Central to effective leadership is bringing about change. It’s about setting direction, aligning people to that direction, and inspiring them into action.
That’s why leadership is challenging because human beings are largely creatures of habit. Unless the current situation is clearly bad we generally carry on with the status quo – like the classic frog in a slowly warming pot.
It’s important that the dynamics of leading change are understood. If they are not, leaders are likely to charge off into the future only to be surprised when they turn in their saddles to see no one following. Here are a few things to recognize.
First, leaders of organizations have acclimatized themselves to the proposed change. Like mountaineers preparing for an assault on a major peak they have spent time thinking about and discussing the change and its implications. They have mentally got used to the idea before heading for the peak. When the time comes to announce the change to others they are ready to go. They then expect others to also be ready even though they have not had time to acclimatize themselves to what’s being asked. So wherever possible give people time to acclimatize to the idea of the change.
Second, the reason why many leaders fail to lead change is they fail to engage and move people emotionally. Organizations are rich in the language of logic and reason. When it comes to leading change some leaders restrict themselves to only talking about the business case for why things must change. Intellectually people will get the rationale for the change but they are unlikely to be inspired to take action.
Effective leadership engages people at an emotional level as well as an intellectual level. So it’s not just talking about the hard benefits that will come from the change (for example, a more sensible organizational structure, better financial performance, improved performance versus competitors) but also the soft benefits (for example, sense of pride and achievement, being part of something new and daring, personal and professional development). In short, leaders must engage people’s heads and hearts.
A third key to leading change is to communicate, communicate, communicate! It is not enough to announce it once to the staff at a meeting, put it in a newsletter, make a corporate video and then assume people have got it. Some people won’t hear it till the seventh or eighth time. Being sick and tired of communicating about the proposed change is a symptom of effective leadership. If you don’t have this symptom chances are you aren’t communicating enough. Face-to-face is always best followed by small groups. Newsletters and emails are follow-up tools only.