The COVID-19 pandemic has caused untold disruption to the business world, turning it completely on its head. It has changed long-established working practices, the fortunes of entire industries, and even deeply embedded mindsets.
With all the uncertainty that began in early 2020, some retail leaders have, quite understandably, lost a sense of ambition. As we all know, the retail sector was left paralyzed by the pandemic, with the effect on leaders laid bare by recent research. Before the pandemic, 93 percent of retail leaders felt ambitious, with 43 percent even stating they were “very ambitious”; the post-pandemic drop is dramatic: just 72 percent felt ambitious and 26 percent “very ambitious.”
Demands upon retail leaders have also changed. Firms now need transformational skills, with the ability to turn businesses around and make up for lost time.
What is Transformational Leadership?
Transformational leadership can have truly incredible results, potentially changing the entire culture and practices of an organization for the better.
Leaders with the ability to drive such dramatic changes do so by inspiring employees to excel. They can motivate people to achieve more, stimulating them and empowering them in the process. The result for the company is highly engaged employees who are committed to the organization’s success.
How do transformational leaders operate? Most exhibit four behaviors: inspirational motivation, idealized influence, individualized consideration, and intellectual stimulation. Through these behaviors, such leaders make employees feel valued and listened to as they give them more autonomy and control. As a result, the employees are motivated to achieve and feel positive about their direct manager and the company as a whole.
With the retail industry aiming to recover from the pandemic, anything that can give a business an edge is immensely welcome.
It’s especially applicable to retail since employees are often customer-facing, learning first-hand what consumers want. If they feel empowered to pass their learnings on to management, their customer insight can make all the difference, helping businesses to pivot towards emerging customer trends.
What Are the Benefits of Transformational Leadership in the Retail Sector?
Naturally, any employee who sees that he or she is having a direct impact on a company’s fortunes will get an immediate and lasting lift in morale. They will then feel more inclined to contribute their ideas again, compounding the benefits to the company.
Smart ideas in the retail sector have the potential to make oversized impacts, particularly if they can be replicated across multiple outlets. When the margins between commercial rivals are as tight as they are in retail, any advantage can prove vital.
Retail employees can sometimes feel understimulated, particularly if footfall is low. Motivational leaders can change that, stimulating employees intellectually by challenging them to ideate and lift sales, using their insights from the shop floor to positive effect.
Showing employees how important they are will also lead to higher rates of staff retention, another issue that plagues the retail industry. With shortages in the labor market and power tilted towards employees right now, keeping employees content has taken on ever-greater significance.
How to Become a Transformational Leader in 6 Steps
Inspiring employees doesn’t come naturally to everyone, and leaders might view their leadership style as intrinsically linked to their personality. Consequently, some managers may have to adjust their mindset and outlook to become the leader their business needs.
1. Invest in your employees and encourage them.
One of the first steps you should take is to listen to your team, getting to know their capabilities and capacities. This is especially vital in the retail sector, where capacities are very often stretched. Showing understanding and appreciation of the strains they’re under is just one way to show them you actually care.
From there you can encourage employees’ efforts and find ways to ease their pain points, highlighting that you’re listening and intend to support them whenever possible. Do this and you’ll gain their trust and encourage them to make extra efforts.
2. Act as an influential role model.
As the founder of the Virgin Group, Richard Branson has achieved incredible success, proving himself a truly transformational leader. Importantly, he firmly believes in motivating employees, asserting that engaged, happy employees will perform better as a team. By treating all employees with respect, Branson’s approach has trickled down through the organization, helping to lift morale at all levels and setting a powerful example.
He shows that leaders don’t necessarily need a complicated philosophy to follow: valuing people and spreading positivity can be the most influential of messages.
3. Be supportive and provide recognition.
Everybody needs support mechanisms at work, particularly those faced with hundreds of customers each day. Simply by communicating that you can be relied upon for support will give your employees a more positive view of you. On a day-to-day basis, providing support can be something as simple as setting aside time to ask how people are.
No matter what form recognition takes, it will always motivate employees, even if it’s just letting them know you appreciate their efforts. And, of course, more motivated employees can achieve greater things.
4. Set high expectations.
Part of being a transformative leader is encouraging high achievement. To do that, people need targets to aim for, while knowing that there’s no pressure to reach them. Instead, make it clear that you’re setting these targets because you believe in their abilities.
Authoritarian leaders may have traditionally had trouble taking such a flexible approach to objectives, but such leaders must realize that being less demanding can often yield better results. Furthermore, lending support, rather than putting pressure on employees, is a key tenet of transformative leadership.
5. Be adaptive and open.
With ongoing economic uncertainty, businesses of all kinds need leadership teams with the ability to adapt. With the retail industry aiming to rebound from the pandemic, leaders who can adjust strategies as events unfold are a must.
At the heart of transformative leadership is a belief in the value of ideas from all levels, and making yourself as approachable as possible. If your team knows that you’ll listen, they’re much more likely to contribute their ideas and insights.
As consumer trends continue to morph, the retail industry must be prepared to adapt.
6. Take calculated risks and follow your vision.
Transformative leaders are often referred to as visionaries because they have clear ideas of where they want to take their companies. Demonstrating your own confidence and ambition will tell employees that they work for a forward-thinking company — and encourage them to reach higher themselves. If strategic thinking doesn’t come too easily to you, it’s important to set some time aside, step back from immediate issues and consider the wider landscape your business inhabits. Yet it’s crucial that visions are viable and risks are calculated. You cannot stake the future of your company on gambles. That’s why strategies must be fully formed before you embark upon implementing them.
These extraordinary times have changed our working lives in fundamental ways, with huge shifts in recruitment and the dynamics between companies and their employees. With employees able to demand increased flexibility and improved conditions, businesses need leaders who can inspire more understanding, supportive workplace cultures.