The adage 'walk the talk' is a cornerstone for the success of any change project when it comes to leadership behaviours. According to John Gardener, a professor at Stanford Business School, leaders distinguish themselves from managers in the following ways:
- they think long term;
- they see the big picture and the interconnections;
- they reach and influence people beyond their normal jurisdiction;
- they place heavy emphasis on vision, values and motivation;
- they are politically adept and;
- they constantly think in terms of renewal.
The single most important attribute that a leader should always strive for is trust. Employees will journey through the transition from the 'as-is' to the 'to-be' of any change project easier with a leader they trust. A thought leader approaches work with a long-term perspective, consciously understanding what they do for an organisation to achieve its' vision and its' success, will outlive them and build a culture that will sustain that business. A leader with influence is a conscientious leader who understands how their day to day interactions with everyone play a critical role when they must lead a change project.
Championing and Leading Change
The first thing that a leader is tasked with during a change project, is to share the objectives and how these are intended to enable an organisation to achieve its' strategy or solve a business problem. The leader as the champion of the project needs to buy into the 'why' the organisation needs the change in the first place. Since as a leader one is tasked with legitimising the project, it is important for a leader to believe in the importance of that project for the organisation before selling it to anyone.
The values of the organisation, which speak to how things are done on a day to day basis, need to be the guiding principles on how any change project is approached. By the leader dedicating time to engage and ensure that everyone knows why the project is crucial for the success of the organisation, the leader is acknowledging that organisations don't transform but people within an organisation do. This exercise takes a leader working with the change management team to clearly engage on what behaviours will show up for the project at hand to be a success. This translates into employees understanding that for any change project to be a success, they need to commit and do their part to enable the organisation to thrive. No matter what leadership style is followed, one of the most important tactics a leader needs to be conscious of is that of being an influencer. This will ensure alignment between what they say and what they do, not leaving employees confused on whether the project is important or not.
Adaptability. A Requirement!
During times of a change, it is important to have leaders who are not only adaptable but also understand that this approach is not only enabling them to influence others, but intentionally takes this as an opportunity to build this attribute into the culture of the organisation. Being adaptable means that even though there is a pro-active plan to help people transition, it is also important to change it if there is a need and that assures impacted employees that they are working in a responsive environment. Successful change leaders are willing to be lifelong learners by asking questions to get the right feedback to support employees' transition during times of change. Adaptable leaders encourage employee participation.
According to Richard Barrett of Barrett Values Centre, the pathway to creativity begins with employee participation. In a changing environment, if there is to be any success at all to enabling employee transition, employee participation is key as this helps them to own the project instead of seeing it as a leaders or organisation project. There are five stages to participation: invitation; engagement; reflection; listening and implementation. It is the responsibility of a leader to set up the conditions that nurture participation - a working environment that will make it safe for employees to adapt when required and an environment that empowers people to think and be innovative thus having fulfilling careers that make a difference. When an environment is conducive, rapid changes might be uncomfortable, but employees are able to navigate them will minimal disruptions to the profitability of an organisation.
Consistency. A Must!
Consistency is key to great leadership. When we talk consistency, it is important to think in terms of behaviours, moods, expectations etc. When a leader is consistent, even during turbulent times, this gives employees direction but also importantly models some of the behaviours that might be outlined in the culture of an organisation but seem to not be attainable until someone consistently lives them. This also gives staff the necessary support as they know once expectations are set and necessary uncomfortable conversations have happened, they can see nothing but consistency and flexibility that is communicated through actions and written communication when required.
Effective change management requires building an environment where people are motivated to adjust to ever-shifting circumstances. It is true that change is the only constant and organisations will survive if they are able to manage these turbulent times successfully by having a change resilient workforce. Leaders will be able to execute change strategies by consciously 'walking the talk' whilst creating a positive response to the changes within the organisations they lead. The leader as an influencer during times of change cannot be over emphasised, however a leader can only influence others if they have consistently built a trust relationship through living the values that an organisation subscribes to. It is thus important for organisation to invest in leadership development in building a change management capability, resulting in an environment that is change responsive with minimal disruptions during change projects. When leaders understand how value based leadership will not only help them align since their behaviours are informed by the company values, they will consistently be able to influence others not only during times of change but in achieving results on a regular basis.