head in the sandAlmost every organization we encounter talks about the need to change. There are many underlying causes for the perception that change is needed including rapid changes in markets, legal environments, consumer behaviors and other factors. Executives are constantly preaching about the importance of change, specifically regarding leadership. They believe that leaders need to become better at leading change and their organizations need to become more adept at responding quickly to new demands as they arise. And yet, these same exact leaders are surprisingly resistant to changing their own attitudes and behaviors. We recently spoke at a three-day event for a Fortune 500 company’s top 130 executives. The entire program was dedicated to change leadership and how everyone there needed to become more adept at leading change. Two things were striking about this experience. For one, very few people actually believed that they had to change in order to be effective at leading change. Second, although there was good content from all the speakers, none of them gave the audience any real-world applications. My session was a hands-on workshop that was meant to guide audience members to define their purpose as change leaders. I opened with three questions. When asked how many had recently experienced change, everyone in the audience raised their hands. When asked how many recently led a change, almost everyone raised their hands. And lastly, when asked how many believed that they needed to personally change how they lead in order to be effective at leading change, only a few raised their hands. We then moved on to an exercise in which the participants worked with a change leadership “purpose” statement developed during a prior Discovery session. The purpose statement was developed by 12 people from this group of executives who had previously shown excellent change leadership. In this exercise, all of the 130 participants had to review the purpose statement generated earlier, discuss their image of greatness in a change leader and journal about their mental model of being a change leader. Afterward, the participants were instructed to write several action items on how to apply their model of change leadership to real-world situations. Every other session in the three-day event was a PowerPoint-based presentation about change with an occasional break for “reflection.” The speakers were very good and had interesting things to say (with the exception of an occasional unreadable slide and an overwhelming amount of content) but, none of them required the audience to apply the content to their real-life situations. The implication of the poor response to the question about their own need to change and the absence of application from the other presenters was that the 3-day session’s focus on change was mostly symbolic. The pattern of responses to the questions meant that change is for everyone else, but the leadership team was just fine the way they were. One person even said, “I am doing just fine, my people need to change what they are doing.” Now imagine that you’re working in an organization where you’re constantly hearing all of the rhetoric about change, but never once see your leadership team change. If you are like most people, you will decide, rather cynically, that the emphasis on change is unmeaningful, causing you to become even more resistant to change. From our experience with change and change leadership, it is clear that the single most important factor in change is to see the executive team change their own way of leading the organization. Executives need to become a role model for change by being the first to be self-critical, reflective and open to change. Do you need to personally change how you lead to truly lead change? If you answer “yes, I need to be a role model of openness to new ideas, risk taking and self-reflection,” then you are well on your way to being a great change leader and driving the changes needed for your organization. Remember, if you answer “no, I’m unwilling to change,” then you will harm the organization and you might as well prepare your resume because you may soon be out of a job. So let me ask again, are you willing to change the way you lead?]]>

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