How to lead change
Is the role of the change leader becoming less relevant, when more people become involved at an earlier stage? We do not think so. In fact, we believe that the role of good leadership is probably more important than ever. Leaders who give direction, and who incarnate the desired change with authenticity and integrity.
We asked 25 CEOs and top executives (from here on referred to simply as CEOs) in private companies and public organisations to share their point of view on the subject of change.
The conversations were conducted in the spring of 2014, and we asked the CEOs to reflect on leading change. From the conversations, we detected six domains of change leadership that were considered critical by the CEOs:
To attract followers, a leader has to be many things to many people. The trick is to pull that off while remaining true to yourself.
Although only a few of the CEOs used the word “authenticity” nearly all of them stressed the importance, but also the difficulty of staying true to yourself – your beliefs and values during periods of difficult changes.
Most of them admitted that sometimes you need to make changes which you are not 100% convinced about yourself, but that you still need to be able to look yourself in the mirror by the end of the day.
Change requires you to make bold decisions – often without all the necessary information
Change starts with you – incarnate the change you want to see. We picked up on the following wisdom from the CEOs:
Without the right people, nothing happens. A recurring theme was the importance of having the right people in the team to drive the change initiative.
After securing the right core team, the next step is to secure an extended team of stakeholders who actively support the change process.
In other words - forming a guiding coalition. A relevant mapping of important stakeholders and a profound understanding of their views on the desired state is another important success factor when driving change:
Involvement and participation – the king’s road to win the hearts and minds of people. Almost all of the CEOs stressed that implementation of change stands and falls with all the people in the organisation who are prepared to think and act in a new way. Real change only occurs when people change their behaviour.
As mentioned before, the CEOs talked about transparent communication as a way to gain respect and create confidence (although it is probably not a good idea to communicate about a reorganisation or downsizing long before it actually happens. We also got some very concrete examples of methods and tools used to create high engagement:
With the right culture – anything is possible. With the wrong culture – everything is impossible.
All of the CEOs stressed that the culture plays a key role when it comes to succeeding with change – with the right culture in place, the chances of success are high – with the wrong culture, most change initiatives fail to deliver the expected results. Two challenges were often mentioned:
Many interesting discussions followed and this is clearly an engaging area, but what all the CEOs agreed on was a basic fact: There are many ways to address the culturerelated challenges, there are very few “truths”, and the real mistake, which is unfortunately frequently made, is to not address this somewhat intangible area at all.
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