Now is the Time to Hire a Transformational Leader

Transformational leadership will be critical for organisations as we look to the future. With such high demand, organisations must have an agile recruitment strategy to successfully hire the executives of their choice.

Robert Hosking, Senior Vice President, Managing Director – Search Practices
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As Q1 comes to a close, businesses continue to be challenged by the ongoing economic climate, lock down and employee associated issues. But as lock down starts to ease and vaccinations continue to roll out, there are the green roots of optimism and opportunity. One thought I would like to put out there is this:

If you snooze, you are most definitely going to lose.

For the first time in a very long time, those of us in the search world are seeing top leadership candidates receiving multiple offers from multiple organisations. What that means is that in several instances, I’ve been in the unenviable position of having to call a client organisation to give them the bad news: another company has swooped in and hired your preferred candidate right out from under your nose.

Competition for transformational leaders has seemingly exploded. And that’s more than a little bit surprising.

For much of last year, the demand for executive leaders dropped way off. COVID-19 unleashed a wave of economic disruption that left a lot of organisations focused on survival, not on new hires. The uncertainty also meant that many top leaders were simply not interested in changing jobs. It was a bear market all around in leadership recruitment. 

And then, at the start of 2021, it is almost as if someone flipped a switch. 

At the end of 2020 and start of this year, business leaders and HR professionals started shifting from survival mode to strategic mode. They had endured the shock and awe of the first and second waves of the pandemic, made some adjustments, and now in 2021 implementing a forward-looking agenda: enabling their organisations to transform to survive and thrive.

At the end of 2020, Gartner surveyed 800 HR leaders to uncover their top three priorities for 2021. Gartner found that more than two thirds of respondents identified the need to build new skills and competences as a top priority. Respondents also flagged organisational design and change management, and development of current and future leadership bench strength.

2021 is showing that many organisations (possibly the boldest and bravest) are moving forward, actively seeking leaders who can help them lead into an uncertain future and are moving quickly to bring them on board when they find one.

Unfortunately, other companies have been a bit slower to recognise the changing market for transformational leaders. 

These organisations are operating with a pre-pandemic mindset and pace as they undertake searches for new leaders. That means I have to let some clients know that their first choices are no longer available. Sometimes, I even have to let them know their second and third choices have also been snapped up by other employers.

And these are just the instances involving an outside search firm. I know from experience that if we’re seeing organisations lose out on their preferred candidates in processes we are closely managing, then it’s also happening for companies that are doing searches on their own. Indeed, it is likely even more prevalent in these cases. 

There was a time in the search industry where, if you didn’t find the perfect candidate right away, you could just go back to market and take another shot. I’m not sure that the pace of change and demands of the market will allow that approach to work anymore. 

The businesses that outperform their peers in the pandemic and post-pandemic era know all too-well that agile strategy and decision making is key to success. That same mindset and approach has to be used in the search for transformational leaders if a company wants to gain access to the leaders of their choice.

I have seen the power of transformational leadership. I’ve seen how the right person can inject new energy and purpose into the culture of an organisation that has perhaps fallen on difficult times. And it’s not an overstatement to say that new energy and purpose are more important now than at any point in our lives.


* This is an amended version of the article published in December 2020.

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