Think Leadership Ideas

Leading Change

Do you have big changes to make in your organization? Are you working a plan beyond simply surviving the waves of change and instead actually take charge of your future? Do you need people to work well beyond minimum effort to make the change effective?

If so, crank up your skills in leading.

All too often while implementing that big plan for change, executives get caught up in managing at the expense of leading.

The everyday work of organizations consists of structured activity designed to accomplish the goals of the organization. It truly is the work of those in charge to manage, that is, to align resources (including people) within established processes to achieve predetermined objectives. This is good. People need structure and processes to perform. Managing provides essential stability.

There is a fundamental paradox, however, of what brings out the best performance in people. People work beyond minimum effort only when they voluntarily choose to do so. Leading is the art of giving people a genuine choice of yes or no, and making the choice for yes compelling. The true act of leading is determined not by the “leader” but by the person who chooses to “follow”. Leading, by my definition, is the act of gaining willing followers for a course of action when the way forward is uncertain or unknown. Remove change and uncertainty from the picture, and simply managing would be sufficient. At its core, leading is about change.

Effective organizations always have a creative tension between leading and managing. During times when big changes are being asked of employees, the heightened uncertainty and corresponding hunger for stability cause this creative tension to be accentuated. Good managing is critical, but to make changes effective, good leading is vital.

The key to leading change is inviting people to a collective future.

Here are seven actions to bolster leading change:

Articulate goals so they are motivating. What is more inspiring, let’s increase sales 20% or let’s be the sales leader in our industry? Numbers are great for measurement, but to get to people’s hearts, goals need to speak to values or qualities.

Communicate about the territory ahead. Whenever there is change there is uncertainty and a sense that the future is unknown. No one can predict the future, but leaders can share what they know about what lies ahead, both the challenges as well as the ‘vision’ for the future.

Align personal and organizational goals. When accomplishing the company’s objectives will also serve personal goals, it’s more motivating to fully contribute one’s best efforts. Getting to this level of alignment requires two-way communication.

Balance the impact of deference to power positions. It’s a fact of life that people give deference to others who are in positions of power. This means that any ‘invitation’ to change can be perceived as compulsory. It’s best to acknowledge this dynamic, while at the same time cultivate a track record of empowering others.

Celebrate milestones and achievements along the way. Early achievements are a tremendous motivator to keep people on the change journey.

Let each person know how they contribute. People are more likely to choose to follow when what they do feels meaningful.

Treat people as if they are volunteers – ultimately, they are.

by Tom Stevens (c)2006
Tom Stevens helps individuals and organizations create brilliant futures and make a difference. To contact him, visit

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