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.
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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.
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