How transformational leadership benefits the retail sector

By Tony Gregg, CEO of Anthony Gregg Partnership
As retail fights to recover from the pandemic's impacts, retail executive search specialist Tony Gregg makes the case for transformational leadership

The COVID-19 pandemic undoubtedly left the retail industry wrapped in economic struggles and losses. Well-established retailers were forced to shut down and business leaders were sometimes hindered by fixed mindsets.

Research highlights just how severely the stale pandemic months affected leaders. Before COVID-19, an impressive 93% of retail leaders stated they felt ambitious, with 43% going as far as claiming they were ‘very ambitious’. However, these numbers have plummeted post-pandemic, with 72% of leaders now claiming to feel ambitious and a mere 26% ‘very ambitious’.

With the industry back in full swing, pressure upon retail leaders has built – with firms now relying on transformational skills to revive damaged businesses and account for wasted time.

Tony Gregg, Chief Executive at retail executive search firm Anthony Gregg Partnership, explains how to become a transformational leader. He also details how this benefits the retail industry whilst the sector continues to adapt to a post-COVID world – and how to apply transformational leadership strategies at your own organisation.

What is transformational leadership?

 Transformational leadership has the ability to deliver fantastic results – improving company culture, work ethic and practices within organisations.

Leaders seeking to bring out such changes do so by motivating employees to thrive within their roles. Through inspiring ambitious thinking and stimulating productivity, teams can become highly engaged and driven to succeed, without losing their sense of personal empowerment.

The transformational leadership mindset has four components: intellectual stimulation, individualised consideration, inspirational motivation and idealised influence. By exhibiting these four behaviours, leaders can make their teams feel valued and motivated to work towards professional growth. As a result, employees feel more positive about their managers and the company itself – and will be further integrated into company culture and success.

As the retail industry fights to recover from the pandemic's devastating impacts, businesses need to adopt strategies that will give them this kind of boost.

In a busy, customer-facing environment, retail employees understand exactly what their customers are looking for – dealing with concerns and questions every day. If they display transformational mindsets, they’re likely to share new insights with management, which can help anticipate upcoming trends and give them a competitive edge.

What are the benefits of transformational leadership in retail?

If an employee sees they are directly improving a company’s fortunes, they’ll feel personally rewarded and experience an uplift in morale. Going forward, they’ll be more confident in making suggestions, potentially creating a bank of proposals that can help the company progress.

Small ideas can have large impacts in the retail sector, especially when implemented across multiple stores. This is now more important than ever as the margins between retail rivalries begin to close up. And it’s vital to remember that employees at all levels have the ability to make innovative suggestions.

It’s not uncommon for retail employees to be unmotivated, particularly on days with low footfall. Transformational leaders can prevent this by challenging them to think proactively about improving the store's overall performance.

An additional benefit of this is improved rates of staff retention – another industry-wide concern. As staff shortages spread across the market, ensuring employees are content and feel valued in their current roles is increasingly important.

Six steps to becoming a transformational leader

Whilst some leaders may have a naturally inspiring personality that allows them to adopt a transformational mindset with ease, others may need to adapt their style of leadership to become the pioneer that their team needs.

1. Invest time in your employees

To effectively transition into a transformational mindset, you should spend time getting to know your team and learn what their capabilities and limitations are. If you’re able to demonstrate understanding and appreciation of their individual skill sets, you’ll be giving them much-needed recognition.

This step sets the foundation of building work relationships, so it’s crucial to find solutions to concerns and offer support where possible. If they believe they can trust you and confide in you, they’ll put in extra effort when it’s necessary.

2. Act as an influential role model

If you can become an influential role model to your team, they’ll be happier to follow your plans. Motivating people and treating every employee with respect will lead them to embrace your vision and trust in it. It also sets the right tone for the business and your optimism will trickle down through your team.

3. Be supportive and provide recognition

Having a supportive person at work is incredibly important, especially for those who face customers every day. Offering support to your employees will make them think more positively about you. Whilst you may be busy, little gestures – such as simply asking how people are – will make a difference.

Having support and recognition at work will motivate your team: they’ll feel more appreciated and therefore happier to work harder.

4. Set high expectations

Whilst you don’t want to add too much pressure, setting clear targets for your team will encourage high achievement. This is a core part of transformative leadership and is often where leaders can struggle to set boundaries. Rather than adding the weight of ‘needing’ to hit targets, make it transparent that they’re being set because you believe they can be reached. Being less demanding with your team can often lead to better results.

5. Be adaptive and open

Being fluid in the way your business works is fundamental amid the ongoing economic uncertainty. As a leader, you must be prepared to respond to changes and adapt at short notice.

Remaining as open and approachable as possible will show that you welcome ideas from every level of the business. Your team will appreciate this attitude and be more comfortable contributing ideas.

6. Take calculated risks and follow your vision

Transformative leaders have clear visions of where they want to lead the company. As a leader, demonstrating your ambition will remind employees that the company is forward-thinking and will motivate them to push further with their own professional development.

Being capable of thinking strategically and taking calculated risks that will boost your business is important – but they must be thoroughly planned before actions are taken.

As the entire retail landscape continues to change, leadership and the dynamics between management and employees must shift too. Employees' expectations for the workplace have transformed – such as requiring flexibility and improved employee benefits.

Businesses must adapt and employ leaders who can inspire a motivated and supportive workplace.

About Anthony Gregg Partnership

The Anthony Gregg Partnership (agp) is a high-end executive search consultancy based in London, which operates across the UK and Europe. The firm was founded in 2003 by executive retail search specialist Tony Gregg. He has since recruited hundreds of board and director-level candidates for market-leading clients.

agp specialises in the areas of FMCG, retail, fashion, luxury brands, supply chain, ecommerce, and human resources. agp’s consultancy services include executive search, interim, talent acquisition and organisational transformation, as well as executive coaching.

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