Putting the right people at the helm has launched many high-profile, highly successful turnarounds, from Jack Welch in his early days at GE to Meg Whitman at eBay. But companies don’t have to fire the entire C-suite to put “new” leadership in place.
Leadership is the key to successful major organizational change, which has had a failure rate of 70 percent decades. It IS possible to lead successful and sustainable change – IF it’s led effectively. The problem has been that, so often, it’s not. Workforces in every industry — from manufacturing to service to health care to high tech — are confused and bruised. Employees in this economy thirst for guidance but are distrustful and disenfranchised — not engaged, empowered, or equipped to do what is needed to help their organizations transform to survive and thrive.
The solution? Those who lead change must first change themselves. Here are five simple but effective ways to accomplish that:
• Change Your Story – Reframe resistance. Resistance in organizations is like the immune system in the body; it protects against harmful invaders from the outside. Just like pain in the body is a symptom something is wrong, so resistance is a sign to which managers should pay attention. The goal is not to eradicate it, but to allow it to surface, so it can be explored and honored. To lead more effectively, learn to see resistance as your ally, not your enemy.
• Change Your Stance – Picture a triangle. So often, we view ourselves on one angle, others at another angle, and “the problem” on the third angle. In our minds, it feels like it’s us against the other people as well as the problem. That’s exhausting. Instead, re-envision yourself and the other people working together to solve the problem. Move from being and feeling and acting against others, or doing something to others, or even in spite of others, to working with and even for them. If you can make this simple mindset shift, how you relate to others will almost immediately become palpably partnership-oriented to them.
• Change Your Seat – What you see depends on where you sit. Change looks very different at different levels of the organizational hierarchy. Those at the top are typically isolated. Those at the bottom are most resistant. Those in the middle are squeezed. Sit in others’ seats and appreciate their pressures. Adapt your approach and messages to the very different needs and concerns of these very different audiences.
• Change Your Style – We all know the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would want them to do unto you. To lead change effectively, follow the Platinum Rule: Do unto others as THEY want to be done unto. Tell stories they can relate to. Share statistics relevant to them. Demonstrate what’s in it for all of us to work together in new ways.
• Change Your Strategy – So often, what looks like resistance is really that people don’t get it, don’t want it, or they are unable to do it. Engage the brain by explaining the “why” and “what” of the change — help the “head” understand your vision, mission, and goals. Paint a clear picture of the target and the end game. Inspire the “heart” to care about the change objectives by engaging with others, actively listening, dealing with fears and insecurities, and building trust. Help the “hands” apply the change — provide tactics, training and tools, and eliminate barriers standing in people’s way.
The good news: None of these prescriptions require leaders to change who they are.
They are all about shifts in mindsets and behaviors. It’s about the flexibility to adapt our leadership approach to get us all where we need to go. It’s amazing how when we change, others change. It’s been said before — because it’s true: Be the change you wish to see in the world. That’s leadership.