Leading Through Change

Other · 7 min read · Oct 22, 2021
leading through change

Humans tend to fear and reject change. We get into our “comfort zone”, and it is difficult to see ourselves out of it. And this sometimes happens even when knowing that change will put us in a better situation.

However, the world we live in changes rapidly and demands a high degree of adaptability to be successful. Even more in this pandemic era, a time that has seen the most simple things of normal daily life such as children’s education, personal health management, working from home, and social rituals like having dinner with friends, undergo a rapid multi-dimensional change.

But this tendency to see changes happening so quickly is not a thing that came from the pandemic. This has been around for some time already. The pandemic only made it exponential and more obvious to all of us.

We can easily see that progress in the development of different technologies for many years, including information technology or IT, Artificial Intelligence or AI, communication networks, the Internet of Things or IoT, among others, has made changes happen faster, continuously, and everywhere. Quoting leadership experts from Stanford, Aneel Chima, and Ron Gutman:

There is a new normal of change marked by three dimensions: it’s perpetual — occurring all the time in an ongoing way, it’s pervasive — unfolding in multiple areas of life at once, and it’s exponential — accelerating at an increasingly rapid rate.

While change is inevitable, constant, and sometimes difficult to implement, it can also bring opportunities that can benefit your business. You can learn more about it with this fantastic course: From Change Management to Leading Change.

With all these in mind, it can be logical to think that a new group of leaders must arise, which is change leaders.

Wooden blocks which spell "change" and "chance" on a blue wooden surface.
Image source: https://analyze.co.za/the-very-real-reasons-why-people-resist-change/

Leading people through change

In general, leading requires a specific set of skills that will help you reach and connect with the people to trust and follow you in the present and the future. But, the conception of a leader as a hero, which refers to an individual who inspires with determination the certainty of what is coming, is not valid when leading through change.

A new focus is associated with successful leaders that work through organizational change. It is more often heard from great leaders that the approach needed is more people-centric than process-centric. With a focus on people, the skills expected to lead an organizational change successfully are:

  • Authenticity
  • Humility
  • Vulnerability

Change leaders who can get those abilities working in their favor can achieve the following results:

  • Inspire trust among others.
  • Provide psychological safety.
  • Drive shared learning and intelligence.
  • Improve collective performance.

So, what do successful change leaders do when leading people in their organizations?

Successful leaders: What do they do?

Effective leadership understands change does not happen randomly. It requires the leaders to be strategic about it. To achieve success in their change efforts, change leaders need to set the process aside and focus on the people first. They need to consider the natural resistance to change and the uncertainty of the moment they lead.

Successful leaders figure out how to battle against change fatigue that makes people reject it and encourage them to embrace it. This type of leadership requires the following characteristics:

  • It provides support – this means helping employees to overcome the personal and professional obstacles people may find along the process. This is done with timely and clear communication, and by providing employees the tools and resources they need to carry on with the plan set for the change.
  • Positive influence – leaders need more than their employees to comply with the tasks assigned in the change plan. They need them to be committed and this is only possible with the right influence. It means persuade everyone involved in the change effort that their buy-in will result in clear organizational and personal benefits.
  • Constant learning – it is obvious that nobody knows all the answers and given the fact that we are speaking about a rapid change situation, leaders need to constantly ask questions and get feedback to make better-informed decisions.

With the three characteristics above, the leaders can cover critical aspects of leading in these conditions. Let’s see some of the critical aspects of leadership for organizational change.

Communicating the outcome

This is critical for employees to know where they are going. All the people involved in the change efforts need to have it clear to produce the desired outcome. The opposite could be compared to traveling without a map or a GPS to a place you don’t know. You may arrive at your destination, or you may not. And if you arrive it will probably take longer.

Communicating the value

Once the outcome is clear, so is the benefit for the organization behind the change. However, employees must understand they will also get something out of that change for employees to deliver.

Here the commonly mentioned phrase that “change starts within ourselves” becomes relevant. Communicating the value will hit the motivation button and increase employee engagement and commitment across different teams.

Showing belief

This could be the most important factor affecting effective leadership during a transition. Leaders need to show they truly believe in what they are promoting. If the leader does not believe in the change, the people around him will sense it, and they will not trust in the outcome or the value that was presented before. How can people commit to the change initiative if the leader is not really committed?

