If you’ve worked in any organisation for a while, you’ll likely have experienced some form of organisational change. Sadly, it’s also likely that your experience of the change may have been sub-par.
The history of organisational change is littered with examples of projects and initiatives that didn’t go to plan. Never finished. Descoped. Poorly implemented or partially implemented….I could go on.
There may be a lack of vision and strategic alignment, insufficient employee involvement and engagement, poor communication, inadequate resources, and poor planning; all elements that can lead to a lack of progress, employee resistance and change stagnation.
At the root of most of those factors is a lack of leadership. If you want to increase your odds of success, it’s imperative to focus on the leadership style accompanying the change.
The research backs this up:
- McKinsey’s research found that organisations with effective change management programs, which include a specific focus on leadership, are 1.7 times more likely to outperform their industry peers regarding financial performance.
- Prosci’s Best Practices in Change Management research consistently shows that active and visible executive sponsorship is the top contributor to successful change initiatives.
- Towers Watson’s research revealed that companies with highly effective communication practices were 3.5 times more likely to outperform their industry peers.
There’s a well-known saying (often attributed to the philosopher Aristotle, but in fact a derivation of his words): “We are what we repeatedly do therefore, excellence is not an act, but a habit“.
The more we do something, the more ingrained it becomes in our behaviour. In fact, eventually, it becomes a habit.
So if you are a leader who needs to be at the forefront of change and leading from the front, what leadership habits do you want to cultivate?
Countless leadership books offer long lists of the attributes of effective leaders. However, the most effective leadership style is often situationally driven – with circumstances dictating the best approach.
For example, if you are leading a crisis, you must make decisions quickly and, at times, with limited consultation. Whereas, if you are leading an organisation through a large-scale transformation, you’ll need to be more consultative.
Leadership is contextual, and during times of change, what’s needed from leaders changes too. For a change to succeed, the leader must be prepared to accept that it’s not just the team members around them who need to change, but they must change too.
From my experience, the best change leaders exhibit six essential qualities.
Change leaders are curious and focused on discovering what needs to change within them. They know they must embody the change they seek to inspire and lead by example, demonstrating the behaviours and attitudes expected from their team members.
They remain open to new ideas, take calculated risks, encourage experimentation, and know they set the standard, and their actions create a ripple effect throughout their team, and potentially organisation (depending on their level). They foster a growth mindset within themselves and their teams, encouraging a willingness to embrace new ideas, challenge the status quo, and view setbacks as learning experiences rather than failures.
They are deliberate about what they do, when, and where they spend their energy.
Skilled change leaders know they can be pushed and pulled in many directions and are adept at managing the flow of ideas, insights and information. They know how to effectively allocate time to be ‘in the detail’ and ‘above the detail’ and when to focus on tasks or what team members need.
Change leaders continuously monitor progress, assess the impact of the change, and make necessary adjustments. They track metrics, measure outcomes, and provide feedback to employees. They also drive continuous improvement by actively managing and adapting the change strategy and approach when needed. They don’t become locked into ways of working that aren’t working.
This means leaders must be able to generate insights from a wide range of sources and use these sources to gain perspective. This breadth of view helps them explore alternative ideas, analyse options and make effective decisions whilst always striving for progress towards the end goal.
Successful change leaders involve employees in the change process, empowering them to contribute their ideas and perspectives. This means the leader knows when to delegate, debate, direct and decide.
They know how to seek input and make decisions. They are not afraid of taking action and are happy to correct course when needed. This means they are adaptive and flexible without being wishy-washy and ineffectual.
Change leaders anticipate and address resistance and obstacles proactively. They listen to employee concerns, support, and address misconceptions or fears. They also accept that change can be complex and is never a straight line. There will be ups and downs and a few detours along the way.
Consequently, they use their resilience and bounce-forward approach to learn from mistakes – fail fast and meaningfully – and persist despite setbacks. Most importantly, they know how to inspire confidence in their teams to take calculated risks, try things, improve and progress.
Trust is essential during times of change. Leaders build trust by being transparent, actively listening to employee concerns, and addressing them appropriately.
Effective change leaders are dedicated to their team and understanding what each person needs to progress through the change. They realise their team members are critical stakeholders in the change process. They involve them early, seeking their input, ideas, and feedback. By empowering their team members to take ownership and contribute to the change initiative, leaders tap into their collective intelligence and foster a sense of ownership and commitment.
The leader is committed to the vision and making the organisation a better workplace due to the change. They can balance organisational, team and personal needs.
What’s your go-to style?
There may be other qualities that you would add, and this list isn’t intended to be exhaustive. It’s intended to get you to think about your leadership style.
If you are leading a change, it’s critical to be conscious of your leadership style during the transition and to know what’s working or not working.
In doing this, think about how your leadership style is received by those around you. Ask yourself:
- What are people saying or not saying to me?
- Am I the last person to find out ‘bad news’, or are people comfortable bringing forward issues to me?
- How engaged is my team? Is it working as a high-performing team where there is strong connection and cohesiveness?
- How productive is the team? Is there good progress being made?
- Are there unresolved issues or high levels of conflict in the team which I am turning a blind eye to?
Answering these questions will provide early insights into elements of your leadership style. But you need to go further. You need to be:
- Open to feedback from those around you – and at different hierarchical levels. Get direct feedback from people and be willing to reflect, and where required, act on that feedback.
- Prepared to self-reflect – so that you can take the time to see how you are feeling, thinking, and ultimately reacting to what is going on around you
- Open to trying new things – as the circumstances may require you to step forward in a different way.
- Ready and willing to change – recognise when your leadership style isn’t hitting the mark and when you need to step up in a different way.
Remember, change happens. So make it work for you and for those around you.
Getting you ready for tomorrow, today®
Michelle Gibbings is a workplace expert, the award-winning author of three books, and a global keynote speaker. She’s on a mission to help leaders, teams and organisations create successful workplaces – where people thrive and progress is accelerated.