By Ash Athawale, Senior Vice President, Robert Half  I believe there is a leader for every occasion, and I think I have met them all in one form or another. Today, organizations are looking for leaders who can guide them through uncertain times. But beyond that, they want transformative leaders — the ones who know how to seize opportunities that only come when a company or industry is in transition. Even in the slipstream of ongoing change, these leaders have the vision and presence of mind to locate hidden paths for positive transformation in their business. And they are the ones who are actually shaping the future of work as it happens. They see the potential in what could be coming and have the skills to mobilize workers toward that vision. Transformative leaders are in a position of trust because it is a position that pivots on people. And you need more of them in your organization and your succession plan.
The dramatic events reshaping the world of work in recent years mean leaders have had to change their ways of doing things. Not long ago, organizations expected to undergo transformation every decade or so. Now change is global and it is constant, and leaders are challenged to lead through it — like assembling the aircraft while in-flight, as the saying goes — catching up and enabling the organization stay relevant while also capitalizing on the opportunities that come with change. For example, the way leaders communicate in uncertain times is different now. Just a few years ago we may have used a very directive style: “Do what I say, and everything will be OK.” But now, leaders need to communicate transparently — in real time, not after the fact — with empathy and clarity. Even as a crisis unfolds, they need to be honest about the challenges the organization is facing while offering reassurance and a clear plan of action. This approach helps build trust and confidence among employees, encouraging them to work together toward a common goal. Another example is how transformative leaders manage digital technology, which is changing the face of business, its goals and the makeup of its workforce. But C-Suite executives are facing challenges in rolling out and implementing digital transformation projects because there is no change management strategy, according to Robert Half Research. But transformative leaders understand that creating and enhancing a digital business is a mindset, not just a series of tasks. They can lead teams to adapt in the face of change and, perhaps most importantly, they can identify and orchestrate the skills required to do this. 
Transformative leaders share a set of behaviors that include creating and sharing a compelling vision, empowering and motivating others, fostering collaboration and innovation, and — as I have been stressing — adapting readily as changing circumstances unfold in real time. People with the capabilities to be a transformative leader are out there — in your workplace and “in the wild.” Here are some characteristics to look for. Consensus builder. A cooperative style and approach, and the skill to communicate in a way that achieves consensus, can actually inspire people, making them more eager to do what they are being asked to do. Their personal appeal and persuasive communication allow them to build trust and gain buy-in for their ideas. They are able to create a sense of unity and purpose within the organization. Creativity engine. Look for individuals who are adept at fostering innovation and creativity in their teams — and potentially throughout an entire business — and who inspire people to follow their lead. Thinking beyond goals. Transformative leaders are not transactional leaders, who tend to focus on rules, structure and order and emphasize rewarding employees for meeting specific goals. Transformative leaders motivate team members by encouraging them to think innovatively beyond any particular set of expectations. It could be said that transformative leaders believe in evolving the culture of an organization rather than expecting people to work under existing frameworks. Open to experimentation. Their affinity for experimentation with balanced risk-taking can be infectious among the workforce, driving the development of new products, services, and operational efficiencies. Their talents can also be instrumental during times of organizational crisis. Using their strong communication skills, empathy and ability to motivate their people to overcome challenges, the rapport transformative leaders create with employees, can help pull teams together in rocky times. 
I believe many people have this leadership talent within them but haven’t necessarily had the opportunity to explore it. Undoubtedly you have hidden gems on your teams. A good place to start locating them is by identifying those who consistently demonstrate impressive performance, adaptability and a willingness to take on challenges even if it entails breaking free from traditional constraints. The simplest way to describe it may be to look for people who relish stepping outside their comfort zone for a purpose. Sometimes hidden leadership potential needs to be awakened through coaching. Those destined to be transformative leaders have a high level of self-awareness, including a realistic view of their strengths, but coaching can help them crystalize their thoughts into a more well-defined vision. It can also show them how to channel their energies toward the long-term goals of the organization. Having a strong mentor and continuing to pursue leadership development education are other important pathways for developing these capacities. When looking externally for a transformative leader, a retained executive search firm can introduce you to candidates who are a close match with your particular business needs. When transformative leaders are sought only for a one-time but major initiative, such as a merger, acquisition or the introduction of new technology, consider engaging experienced contract professionals who can either work directly on a project or in partnership with external consultants who team with them to complete enterprise-level initiatives. Whether hired externally or homegrown, transformative leaders are critical to your company’s ability to surge past the competition with thriving teams, bold new products and services, and a workplace culture of collaboration and passion.