Showing and walking the steps

At the top of any leadership skills list, we can always see “providing clarity” and “guiding with example”. And this is what it takes to achieve change. A change is a process, meaning that it is comprised of many steps. Leaders should make clear what each step involves by walking through it with the people they lead. Also, they need to make clear what the following step is.

Not knowing what steps they should follow will create competing priorities, and they may choose the wrong direction. Each person needs to have the ability to prioritize what is essential for the change to progress when dealing with different tasks. And the leader should provide that knowledge to the different teams that form part of the organization. If you want to be a successful leader, discover how to boost your leadership performance here.

A representation of a successful leader: a businessman encouraging and showing a thumbs up.

Why is leading through change important?

Change leaders are those who can actually lead people through change successfully. Organizations always require these leaders because successful change and adaptability at the pace demanded by the current world is one of the biggest challenges they face.

Moreover, constant change is a new reality, especially after what we have experienced the past year. Therefore, this kind of leadership is essential for any organization looking for a better future.

On the other hand, when people face change, both their mental health and physical health can be affected, which is why you need to provide some kind of psychological safety to lead them. Research shows that the lack of psychological safety is one of the main concerns for people experiencing organizational changes.

So, to summarize, the importance of leading a change process lies in the fact that any company will experience change, and all the people within the organization need to adapt quickly if they want the business and their jobs to survive. But this is only possible when the focus is on the people. When teams feel supported by managing directors, and team members support each other under the right leadership.

What are the five steps of leading change?

Anyone could argue that the steps required for success during a change will depend on the type of change the company is undertaking and the culture and vision it has. However, to manage a critical change for the future of their business in the present world, leadership should always take these five steps:

1) Acknowledge and understand the “what” and “why” behind the change

The first step in any change should be communicating the “what” and the “why” behind the change so that everyone involved finds acknowledging and understanding it very simple. And this should also be connected to the values of the organization and the benefits that will be obtained. Of course, in a world where things change so quickly, it could be tempting to jump quickly into a solution to try and fix it. However, spending time making sure everyone acknowledges and understands the change, making teams share that understanding and vision can be the best way to ensure that your solution addresses the complexity of the problem.

It should start with you, the leader. Then, make people within a team express what they think is the reason for the change. Have different teams share their ideas. They should resonate with the real reason for you to make sure everyone is in the same line.

2) Involve people in developing the change

Organizations need to be clear that all their people need to have the same vision for change. However, this usually has particular challenges, and it requires significant time and resources to be allocated to ensure success.

Many questions answered in the first step may arise again, so patience is necessary. It is important to give involvement the time it needs. Do not rush and make sure people’s commitment is strong enough to proceed. This could be a game-changer in the immediate future.

3) Develop change plans

Obviously, the plan must be crystal clear and include the answers to the following questions.

  • What exactly will change? How different it will be?
  • What are the main objectives to achieve the desired outcome?
  • How will the performance be measured?

You also need to specify how you will be managing ongoing changes to clarify how to adapt the plan.

4) Implement change plans

Remember the showing and walking the steps point described above? Well, this is when that aspect of leadership is relevant. Make sure everyone knows what they do now and what comes after. Provide support and be attentive to identify any fatigue. Having some sort of routine might help, although it should be flexible. Keep your eye on any reaction that may be out of line from the leadership perspective so that you can manage the situation accordingly.

5) Verify progress and celebrate even the smallest victories

How things are moving forward should be evaluated periodically to identify what is going according to the plan and what is not. Of course, the most probable is that success is identified more often than not, so it should be celebrated even if it seems a small victory towards the bigger goal. People will get even more motivated by seeing the team and others recognize their efforts in leadership positions. Some research has proven that even a simple public appreciation will do the trick.

A depiction of developing and executing change plans: a man in suit playing chess as white pieces.

Why do some change initiatives fail?

Research from the Center for Creative Leadership has shown that great world leaders agree on the fact that most of the time, organizational change fails because the focus is given to the process only rather than including the people at the center of everything. So it is not about the initiative.

Other times, people with leadership responsibilities cannot understand the change or believe in it. This lack of belief is passed on to the rest of the people involved, and the change fails.

To put it simply, leadership is what makes the difference between success and failure. But you can always avoid the latter. Preparation is what will make you become a good leader in a world of constant change. And let us tell you that this is especially true for the aviation world. So, if you want to become a great leader in this constantly changing world, we recommend taking the course “From Change Management to Leading Change”.

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Jet pilot @NASA

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