If you believe change leadership is just for top execs, think again. In today’s world, even the way change initiatives are executed has been subjected to change. It’s true. What was once the role of senior management is now the day-to-day responsibility of individuals throughout the organization, from the C-level execs at the tip of the pyramid to the frontline employees at the base.
But it’s a good change. Why? Because studies show that change efforts are more successful when they’re implemented by the people they impact most. In fact, an individual’s ability to lead change has become a key factor in determining professional and organizational performance. And that means it’s time for employees at all levels to develop and hone the skills that will make them effective change leaders:
- Modeling the Change
- Communicating About the Change
- Involving Others in the Change
- Helping Others Break from the Past
- Creating a Supportive Environment for the Change
Let’s take a closer look at each of the five behaviors:
Modeling the Change
It’s simple. Change leaders must lead by example. But walking the talk requires them to possess a high degree of self-awareness as well as the ability to see their actions through the eyes of others. Change leaders must think before they act to ensure their behaviors are in line with the goals of the change effort, and they need to be on alert for subtle—or perhaps not so subtle—cues from people that suggest their behaviors are being perceived differently. It requires change leaders to have thick skin that can withstand direct feedback about change-related actions as well as the humility and self-confidence to correct themselves in front of others.
Communicating About the Change
Change leaders are responsible for getting the message out to everyone who is affected by the change, whether they’re in an office down the hall or across the globe. It requires them to be comfortable communicating with people from multiple generations, experience, and organizational levels—and across all mediums of communication, from written correspondence to one-on-one conversations and group meetings. Successful change leaders are able to put themselves in the shoes of others. They’re prepared to craft messages that address the concerns of others, and they’re skilled at anticipating the response to change. Because change is often riddled with uncertainty, change leaders need to be skilled at communicating even when they aren’t sure what’s going to happen next.
Involving Others in the Change
Participation builds commitment, which is why it’s critical for change leaders to give others the opportunity to be involved in shaping change efforts. From impromptu brainstorming sessions to formal problem-solving meetings, successful change leaders facilitate the process by asking questions that solicit input from others—and then listen actively when people open up. Change leaders must be sensitive and empathize with those in fear but also strong enough to face resistance. Involving others translates abstract change goals into concrete actions and enables personal ownership.
Helping Others Break from the Past
A goal of any change effort is the generation of inventive ideas that will achieve the change. But breaking free from the present way of doing things can prove to be the greatest challenge for some. Change leaders need to help others to understand that the most rewarding, profitable future may not necessarily look like an extension of the present. Their job is to help people to adopt a questioning stance and support others to approach the future with a clean mental slate. As the guardian of possibilities, it’s the change leader’s responsibility to not only encourage others to ask, “why?”—but also to ask, “why not?”
Creating a Supportive Environment for the Change
Change efforts require people to do things differently and attempt things they’ve never done before. And that means mistakes are more likely. This cycle of trial, error, adjustment, and retrial is known as the learning process. It’s exhilarating for some, yet scary and frustrating for others. Effective change leaders know how to minimize stress by creating an environment in which the learning process is acknowledged and accepted as a necessary part of the change. This means finding ways for people to try new behaviors with minimal risk and focusing on the correction of errors rather than punishment for trying.
Leading change is a challenge at any level. Even the highest ranking executive cannot rely on authority alone to implement change. In order to be successful, the leadership of change must cascade throughout the organization. The good news is that there are very specific ways people can learn to lead change, whether they’ve chosen to initiate it or it’s one they’ve been directed to implement.