Tips for effective Leadership

Ah, the ever so scary “c” word. It represents the unknown. Sometimes it’s referred to as adapting and sometimes it’s referred to as pivoting, yikes! It could bring something absolutely, mind-numbingly terrible, or it could be great, but please let it be anything but this – don’t say it! Oh, I just went and did it anyway. Here’s the big elephant in the room; yep that “c” word is, of course, the word change. Now, leading through change can be challenging, but fortunately I’ve got some helpful tips for effective leadership through changes good and not-so-good.

There are two types of people

First, it’s important to understand there are two types of people, and in my experience, there’s a hard line between them. There are change agents (I even wrote a blog about this you can read here), then there are those folks who are stubbornly and naturally resistant to change.

Another black and white truth is that people do not change. By the time a person turns 15, 16, 17 years old, the cake is baked. This is not just my experience talking here either, there is current, relevant, factual data supporting this truth. It’s the old nature vs nurture argument, but, even without this data, I vehemently believe people don’t change and it’s certainly not our jobs as leaders to try to change them.

I also think this is actually pretty great once you embrace this reality, because as a leader, whether you’re going through a process change, people changes, a strategy change, or even just changing a product or supplier, as long as you understand this basic fact, your leadership influence on managing through change will be far more successful and rewarding.  

Effective leaders influence behavior and habits

As I stated, effective leaders recognize that you don’t change people, but you can certainly influence behavior and habits.

Leading effectively through change and influencing people to come along with you is largely dependent on proper communication. This goes back to the idea that you have two ears and one mouth, so use them accordingly. Listen first, then you’ll know how to best respond. This is very different than just listening to prepare your response. See the difference?

Think of it in these terms. Maybe you’re asking people to leave the organization (or as Disney says, “find their magic elsewhere”), inviting new people to join and get on the bus, or just rearranging where everyone sits on the bus, but any way you do it, there is change involved. And no matter how big the organization is, change tends to make people nervous and it can cause unrest. Some people will embrace it, but those in the change resistant category will always present a challenge, even if their new seat on the bus is a better fit for them and their skillsets. Ultimately, it’s your job to make the tough decisions and deal with the fact that not everyone is going to like it.

Communication is the key

The best way to get people on board is to communicate about the change early and often. Be patient. Many people, by their very nature, will have to hear this information over and over throughout a series of days, weeks, sometimes even months before they are on board.

So, you should be asking yourself:

How do I need to communicate this change and how quickly does it need to happen?

When I think of timing, approach, and delivery of information, I think the way this information is delivered is extremely critical. Especially if it’s a significant change. It should always come from the top. I would encourage all leaders to create an open and safe environment for all team members. As Truman said, “The buck stops with me.” The change needs to be communicated by you, the leader.

The most important part in the process in my opinion, is after the change has been made. This is when you must hold your ground, be consistent, honor the process as a leader and get the leaders around you to do the same. The show must go on and every decision in your organization must be through the lens of “what is in the best interest of the organization” not any particular individual.

The people changes and any major strategic changes require extensive planning, thinking and introspection prior to implementation. You don’t want to cut your people off at the knees, but rather provide empowerment and give them guidelines that will enable them to play ball and be team players. Remember, as a leader your job is not only to perform but ultimately to make the people around you better than you.

Leading through change requires thick skin

Leading through change also requires mental toughness; rhino hide thick skin if you will. What you can’t be is a windsock. It’s one thing to change the compass. It’s another thing to be ever changing like the wind and weather.

Again, I want to reiterate that how change is communicated is almost as important as what is communicated. I always recommend delivering information early, clearly, concisely, and factually, trying to get buy in. What I mean by early is as soon as you have made up your mind, share the information and keep people current.  Make sure the behaviors align with the change and explain the “why” as best you can. Don’t just tell your people what we are going to do but why.

Ultimately, you’re going to have to embrace the reality that not everybody is going to agree. I don’t care if it’s ten people, a hundred people, a thousand people. And they’re not always going to understand the why. So, do your best as a leader (ideally your leadership team will participate in this as well) to embrace the message, be encouraging, and make room for peoples’ thoughts, opinions, reactions, etc. Listen to them, make sure they’re being heard, be gracious and whatever you do, don’t get defensive. Give everyone a couple of weeks or thirty days to embrace that change and if they don’t, well then, it’ll be time to make the tough calls about whether those people really should still be on the bus with you.

Growing organizations don’t have time for unhealthy egos and if you want to grow and be profitable you must create a culture that understands and embraces the reality that change, and progress are inevitable. Your people need to understand that in your organization it’s required to honor the core values, it’s required to embrace change and finally, it’s required to get results. You can’t just do one of these three. All three are required to be a part of your organization. The hardest part for you as a leader will be showing them this, not just saying it. No surprise, right?

Realize you won’t always be completely successful with getting everyone to buy in. So, you’re going to have to be comfortable with people not liking you and disagreeing. Disagreement is fine as long as the change is embraced, and everyone moves forward together. We don’t have time to keep going over and over the same issues. This is where empathy is incredibly important, as I recently expanded on in “Six Qualities of a Good Leader”.

Remember, you’re not trying to be friends although friendships will develop. You’re not trying to make everyone happy. If you are, that’s a fleeting effort and I would never recommend it. I would say, good luck and candidly maybe you’re in the wrong seat. At the end of the day, your job as a leader is to constantly be looking forward, setting clear expectations and honoring the folks that you’ve hired to do the job.

You’ve got to expect some measure of turmoil, so stick to your guns. Make sure success is clear and that everyone is properly incentivized and equipped to go above and beyond.

Leading through change works better with a “glass half full” approach

Today, with the pandemic which has thrown us all into fast, difficult change, I can think of many examples of companies that are trying to pivot and adapt and they’re doing an admirable job of it. What we share in common is the concept that leading through change is far better with a “glass half full” approach. There has never been a better time for leaders to show their true colors than right now.

I’m not saying you need to be blindly pushing thoughts of sunshine and rainbows and ignoring the hard facts. But hey, balls drop, things break, and sometimes there is a global disease that shuts down the country. I say that a bit in jest but it’s true. We are in this whether we like it or not. The bigger question is what are you going to do about it as a leader? If there’s one constant in business and in life, its change.

You must look through the right lens to lead effectively through change. Remember that your job is not to change people, but understand you’re certainly going to change directions. The things that worked last year might not work this year. If there was ever a time to be open to new ideas and new directions, there is no time like the present.

I want to encourage every business leader when it comes to dealing with change, especially in a situation like we’re in right now, to do your very best to take care of your people. But always, whether you’re really growing, going through a downturn or experiencing a series of changing events, the simple phrases. “We have to do what’s in the best interest of the organization’”and “treat others how you would want to be treated,” should be your guides.

After all, when everything is said and done, I don’t know about you, but I want to be in the people influencing business and run a successful company that’s growing, profitable, and gives people a great vision, a big dream and an opportunity – a career where they feel heard, their ideas matter, they’re respected, they’re inspired, they are growing in skills and excited about life. Whether they’re with your organization for a year, five years, ten years, or longer, they should be better than when they first arrived.