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Beyond Change Management: 5 Qualities for LEADING Change

My last blog focused on the “burning platform” impetus for change. For some readers, it seemed to touch a nerve. The email, hallway, and taxi-cab conversations I’ve had with executives about the entry ranged from “I’m not convinced change can really be made without a burning platform” to “What might be a better approach?” Bravo: the very fact you’re discussing the issue says you are interested in leading change, not merely managing it.

I think the answers to both questions begin here: Too often as leaders we’re going so fast about the tactics of making change happen that we forget people — yes, us human beings — are involved. Many leaders I work with have risen through the global business ranks as excellent “change managers.” For any given change initiative, a good change manager knows how to create plans and strategies, implement actions, and track progress. All very logical and productive steps toward a given goal…

But let’s say you’re in a situation which is ill-defined, complex, and highly charged with emotion. Sound familiar? For most of us, that’s 90% of our leadership situations. Maybe you’re in charge of totally restructuring your organization for increased productivity. Or, you’re overhauling the compensation system to motivate employees without breaking the bank. Or, you’re charged with re-building top leadership teams to rejuvenate company performance. In these dramatic everyday scenarios, Change Management 101 won’t suffice.

Good change leaders I’ve witnessed go beyond logical tactics and rational benchmarks to attend to the soup of human fear, anxiety, excitement, and resistance that is part and parcel with making major changes happen. And, they accomplish this by demonstrating five crucial qualities that are available to any leader willing to take charge of change:

    1. Show Your Authenticity – Drop that image of the unflappable “change manager” in your head. Share your doubts, concerns, and hopes about the uncertain future. While you shouldn’t overdo it, the point is to reveal yourself as a fellow human being. When you’re one of them, your people can relate to you throughout change, with the bonus that you can help them recognize and cope with their own worries and fears.

 

    1. Catch People Doing Things Right – Look for the good things people do to make the change successful, whether it is tackling the smaller milestones or showing up with sincere commitment. Sociologist (and dear friend) Marcial Losada and his colleague, Barbara Fredrickson, found that the teams most capable of flourishing in the face of adversity were those that gave their people three times more appreciative feedback than criticism.

 

    1. Manage Your Energy – OK, change is stressful. But you don’t have to let the stress kill your presence, poise, and energy. In fact, as the change leader, you need to be more balanced than ever, the captain of a ship on topsy-turvy waters. Be aware of your stress signals–that nervous eye twitch, the unending monologue of fears in your head, or — in my case — the way my upper back arches up like the Rocky Mountains (and feels just as heavy). Being aware of those signals means doing something about them: prevent or cope with the signals of stress through mindful commitment: healthy food, more exercise, enough sleep, conversations with good friends, and… breathing.

 

    1. Be a Learner – You can be a model of openness, adaptability, and innovation simply by asking questions and sharing your curiosity about the future. While we do our best as change leaders to define the future, the truth is that we can’t know everything. To some extent, we are all making it up as we go along. You’re probably already comfortable in command; now get comfortable with experimentation, growth, and learning.

 

  1. Hold the Vision – Rather than sticking to a rigid plan, stay focused on any given change’s higher goals… especially when the details of the change… ahem, change. When you’re truly holding the vision rather than grasping at straws (which, let’s face it, is inevitable at times even for the most worthy leaders), you’ll notice it. You’ll feel it in your body (confident, grounded), your language (inspiring, real), and your emotions (passionate, energized).

Go ahead, test yourself. You can apply one of these five qualities to just about any situation you put your mind to. Practice on the small things: hold a vision for what you’ll have for lunch today. (Apply all five of the above and you might find yourself leading one mighty fine lunch!)

Photo by 416style.