There are many studies that cite change leadership as the most important factor contributing to successful transitions. Over the the last three years in consulting, I have had the opportunity to test this assertion by observing how different organizations view the roles of change leaders.
Progressive organizations define the change leader’s role and ensure that all leaders are aware of the activities they must perform. The best ones define specific roles for senior leaders and managers that match their levels of seniority and spans of influence. Change capability is valued, invested in and rewarded.
Other organizations have a laissez faire approach to change leadership. The change leader’s role is defined by individual leaders based on their mindset and abilities. There is an unspoken organizational belief that leaders will know how to manage change challenges because of their senior roles and assumed skill set. Change capability is assumed, not an area of focus and not rewarded.
Unsurprisingly, the “they will know what to do” approach doesn’t work. Leaders act and behave based on their personal styles and skill sets, and therefore act inconsistently to challenges with varying levels of success. Mixed messages are communicated and confusion ensues, which leads to distraction, loss of focus and lower performance.
So, what do you do when leaders don’t lead change well? There are three options:
- Build your leader’s desire and ability to take on the change role
- Get another leader to take on the change role
- Take on the change role yourself
Build your leader’s desire and ability to take on the change role
The upside of this approach is that leaders perform the leadership change role themselves. As long as they buy into the rationale for the roles and perform the activities, their abilities will improve and benefits will be gained.
The downside of this approach is that mindsets are difficult to change and the leader my not value your rationale enough to change their behaviour. If so, there still is value in negotiating with them to perform some activities such as communication and removal of obstacles.
Get another leader to take on the change role
The upside of this approach is that another, well-skilled and motivated leader will effectively perform the leadership activities and produce immediate results. Natural change leaders understand the importance of change leadership and take pride in taking on the leader activities.
The downside of this approach is that you need to position the request in a way that avoids personal politics among leaders. Also, it can be difficult to convince a leader to take on a significant commitment that maybe outside their mandate.
Take on the change role yourself
The upside of this approach is that you have the most control of how the role will be fulfilled; you will guide how communications are made, obstacles are escalated and active and visible support is provided.
The downside of this approach is that you are not the best person to take on the change role and its support activities. Benefits will be realized but you may not have sufficient influence to manage issues and get problems resolved. You will also need to position your activities in a way that avoids personal politics.
Gaps in change leadership are common and contribute to many change failures. You have options to address when leaders don’t lead change well so that transitions are successful. The upside of all of them is they give you the opportunity to demonstrate your change leadership skills.