Leadership qualities to drive change

Leadership Qualities That Can Help You Drive Change

With change and restructuring still firmly on the agenda of many New Zealand organisation I was of a mind to look up a number of my archived change management methodologies I have acquired and in some cases designed over the years. It was all good stuff and full of excellent advice on change leadership qualities and checklists like “create a change coalition, complete a change readiness assessment, and align HR practices etc.”. Regrettably I came to the conclusion that these all too typical change methodologies which have not dramatically changed in the last 10-15 years tells us almost nothing about how to help people change. It is not a large leap of faith to make the same assessment that “How” to actually help others and by inference organisations change is not that well understood in leadership and management circles. You could say that a lot of change leadership is trying to facilitate the right sort of thinking in others. This is problematic as we now know all our brains are different and we have varied individual perceptions of how the world works. It seems that change really does need to happen one brain at a time.

Ironically our brains are wired for learning and change it is just that when we are faced with ambiguity and risk in the workplace the resultant cognitive response is too often anxiety and a narrowing down of thinking. Something nicknamed Hanlon’s paradox just when we need our best thinking and flexibility the very conditions we face tends to increase our rigidity and resistance to change.

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Our brains hold our potential to change however we will tend to resist being changed by others. A key operating principle of how we think is self direction. If more leaders understood the implications of this they might benefit from trying less hard to “sell” change to their people and think about how they could help them “buy in”. Another thing is that leaders would benefit from understanding their own default responses to change and risk. Much of the research conducted post GFC suggests Managers respond to imminent change by working hard on what they consider to be “core” and keeping their heads down and avoiding drama. This doesn’t fit particularly well with employees who pay more attention to their managers during change and look for more accessibility, dialogue and reassurance. It seems it is not uncommon for stressed managers to go missing or be unavailable to their teams. The contemporary thinking on change is promoting a much higher touch model. It does take more effort in consultation and dialogue up front so change initially appears slower however in my experience the pay back and pace of change later on can be breath taking.

Surely an estimated change success rate of about 30% for large scale change
projects is in itself a compelling reason for changing how we do change? Our views of change leadership qualities are outdated and unhelpful. Change happens a brain at a time so leaders better be good at having impactful conversations.