Leading change is hard.
But good change leaders are essential if any kind of change – organisational or otherwise – is going to succeed.
In the context of organisational change, Kotter’s change model emphasises the need for leaders to:
- create the climate for change,
- create the conditions for change, and then
- implement change in a way that will make it stick.
But in order to do this, what are the key characteristics that leaders need?
Attributes of change leaders
Here are 12 critical attributes of change leaders.
- Nous – as a change leader, you need to know your way around the organisational system. You need to be a bit political and you need to know who you can rely upon when needed.
- Knowledge – you need to know what is happening and when, who will be affected and how. You need to keep on top of these facts as changes emerge.
- Self-awareness – You need to know what your values or guiding principles will be through the process of change and stick to them.
- Honesty – be truthful and straightforward at all times. Admit what you don’t know, Find out what you can and transmit that information to your team.
- Own your decisions – make decisions and own them. Be mentally tough enough to admit when you are wrong, and when you are, change what needs to be changed and move on.
- Do what you say – follow through on your commitments and your decisions.
- Give credit – acknowledge the efforts of others. Celebrate successes and small wins.
- Be empathetic – provide psychological safety, allow your team to express their fears and frustrations to you. Hold in confidence whatever is shared with you confidentially.
- Interpret – present the vision of change that makes sense to your team. Interpret the big corporate view in a way that enables your team to recognise their place in it and what the future reality will be for them.
- Persuade – use the platform that the other attributes give you to bring people along on the journey. Use facts and reason to show others the benefits of change and the disadvantages of inertia.
- Engage –involve your team in the vision of the future state. Tap into the team’s emotions to create enthusiasm and motivation to change.
- Be an agent for change – make sure your team is resourced for change. Do they have all the information they need? Do they fully understand what is required and what the future benefits are? Do they have any needs that are not being met?
Of course, the values-based attributes, such as honesty, doing what you say and owning your decisions are critical. But, looking back over this list, I am beginning to think that number 9 – interpret – might be the most important and perhaps the most difficult change leadership task of all.
The point here is that at any given time during a process of transition and change not everybody has the same understanding of what is happening, not everybody has the same perspective on the change and not everybody will be responding to what is happening in the same way.
It is therefore critical to keep open your channels of communication with your team, collectively and where possible, individually, so that you can gauge what you need to do boost understanding and help manage the inevitable anxieties that arise.
There will be elements of repetition in this, because change can be complex with multi-layered implications arising from it and therefore the process of understanding can be gradual and emergent.
The important thing is to realise that just because something has been said, it hasn’t necessarily been understood. Checking understanding is therefore vitally important.