Transformational Leadership in the New World of Work: A Plan for 2021 and Beyond
Transformational Leadership in the New World of Work: A Plan for 2021 and Beyond

As we enter the second quarter of 2021, the course of the Covid-19 pandemic continues to be unpredictable. The hopes of a quick “return to normal” that defined most of 2020 are giving way to a different attitude from leaders: a cautious hope of moving ahead without expecting an end to disruption.

The broader effects on the economy will unfold for years to come, and meanwhile, long-term goals cannot wait. Transformational leadership now means thinking on different timescales at once and strategising for the way forward in an uncertain world.

How can leaders move from risk mitigation towards transformational leadership for the new normal? How can they foster sustainable development, even as uncertainty prevails?

At the MERIT Annual Summit in Lisbon, senior learning and people leaders from the corporate, nonprofit, and academic sectors will gather to set an agenda for 2021 and beyond. The two main areas of discussion will be leadership and collaboration.

Transformational leadership for the 2020s

The 2020s are the era of just-in-time leadership. When Covid-19 first arrived, national governments and most organisations adopted a stance of waiting until people could “return” to normal life. Now, many lockdowns since, leaders are seeing the limitations of this mindset.

Going “back” to an earlier state is increasingly unlikely as many large-scale shifts are underway, from the rise of artificial intelligence to climate change. Delaying decision-making until the time “after” has proven to not be a sustainable position. Leaders need to act quickly, anticipating future changes that will inevitably arise. They also need to keep their companies agile and build in flexibility into future plans.

Transformational leadership for the 2020s means not knowing everything, but acting anyway. It means staying open to new ideas: what seemed too unconventional yesterday might just be what your organisation needs today. It means actively listening to diverse opinions. It means having a plan B and designing contingencies. It means empowering others to lead. It means self-reflection and seeing difficult situations as opportunities to learn.

The MERIT Annual Summit and Awards 2021 applies this ethos of transformational leadership to create an immersive experience for HR and L&D decision-makers. Over two days in beautiful Lisbon, participants will learn from the latest research and case studies from various industries. They will also participate in debates and problem-solving with colleagues. A diverse array of peers will share challenges and learn together.

The most innovative solutions from the past year will compete for the MERITS Awards. They will receive broader recognition and serve as benchmarks for other organisations facing similar challenges.

This will be a chance for specialists in HR and L&D, along with academics from business schools, to better understand the current issues and find sustainable solutions. Participants will leave with a broader vision of what is possible in their organisations.

Collaborative leadership as a path to effective decision-making

Models of leadership are changing, according to Dr Sanjeev Khagram, Dean of the Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University (US). Dr Khagram explains that we are moving from a “sage on the stage” model of top-down authority to a collaborative leadership model defined by constant learning, inclusion, and participation.

The most effective leaders today need to empower others. Agile organisations are better able to respond to complex challenges, and agility means people at different levels should take responsibility, according to Gallup research. Shared knowledge and regular feedback ensure that the whole organisation is working actively towards the same goals, rather than simply following top-down directions. This is the way to unlock both individuals’ and organisations’ potential.

Leaders, too, should seek out more collaboration. They should build peer networks and engage in shared reflection. A review of leadership research by EFMD shows that exceptional leaders are not made in isolation: excellence comes with feedback and memorable experiences. Now that the “sage on the stage” model is a thing of the past, collaboration and learning are essential. The 2021 MERIT Annual Summit is designed to bring together a select group of leaders from across countries and industries so they can spend meaningful time together and learn from each other.

How has corporate learning adapted during the Covid pandemic? How is the role of HR evolving, and how have C-suite dynamics changed? Hear work in progress by leading academics and discuss your questions with experts. Share knowledge and gain a new perspective. After a year of isolation, the MERIT network will gather safely together again at the Nova School of Business and Economics in Lisbon. Join now and take part in developing the future of people and learning leadership.


By Ani Kodjabasheva