With Brexit underway, organisational leaders are said to be facing one of the most challenging periods in change leadership for over 30 years, but a recent 'State of Leadership & Change report’ found that while 90% of senior management expect organisational changes ahead of Brexit, 42% are not worried and 26% ‘not at all worried.’
The research also found that 75% said leaders are getting better at managing change, while 60% of respondents said their businesses had met their objectives for change in the past few years.
This is all the more surprising when traditionally it is commonly accepted that 70% of change initiatives fail to deliver results.
So why are leaders getting better at leading through change and what lessons can future leaders learn?
Focus on people, not processes
Adaptation and transformation are now the norm during what is becoming one of the most challenging periods of change, not just in the UK with Brexit, but also with key international events such as the transformational election of Donald Trump as US President.
Good leaders change and great leaders transform, an approach many leaders are beginning to recognise during these VUCA times.
Today’s leaders are also becoming aware of the importance of focusing on people, not processes when leading teams through turbulent times – and using real metrics to record productivity, profitability and customer satisfaction. ‘The State of Leadership’ research found too much emphasis on process over people was one of the top reasons why change initiatives fail along with a lack of 'why' and a clear purpose for the change; and poor motivation and staff morale.
Leaders are either being taught these change leadership skills needed to lead in today’s VUCA world or they are increasingly learning from experience, with organisations continuing to strengthen their investment in the tools leaders need to turn potential roadblocks into opportunities.
Successful change starts with the leaders themselves transforming
Change is a step-by-step linear process that builds on what happened in the past. Transformation is much more radical. It implies that you are making a fundamental change and that you are changing something or someone at the core. It involves shifting from one state of being to another - like the caterpillar becoming a butterfly.
Increasingly leaders are recognising that changing processes and systems are not enough and are using their people focus skills to connect with people and to take them on the emotional journey that change and transformation requires. But this change starts with themselves, and they need to be willing to go on a personal journey of development so that they are fit to lead.
Transformational leaders are self-aware, have humility and are comfortable in their own skin. They see themselves as a work-in progress, they are willing to learn and grow and they follow these new rules to lead people through change.
The five new rules to leading through change and transformation
Rule 1 – Be purposeful
Good leaders have the courage to face challenges. They identify the purpose, the WHY, and stay calm so they can see a clear way forward. They question why change is needed and inspire their people with the why, vision and objectives for change.
Rule 2 – Know what’s important to people
The best leaders know how their employees are feeling during uncertainty by coaching and giving them the confidence to voice what is important to them. They listen to their team’s concerns on the changes happening around them, they ask questions, engage in the HOW they are going to achieve change, coach and empower their team to act.
They know that people want authentic leaders who do what they say, consistently. They're congruent so people know where they stand with them and trust them. They listen and treat everyone with the respect that they deserve. They connect with people and take them on the emotional journey that change and transformation implies.
Rule 3 – Understand your and your people’s motivation
Without strong motivation a change programme is unlikely to really get off the ground. Motivation ignites change and will drive a team to success, but to achieve this a leader needs to understand what motivates themselves and everyone in their team.
What is needed to create a ‘magic ingredient’ of motivation varies from person to person, as everyone has their own unique blend of nine motivators. For example, The Star seeks recognition, respect and social esteem to drive their motivation. They like visible perks that link to their position, clear hierarchical structures, job titles and the opportunity to ‘shine.’ By putting people in the right roles, which aligns with their motivational drivers, leaders can ignite an individual’s productivity and performance.
Rule 4 – Communicate - help people to change their mindsets
The best leaders are high-impact communicators and help to create an environment where people feel safe to change their mindsets as needed. They give people practical tools to create a positive attitudinal ‘shift’ in behaviours so that together they become the change needed within the organisation and the transformation is sustainable.
Rule 5 – Be agile, change is the new normal (get used to it)
With change now a constant, being agile, adaptable and innovative is the final vital rule. The best leaders have the awareness to be agile and sense what needs to happen in the moment. They are able to do the right thing in changing situations with an open mindset by reacting, reflecting, refining, re-wiring and reviewing.
Adaptable, transformational leaders of the future need to be people focused, not just task and process orientated. They need to be nimble, purposeful and collaborative to really make a difference and have the tools and skills needed to lead their teams through what is going to be one of the most challenging periods of change ahead.
About Carole Gaskell
Carole Gaskell is Founder and Managing Director of Full Potential Group, one of the UK's top leadership development, team performance and coaching companies. The company has developed over 300,000 people in over 1,000 organisations, including companies such as Nationwide, Tesco, Heinz, United Utilities and Diabetes UK.