Updated: May 19, 2021
"Leadership is the engine that drives change." John Kottler
Leadership can be a lonely business, and never more so than in the middle of change management. Based on my own experience and conversations with coaching clients, here are some things that should make it a little easier.
Work to your values
This is the most important thing you can do as a leader. Change will only be successful if you’re doing it for the right reasons. Congruency is essential. If you’re not behaving in line with your values and beliefs, how can you expect anyone else to believe in you?
Know why you're changing
Do you truly understand and believe the reasons for change? Can you explain them in one sentence? Ask yourself “why?” and then “why?” again, until you can be sure your inner toddler has got to the very bottom of it and there is a clear rationale.
Know your people
There are hundreds of thousands of books and articles that will tell you how to manage change. But there will never be a checklist that will work in every situation, because what makes each situation unique is the people.
Only you will know what the fault lines are likely to be in your team, what the pressing concerns will be, and how interpersonal relationships will affect the outcome. This may be “soft stuff”, but it has a huge impact on deliverables, so make sure you have taken the time to think it through properly.
Communicate openly and honestly (but not overwhelmingly)
The importance of excellent communication during a change process is universally accepted. As is the fact that excellent communication means being open and honest with people about why the change is being made and what it will mean for them.
But more is not always more. When it comes to sharing the detail, ask yourself “how will this information serve them”? Is this something they need to know or will it add to the uncertainty or anxiety? Similarly, make sure you are giving people time to process information before asking for responses, or providing the next download.
Acknowledge the challenges
As I’ve discussed in my previous blogs - change is difficult and complex. There is nothing less inspiring than a leader who refuses to acknowledge this. Make space and time to acknowledge the loss of the old, and be honest about the “known unknowns”. Similarly, if something isn’t going to plan, deal with it quickly and openly. Your team will trust you more if you do.
Even with the clearest vision and the most effective engagement strategy, unless you have a proper plan and implement it effectively, change will fail. Make sure you are realistic about what needs to happen, and by when. The odd bump along the way is unavoidable, but too many of these and you will lose momentum and support. People need to know that you can be relied upon to do what you say you will. Again, it’s about trust.
Make sure you have support
Leadership can be tough - don’t forget to look after yourself and your own development. Make sure you have a “safe space” for your own doubts, questions and worries. It could be a supportive peer, a coach, or a partner at home, but it’s essential to make sure you’re taking the time to sound out your ideas and get things off your chest.
It’s never easy, but standing still is rarely an option. Good luck.
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