Now is the Time to Hire a Transformational Leader

Transformational leadership will be critical for organizations as we look to the future. With such high demand, organizations 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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If there is a single thought I’d like to leave with you as we put an extremely challenging 2020 in the rear view, it would be 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 organizations. What that means is that in several instances, I’ve been in the unenviable position of having to call a client organization 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 2020, the demand for executive leaders dropped way off. COVID-19 unleashed a wave of economic disruption that left a lot of organizations 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, as we got closer to the end of 2020, it was almost as if someone flipped a switch. 

As the pandemic lingered into the fall, business leaders and HR professionals started shifting from survival mode to strategic mode. They had endured the shock and awe of the first wave of the pandemic, made some adjustments, and were now looking towards 2021 with a forward-looking agenda: enabling their organizations to transform to survive and thrive.

Gartner, a global research and advisory firm, recently surveyed 800 HR leaders to uncover their top three priorities for 2021. In late October, after months of pandemic disruption, Gartner found that more than two thirds of respondents identified the need to build new skills and competences as a top priority for the coming year. Respondents also flagged organizational design and change management, and the development of current and future leadership bench strength.

Taken together, these results strongly suggest that many organizations (possibly the boldest and bravest) are not satisfied to spend another 12 months treading water in the COVID-19 vortex. They are moving forward and are looking for leaders who can help them lead into an uncertain future. And when they find one, they are moving quickly to bring them on board.

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

These organizations 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 organizations 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 organization 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.
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