Communicate. Strive for alignment; get people on the same page. Transformational leaders enhance morale and motivation among followers. They are able to encourage them towards working for the collective good and beyond working solely out of self-interest.

Embrace dialogue and debate. Successful leaders find common ground and let people participate in the discussion. They are open to dialogue, even conflict, to solve problems in productive cooperation.

Have a personal care plan. In order to be effective as a leader, you need to take care of yourself in a holistic way. Developing a self-care plan and being consistent with taking a break or time off as needed will prevent depletion and exhaustion.

Building community and connecting with employees is a core leadership strategy aimed at engaging all age groups to work together for a common purpose. It is not until a leader can accomplish this sense of community that a successful transformation can begin.

“The best transformational leaders I’ve encountered are inclusive and inviting, they empower others, dare to share leadership when/as needed, give good stability so people can act with agility, and create collective intelligence by bringing people and technology together,” Hearn said.

For more news and reporting on the coronavirus and how management accountants can handle challenges related to the outbreak, visit FM’s coronavirus resources page.

Sofia Simeonidou is a freelance writer based in the Netherlands. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Sabine Vollmer, an FM magazine senior editor, at