This Harvard Business Review article by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman suggests ways in which good leaders enable people to change. I think it captures some of the best attitudes and behavior of those leaders who value the growth and development of their employees.
However, there’s one missing element that I would like to have seen the authors include and emphasize. They defined effectiveness at leading change as “…the managers’ ability to influence others to move in the direction the organization wanted to go.” True, per se – but only if that direction promotes collaboration, creative innovation, learning and development; occurs within a positive, healthy leadership culture; is committed to sustainable practices; and in which leadership conveys – as recent studies find is essential to a productive workplace — a sense of humbleness and empathy in one’s leadership role.
With that caveat, I think the authors describe eight leadership practices that do support positive change among employees. They are based on their analysis of a large dataset of direct reports and leaders. Following is their description of them, excerpted from their HBR article.
1. Inspiring others. There are two common approaches that most of us default to when trying to motivate others to change. Broadly, we could label them “Push” and “Pull.” Some people intuitively push others, forcefully telling them they need to change, providing frequent reminders and sometimes following these steps with a warning about consequences if they don’t change. This is the classic “hand in your back” approach to motivating change. (We noted earlier that classic “Push” doesn’t work well.)
The alternative approach is “Pull,” which we can employ in a variety of ways. These include working with the individual to set an aspirational goal, exploring alternative avenues to reach an objective, and seeking other’s ideas for the best methods to use going forward. This approach works best when you begin by identifying what the other person wants to achieve and making the link between that goal and the change you’re proposing. Inspiring leaders understand the need for making an emotional connection with colleagues. They want to provoke a sense of desire rather than fear. Another approach in many work situations is to make a compelling, rational connection with the individual in which we explain the logic for the change we want them to make.
2. Noticing problems. Lots of management advice focuses on the need for individuals to become better problem solvers; but there is an important step that comes even earlier. It is the ability to recognize problems (to see situations where change is needed and to anticipate potential snares in advance).
For example, in one company we worked with, it was common to hear people being praised for their heroic crisis management skills – rescuing projects on the brink of failure, or getting a delayed product to a client just in time. A new manager recognized this pattern as a serious problem. She correctly saw it not as a sign of hard work, but as a symptom of a broken process.
3. Providing a clear goal. The farmer attempting to plow straight furrows selects a point in the distance and then constantly aims in that direction. Change initiatives work best when everyone’s sight is fixed on the same goal. Therefore, the most productive discussions about any change being proposed are those that start with the strategy that it serves.
4. Challenging standard approaches. Successful change efforts often require leaders to challenge standard approaches and find ways to maneuver around old practices and policies – even sacred cows. Leaders who excel at driving change will challenge even the rules that seem carved in stone.
5. Building trust in your judgment. This is both about actually improving your judgment, and improving others’ perceptions of it. Good leaders make decisions carefully after collecting data from multiple sources and seeking opinions from those whom they know will have differing views. They recognize that asking others for advice is evidence of their confidence and strength, not a sign of weakness. Because of their ability to build trust in the decisions they make, their ability to change the organization skyrockets. If others do not trust your judgment it will be difficult to get them to make the changes you want them to make.
6. Having courage. Aristotle said, “You will never do anything in this world without courage. It is the greatest quality of the mind next to honor.” Indeed, every initiative you begin as a leader, every new hire you make, every change in process you implement, every new product idea you pursue, every reorganization you implement, every speech you deliver, every conversation in which you give difficult feedback to a colleague, and every investment in a new piece of equipment requires courage. The need for courage covers many realms.
We sometimes hear people say, “Oh, I’m not comfortable doing that.” Our observation is that a great deal of what leaders do, and especially their change efforts, demands willingness to live in discomfort.
7. Making change a top priority. One of Newton’s Laws of Thermodynamics was that a body at rest tends to stay at rest. Slowing down, stopping, and staying at rest does not require effort. It happens very naturally. Many change efforts are not successful because they become one of a hundred priorities. To make a change effort successful you need to clear away the competing priorities and shine a spotlight on this one change effort. Leaders who do this well have a daily focus on the change effort, track its progress carefully and encourage others.
Becoming a change enabler will benefit every aspect of your life, both at home and in business. It will even help you to change yourself.
Credit: CPD Archive