It is difficult to name an organization that has not been affected by significant change in recent years, and the pace of this change shows no sign of slowing. Organizations continue to struggle to develop strong leaders who are not only skilled at managing today’s challenges—whether they are customers, competitors, communities, climate change, or the realities of a post-coronavirus economy—but who are also prepared for whatever the future may hold.
Why is leading change so difficult? Because leaders often assume that revising policies, incorporating new technology, or communicating updated financial goals will produce the desired results. If it were that simple, there wouldn’t be such a long history of changes, reorganizations, and innovations that are now used as case studies of what not to do.
However, the crucial element is the peopleboth of them Inside and outside the organization. Their actions, inaction, and reactions can make or break any change initiative. For transformation to take hold, people first need to understand the changes and what they mean for them. They must then modify their behaviors in ways that are consistent with and help achieve their desired outcomes.
For this reason, a change leader will have to juggle many roles – communicator, influencer, mobilizer, and team builder, to name a few.
The three success factors for senior leadership development programs
Critical change leadership capabilities
Many capabilities contribute to effective change leadership, but four stand out as being vitally important at the macro level. To manage change successfully, leaders must be able to:
- employment Perspective and critical thinking To challenge their assumptions and consider new approaches.
- Understand their organization and Use strategic and organizational agility To complete things.
- Communicate vision and purpose To every level of the organization.
- Leadership execution To maintain momentum and achieve vision.
Employing perspective and critical thinking
Effective leaders have the ability to observe situations from multiple angles and envision how actions or scenarios might be implemented. They prefer to gain a fuller understanding of a situation by exploring multiple routes rather than following the first or easiest option available. This may include seeking information from additional sources, researching what has or has not worked in the past, testing assumptions before formulating an approach, and weighing all available facts and evidence objectively.
Perspective and critical thinking skills are developed by building a variety of experiences, exploring a wide range of ideas and perspectives, and exposing oneself to unfamiliar situations and tasks. While motivating the individual to improve and exercise this ability is crucial, there are ways in which an organization can support its development.
Ideas for developing skills
- Arranging a temporary assignment to an unfamiliar part of the organization.
- Set up lunch meetings with counterparts from different functions across the organization to learn more about what they do.
- Participate in cross-functional project teams focused on a new or as-yet-unsolved business challenge.
- Actively seek perspectives and insights from outside the organization through podcasts, videos, readings, and formal learning opportunities.
Use strategic and organizational agility
Successful change does not come from shots in the dark, nor does it require looking into the future in a crystal ball. Instead it requires agility. To be strategically intelligent, a leader must have insight into his or her organization, gain a broad understanding of its strengths and areas of opportunity, and be able to articulate and articulate future possibilities to others.
Organizational agility goes hand in hand. To have any hope of engaging others around an idea or recommendation, an effective leader must first understand how the organization works. They should know who the decision makers, influencers and gatekeepers are. They must also understand risk appetite and be aware of the external and internal drivers that may influence any decisions.
Both of these abilities require comfort with ambiguity as well as personal flexibility. Advocating a future course of action will, by its very nature, require reliance on incomplete information. If circumstances change, a change in plans may be required. And circumstances can always change again.
The most capable leaders learn to rely on their ability to persevere, while at the same time influencing others to remain supportive of the direction.
Ideas for developing skills
- Developing a strategic capability takes time and thought. To the greatest extent possible, and depending on the manager level, delegate day-to-day job tasks to team members to free up time for strategy-related work.
- Establish mentoring relationships between senior leaders and emerging leaders to encourage frank discussions about organizational ideas, concerns, and visions.
- Explore organizations like the Conference Board to learn about a wide range of issues and viewpoints.
- Participate in small group training with others from different functions to promote listening, sharing perspectives, and peer mentoring.
Communicate vision and purpose
Engagement is one of the most powerful motivators for employees. A 2023 Gallup report found that work engagement declined for the first time in a decade. However, many organizations have been able to reverse this trend even while dealing with difficult circumstances by focusing on strong leadership, culture, values, and clear expectations.
Successful change leaders have the ability not only to strategize about the future, but also to turn that strategy into a clear and compelling vision for every employee – regardless of their level or profession. They know how connected their employees feel to their coworkers, have opportunities to learn and grow, feel supported by their managers, and are inspired by their organization’s guidance.
This requires extensive knowledge of the workforce, the ability to tailor messages to different groups and individuals, and to develop consistent models of what new thinking and behaviors look like. It also requires the ability to anticipate and manage resistance.
Ideas for developing skills
- Lead a team tasked with integrating a new business unit.
- Hold informal discussions with a wide range of employees to get their reactions and ideas about the proposed major change.
- Look for role models with a reputation for managing vision and purpose effectively.
- Get insights from external resources, leaders and speakers.
Many great strategies have failed to deliver on their promise due to flawed implementation. Unfortunately, the patience of the internal workforce and the external market may be limited.
For a leader, effective implementation entails making difficult decisions, often with incomplete information and under tight deadlines. With so much at stake for a change leader, from reputational risks to the expectation of achieving desired results, it can be easy to fall into the trap of micromanagement.
However, it is important to remember that successful change efforts depend on actions and participation by the broader organization. Employees want to understand the new direction, they want to play a role, and they want to be recognized for their contributions. To this end, leaders must effectively delegate responsibilities, collaborate with peers and leadership to ensure alignment, and persevere through the inevitable roadblocks, surprises, and misfortunes.
Ideas for developing skills
- Assign a project with a tight deadline to a group.
- Build a cross-functional team to address an important business problem.
- Managing a temporary, ad hoc group of resistant employees through an unpopular change project.
- Utilize an executive coach to help gain personal insights, work through obstacles, and explore plans and actions with a neutral party.
As the past few years have shown, the unexpected is to be expected. Future-ready leaders must be empowered and well-prepared. Organizations around the world face the dual challenge of recruiting and retaining strong leadership while working to ensure these individuals develop the future-focused capabilities that the organization needs.
Developing change leadership skills is a shared responsibility between the individual and the organization. While individuals need to be proactive in seeking opportunities, the organization must provide the foundation to help develop those skills. Questions that senior leadership and the L&D community should consider:
- Does this foundation promote systems thinking, encourage curiosity and adaptability, and reward reasonable risk-taking?
- To what extent is leadership development effectively integrated into job experiences, training and feedback while also complementing formal learning?
- How involved are senior leaders in defining roles and recognizing change leadership behaviors and accomplishments?
Developing a cadre of future-ready leaders is an effort undertaken by the entire organization. As evolving circumstances push organizations to transform their business models, adapt to an increasingly diverse and demanding workforce, and build resilience to meet what’s next, investing in building a critical mass of leaders who are ready for continuous change will help ensure their successful future. And sustainable.
Learn more about Big Think+
With Fortune 500 CEOs, Ivy League academics, and best-selling authors of any content provider, Big Think+ learning experiences are designed to guide, inspire, and accelerate your leaders. Visit our Leadership Development page to view sample lessons and explore how Big Think+ can motivate leaders across your organization. We believe you will quickly realize the game-changing impact our leaders will have on you.