3 Tips For Leading Change

Second in a series on Change Leadership

Thomas Jefferson said the “dispositions of the mind, like limbs of the body, acquire strength by exercise.”  The “mind” of an organization is its leadership. And leadership is defined as those making decisions, including but not limited to those “in charge” of the organization. There is leadership, in other words, at all levels of an organization. Leaders of an organization are the ones who are setting strategy, articulating vision and direction. But they are also the ones that are making tactical decisions while executing the strategy.  To paraphrase our learned friend TJ …. “if we don’t exercise our mind (our leadership), it will atrophy and become useless.”

Make an Honest Assessment of your Current Situation

In moving the mind of the organization forward, the first thing to consider is the leadership. The first step in this kind of growth is a critical skills assessment of the leadership itself. It is important that this assessment be more general and all-encompassing than some kinds of superficial assessments you might have experienced. Some sort of team-based assessment, called a 360 degree assessment, is probably advisable. A 360 degree assessment is an evaluation of leadership capabilities. A good tool will address all the classic leadership attributes, from establishing a vision to setting direction to motivating and inspiring. A thorough leadership assessment also assesses classic management skills like controlling, monitoring and directing. A 360 degree assessment shows the level of functioning of both a leader and that leader’s circle of influence.

I happen to be a fan of the “Leadership Practices Inventory” tool developed by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, authors of the best-selling book, The Leadership Challenge.  But there are a number of good tools available in the market.

Everyone who is influenced by you is part of the assessment, from supervisors to coworkers to subordinates. It may very well be that a leader is good at certain parts of leadership – say, the intellectual/financial side – but lacks certain key qualities of emotion or vision. A 360 degree assessment allows for both strengths and weaknesses to be highlighted.

Who Participates in the 360?

Everyone in your leadership group!  The goal for any change or transformational initiative is not just for one person to have the skills to move forward, but for the entire leadership group as a whole to have those skills. A full evaluation and assessment can have both major and minor consequences; new employees may be required to compensate for weak skills in the group, or perhaps new training of existing employees. The most important part of an organization’s growth is the advancement of the mind, though it cannot happen without the simultaneous growth in the body and soul.

When do I know it’s working?

Assessment is generally very successful if it is approached enthusiastically by an organization.  The CEO or someone with a traditional leadership role in the organization being an avid supporter.   It can be tied to new planning initiatives and a professional development initiative. And it’s important to remember that the identification of strong skills is just as important as the identification of weaknesses. Strengths, after all, will be your leverage points. But the assessment of all these aspects is the most important thing, and is crucial to preparing for growth.

Make Leadership Development Ubiquitous

As mentioned above, it is important that “leadership” not be a quality only perceived as residing in a few individuals at the top of an organization. Change is easier and more effective when sound business decision making exists throughout the organization. It’s useful to teach everyone in the organization about the organization; when everyone knows how the business works, everyone understands their role in the business’ success and, with reason, thinks that their work is integral to that success. Leadership, then, becomes ubiquitous in the organization. If lower levels of management know how everything impacts the bottom line, it will be easy to make them aware of how to be more productive and cost-effective. This form of transparency can be a huge benefit for the organization, especially when a change initiative is seeking to change deep-seated ways of doing things.

Driving the Big Points Home

Executives can make this sharing of knowledge easier for other members of the organization. It can be as simple as anecdotal, everyday stories which make it easier to understand how the organization works and how individual employees’ work has an impact on an organization. It’s important not to use complicated business terms like “return on investment capital”; a key line to remember in this context is “turning Wall Street into Main Street.” It’s not just the content of a message that is important, but its medium. Rather than a serious, somber message, often the more humorous or accessible information is more effective. In general, though, however they go about it, executives should drive home every day sick and tired of articulating the organization’s vision, direction and objectives. If they’re not, they’re not doing it enough.

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