The Meaning of Change for Leaders

changeLeaders need to revel in change.  There’s no other way to say it.  Without a bona fide commitment at the top to alter an organization’s way of doing business, change will fail.  Not at first and maybe not for some time.  But it will fail.  Lasting change requires lasting effort and lasting leadership.  Much has been written about “change du jour” a common behavior of some leaders.  Flitting from the latest management fad to the next, their lack of focus drains the very resources they need to effect real, lasting change.

This isn’t to say there isn’t value in failure.  Michael Krigsman writing for ZDNet.com notes that “Failure creates excellent opportunities to refine experience and knowledge into great success.” True enough.  Let’s be clear though, smart leaders do everything possible to give themselves, their teams and organizations maximum leverage for success at the start.  How?  Here are five steps:

1.  Know the Readiness of your Team.  Sometimes you just need to move.  Doing so means change will be thrust upon people and the organization.  Smart leaders will begin the task of assessing their teams long before change is needed.  Knowing as much as possible about your team–strengths, weaknesses and motivations are key.  There are plenty of assessment tools to help.

2. Craft and Share Your Plan.  Change is not arbitrary nor capricious.  It is a well crafted and planned process.  Something well thought out, discussed at length with those affected with milestones for measuring progress.  None of this means you won’t alter course along the way.  Engaged team members will debate, define and redefine measures big and small.   They will help clarify your own thinking and bring meaningful measures to the process.  Change leadership is all about choosing the optimum actions and managing the consequences, expected and otherwise.

3. Avoid the Change Buddha.  Inevitably, someone on your team or in your organization will have seen this all before.  They will have a thousand reasons the latest change initiative will not succeed.  While it may be useful to hear out the naysayers, realize that fear is often the underlying emotion and powerful motivator.  Fear is often deployed in disguise as wise advice and cautious optimism–an expectation limiter–that damages the effort before it gains real traction.  There are so many ways to stifle a change initiative.  If You Meet The Change Buddha on the Road, Kill Him! (With apologies to Sheldon Kopp and his classic book If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him!)

4. Be Gracious and Tenacious.  Remember at the outset, your team is only human.  Just like you.  The work of change leaders is intellectually difficult and emotionally draining.  There will be setbacks.  People who you trusted to carry-out portions of the plan will stumble.  Some will peel away in frustration.  Smart leaders are powerfully pro-active in seeking out these struggles among the team early. It requires persistence.  It requires courage.  It requires patience. This is hard work and smart leaders treat it as such everyday.

5.  Change Leadership Is An Art, Too!  As Max De Pree, the former CEO of Herman Miller and author of Leadership Is An Art reminds us, at the beginning of the day, it is the leader’s job to define reality.  At the end, it is the leader’s job to say thank you.  Smart leaders realize no one does this work by themselves.  At least not successfully.  Your entire team will require your energy, encouragement and support along the way.  They will demand it in different doses and in different circumstances.  Some will just need to know it’s there.  Be that leader.  Your success and their’s depends on it.

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