Lead Through Change or Muddle Through Chaos

In today’s rapidly evolving and increasingly competitive world the ability to lead and manage change is a key competency that cannot be neglected.  It is shocking therefore how many leaders appear to simply download the “change management” piece to everyone but themselves. Change management (or organizational transformation) includes restructuring, new vision, periods of growth, downsizing, mergers, leadership handover etc…and is a key component of the daily challenges facing organizations today.

If we know that it is critical as a leader to be able to lead change and that it is a must have competency, why do so many leaders fail at leading change?

It must be noted that here is an important difference between change management and change leadership. Change Management specialists and HR partners are key collaborators within any change initiative but the fact remains that it is the Leaders that MUST lead through a change. Regardless of the change or transformation that your organization is experiencing, a leader sets the tone, strategy and vision for the desired future state.  When we mistake change management for change leadership we minimize our role as leaders and therefore also minimize the impact that we can have on the overall success of the transformation.

In the words of John Kotter “these terms are not interchangeable. The distinction between the two is actually quite significant. Change management, which is the term most everyone uses, refers to a set of basic tools or structures intended to keep any change effort under control. The goal is often to minimize the distractions and impacts of the change. Change leadership, on the other hand, concerns the driving forces, visions and processes that fuel large-scale transformation. “

One of the first steps to undertake when contemplating a new initiative (change mandate) is to ask the following core questions.

  • Why is this change essential to your organization?
  • What will the organization look like as a result of this change?
  • How will you know that you have been successful (what are the criteria for success)?
  • Who is accountable for the implementation of this strategy?
  • What do you see as your role throughout this initiative?
  • How committed are you personally to being present throughout this change?

More often than not, leaders are not able to answer these questions and/or they do not see that they have a role to play!!  Key comments that keep coming back; “well I have assigned one of my managers to look after this.”   This is not a task that can simply be offset to someone else.  Yes, you can and certainly should have a team that is committed to seeing the change happen as well as be able to execute on certain deliverables but at the end of the day a leader must be able to set the tone and create a compelling vision. A leader must also be able to tell the story of why change is needed and define where we are going and why.  The leader must also always be visible and engaged.

Create a tactical team and operationalize your strategy but please do not believe that change leadership is a “task” that someone else can do!

The decision is yours: you can either decide that you are going to lead through change or you can allow things to unfold however they may and find yourself muddling through endless chaos.

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