Step Up and Lead: Turn people into your secret weapon for business success - Michelle Gibbings, Change Meridian

Conscious change leaders are not one-dimensional. They work across boundaries, embrace new ideas and learnings, and are innovative, authentic, compassionate and resilient. They challenge dominant paradigms, and lead and support others to thrive through change. Most importantly, they accept the notion that successful organisational transformation involves personal change for them.

My article “Step Up and Lead” was recently published in the Australian Broker Magazine, where I detail how leaders can enhance their ability to deliver progress within a company.

Read the full article here.


Dushyant Sukhija, author of The Cisco Way: Leadership Lessons Learned from One of the World’s Greatest Technology Services Companies, on valuing your employees.

Companies must adapt, or risk withering away, according to Dushyant Sukhija. “You just have to look at Google, Twitter, Uber and see how they’re extending their reach, growing their business through new services.”

But it’s crucial for businesses to understand that a services economy is about people, he says, and the people who are key to making success happen are the managers and employees within the business itself.

“Employees are the true intellectual capital of the company, and that means businesses must invest in their people,” Sukhija says.

He suggests at least four ways businesses can “turn people into your secret weapon”:

1 Align employees to a common goal No organisation works well if everyone is a maverick, going off in his or her own direction. It’s important to communicate what the goal is and make sure everyone is on the same page.

2 Create a nurturing environment Any business should want to motivate its employees to excel. One way this can be done is through reward and recognition, so that employees know that their hard work and efforts are appreciated.

3 Harness employees’ intellectual horsepower It’s important to get the most out of employees, and that can be accomplished by helping them build their skills.

4 Drive exceptional thought leadership It’s critical to hire the right leaders because so much else can hinge on how they perform.

Sukhija says companies should look for people with a command and understanding of the business’s mission; who have stellar reputations and ability to attract new talent; and who have the potential to grow to the next level of leadership.

“When products are a company’s focus, it’s important to invest in research and development, and product innovation,” he says. “But when it is services that drive a company’s success, then the investment should be in people. Get them inspired, because inspired people make the difference.”

Conscious change leaders are not one-dimensional. They work across boundaries, embrace new ideas and learnings, and are innovative, authentic, compassionate and resilient. They challenge dominant paradigms, and lead and support others to thrive through change. Most importantly, they accept the notion that successful organisational transformation involves personal change for them.

Start from the inside out

It’s much easier for a leader to sit back and identify how team members or colleagues need to change than to identify how they might need to change themselves. To effectively lead change and make it stick, leaders need to firstly understand themselves and then be open to shifting their mindset, operating style and behaviour to suit the context of the change.

Uncover the bias

Bias pervades decision-making, and most of it happens at the subconscious level. This is because people don’t make decisions on facts alone. They make decisions on hunches, feelings and gut reactions. That’s not to say that all these decisions will be bad. However, the brain discards information that doesn’t fit with its world view. It takes shortcuts when it makes decisions, and it can be easily influenced. As humans we are constantly looking for ways to rationalise and substantiate our opinions, and so it’s easy to be blind to the obvious and closed to other people’s opinions.

Conscious change leaders are aware of this challenge and look out for influencing factors and potential blind spots. They invite diversity of thought, and welcome challenging ideas and dissenting opinions as they know they will lead to more informed discussion and, ultimately, more progress and better business outcomes.

Adopt a growth mindset

A leader’s mindset will impact on how the change is initiated, implemented and sustained, depending on whether they are adopting a ‘fixed’ or ‘growth’ mindset. These terms were coined by the world-renowned Stanford academic, Carol Dweck. People who have a fixed mindset see intelligence as static – a fixed trait. Consequently, they want to always look smart and have all the answers. They believe that success is based on talent alone, not work.

They ignore feedback and struggle to cope when things don’t go to plan. In contrast, people with a growth mindset believe that intelligence can be developed through effort. They are therefore more eager to embrace learning, take on challenges and persist despite setbacks. They love learning, often display higher resilience, and are more willing to learn from others and receive feedback.

It is the growth mindset that helps the leader be best positioned to support their team through change, and to navigate the inevitable complexity and ambiguity that arises.

Adopting a growth mindset is a conscious decision. It creates a leadership approach in which the leader is more:

  • open to feedback and able to hear difficult messages from people at all hierarchical levels
  • willing to reflect on situations and to examine how an event unfolded so they can better understand their and other people’s reactions
  • comfortable trying new things, which is important as circumstances may require them to step up in a different way

Define moments of truth

A leader’s brand is defined by the actions they take and how those actions are perceived by their colleagues, peers and team members. People notice what a leader does and doesn’t do, particularly when there are variances between what a leader espouses as their leadership values and their actions. Key defining moments, or leadership moments of truth, for leaders include:

  • what the leader pays attention to and prioritises
  • how the leader reacts when things go wrong and when they are under pressure
  • what they say and don’t say, and what they do and don’t do
  • how they allocate resources and rewards, and recruit and promote

During a change, perceptions of inequity, unfairness, poor or absent leadership become intensified. A leader’s leadership is constantly on display, and so this is the time when conscious leadership really needs to come to the fore.

Roll with it

It’s easy to get excited about a new change initiative. A leader can get swept up in the initial enthusiasm for the change and then be overly optimistic about delivery timelines and benefit schedules. But as the work starts, challenges will inevitably be encountered. Obstacles and roadblocks that weren’t expected will arise, making progress slower and more difficult than planned. What looked easy in the beginning seems much harder in the middle. It is at this point that project deliverables start to be descoped, activities repriotised and resources shifted. The leader has two options: lose their nerve, or confront the challenges head-on.

Conscious change leaders are ready to step up to this challenge. They focus on:

  • eliminating the friction in the system that makes the change harder than it needs to be. This may involve removing bureaucratic processes and unnecessary activities
  • being clear about the project’s goals and what every person in the team needs to do to get there. They don’t get sidetracked by interesting but irrelevant matters
  • problem-solving and looking for different ways to make the change happen
  • the progress that has been made and keeping it visible. They celebrate this progress in a way that is meaningful to team members and stakeholders, without ignoring the challenges that lie ahead
  • the work necessary to deliver the most effective results – quickly

Step up and lead

And lastly, conscious change leaders are curious and open to how the change may unfold and the role they and their team need to play. They know their role and its importance. They don’t delegate it to others, and they accept they can’t do it alone. If leaders want to accelerate their progress in complex environments they embrace their role in the change and empower those around them to act. They step up and lead.