Change How You Lead To Avoid A Transformation Failure [Article]
Written by: Julie Williamson, PhD
Estimated reading time: 4:24 minutes
We’ve all seen the stats on transformation failures, the lists of why they don’t work and the colossal case studies of Kodak, Blockbuster and others that haven’t survived. There’s some truth in all the noise, but I think it risks overcomplicating the issues and misdirecting leaders from understanding a very basic idea:
People love to change other people, but they aren’t so keen on changing themselves.
This simple reality is a fundamental reason why businesses fail to transform. Leaders sign off on everyone else doing different things, but they don’t stop and assess how they need to lead differently. So, they keep tasking the same people with the same things, using the same definitions of success, and holding people to tired and ineffective standards.
Even in times of utter crisis, leaders look outward at what everyone else needs to do differently without reflecting on how their own behavior needs to shift. I’ve seen time and again that even a burning platform can’t compel leadership to change how they lead, although it can create an almost manic energy around changing how everyone else is working.
When I think about the millions of dollars I’ve seen poured into devising strategies, planning transformations, investing in internal campaigns to manage people through change, and convincing investors that the company is all in on a new direction, one thing stands out to me. I’ve rarely seen a CEO stand up in front of their company, their Board or the investment community and say, “This is what we are doing, and here’s how I’m going to be leading different to make this happen.” When I say rarely, I mean once in 30+ years of management consulting.
It takes real courage to do something like that, and I understand why CEOs might be reluctant. It can be hard to acknowledge the need to change yourself as a leader, especially if you have a belief that you need to be invincible to be successful.
But if the CEO isn’t going to do anything different as a leader then guess what? Change isn’t going to happen as fully, quickly or robustly as everyone wants it to.
In the end, it is more likely that the CEO will be replaced, which somewhat ironically accomplishes the goal of the CEO changing. In fact, a few years ago, LeadershipIQ.com published the results of a 4-year study they conducted with Board members around CEO terminations. The number one reason cited in their study? Failed change management initiatives.
In many of these cases, I believe the CEO probably needed to change how they were leading, including how they interacted with the Board and the investment community. Instead, they focused internally on getting employees to do things differently while leading from their own comfort zone.
It is easy to throw darts at CEOs who go down in flames in very public disasters, but this issue isn’t just about people at the top. No matter where you are in a leadership role, most likely, at some point, you will want to get your team to do something differently.
If you put your efforts into changing your team without pausing to think about how you need to lead differently, you will likely run into the same challenges, albeit on a smaller scale.
If you want to avoid falling into the same trap that gets CEOs terminated, try these three things as you are launching a change initiative:
1. Get specific about success.
It is easy for leaders to be fixated on old and familiar reports, metrics, and goals. Leaders often continue to hold team members to old standards of success while simultaneously committing those same colleagues to deliver new results. This holds people back by reinforcing the need to continue to deliver to legacy expectations. Be specific about new success measures and then stop asking your people to report on the old metrics.
2. Ask your team for input.
They know your style and approach, as well as where you might be blind to the need to change how you are leading. In addition to being a great source of input, showing them that you are taking on the work of changing how you lead is one of the best ways to inspire team members to do the same for themselves.
3. Remember that small changes done consistently over time lead to big success.
This isn’t about reinventing yourself. It is about tuning your leadership for the future. For example, if you got into your role because of your technical expertise but your team needs to shift to a new technology, think about what skills you need to develop or emphasize as a leader to take you forward without the level of expertise you are used to having.
Whether you are a CEO of an S&P 500 company or a team leader of 5 developers, leading change is hard. If you are willing to challenge yourself to change with your team, you can accelerate growth and improve the likelihood of success. At Karrikins Group, we call it starting with self, and it is a powerful and courageous way to lead transformation.
Original Article Featured on Forbes: Change How You Lead To Avoid A Transformation Failure
Forbes Business Council is the foremost growth and networking organization for business owners and leaders.