Do you look to change last? - Michelle Gibbings

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Regularly, consulting firms release analyses on the challenges facing businesses and leaders. Reports, such as this one from KPMG, are insightful and provide helpful focal points for leaders.

More often than not, issues around change and transformation top the list. However, what’s rarely included as a leadership challenge is the need for leaders to challenge their effectiveness in the context of the presented challenges.

Think about it. If you’ve been tasked with leading a transformation or change in your workplace, where are you directing your energy? Are you focusing on how others must adapt and change, or are you considering what you might need to do differently?

For most people (me included), it’s far easier to identify how we think others need to change. It’s far more work to determine where we need to change and then figure out how to do that.

Yet, to consciously lead change, we must be prepared to change ourselves – our mindset, operating style, and management and leadership behaviours.

Leaders change first
Being a change leader is daunting, and it’s also a crucial part of being a leader in today’s working world. You’ll face a myriad of challenges – complexity, ambiguity and often conflicting priorities – to name a few. You’ll also have extraordinary opportunities – to experience growth, see growth in others and help improve your workplace.

To succeed, you must work across boundaries, be open to new ideas and learnings, be innovative, authentic and resilient. You also need to look within.

Harvard academics Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey, who have studied why many crucial change efforts fail, found that one of the core problems is the gap between what is required and a leader’s own level of development.

In their book, Immunity to Change, they explain how: “…it may be nearly impossible for us to bring about any important change in a system or organisation without changing ourselves (at least somewhat)…”

This is you, embracing the notion that successful organisational transformation requires not just change for team members and colleagues but personal change for you, too.

It’s more than technical
Understanding what personal changes you may need to make through the change process goes beyond pinpointing new technical skills.

It’s about delving into the meaning that drives your behaviour and the mental models you are applying to your decisions. It’s challenging your assumptions and expectations and being open to what you don’t know. It’s accepting you don’t have all the answers.

Such introspection and reflection form the cornerstone of effective leadership. It takes time, patience and effort to look within, and you may need to seek help to do this.

Get support
We are often unaware of what drives our feelings, thoughts and actions. Similarly, we are often unaware of how those behaviours are viewed by others and how they impact those around us. Research shows that most leaders self-rate their self-awareness as high, while their peers, colleagues and team members rate their self-awareness as lower.

So seek support. A trusted friend or advisor, a mentor or business coach can be very helpful in helping you reflect on your behaviour and create the necessary insight that is a precursor to personal change.

Identify your leadership moments
Look for red flags. Are there times when your behaviour is inconsistent? Are you playing favourites with people in your team? Are you living up to commitments? Are your behaviours authentic and values-driven?

Start to identify the triggers for your behaviours. Those triggers may be situational or people-related. Knowing what triggers your behaviour enables you to determine more readily what you want to shift.

Examine your ‘leadership moments of truth’; that is, those actions that you take (often unconsciously), that define how your leadership style is viewed by colleagues, peers and team members.

It includes, for example:

  • What you pay attention to
  • What you prioritise
  • How you react to issues and when things go wrong
  • What you say and what you do and don’t do
  • How you allocate resources and rewards
  • How you recruit and promote

This is a discovery process where you start to uncover more about who you are, what you stand for and what drives your feelings, thoughts and actions.

Lead by example
As you do this work, be open with your team about your insights and areas of focus.

When you, their leader, are open to introspection and personal growth, it sets an example for them. It creates a more receptive environment for personal development and establishes a continuous improvement and learning culture. It sends a powerful message that transformation at work is not just a matter of altering processes or putting in new systems, but it is an exploration and experience of individual and collective development and growth.

So, next time you’re asked to lead a change, start thinking about what you may need to change in yourself. The outcomes of doing this may surprise and, hopefully, delight 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.

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