Change is continuous, the rate of change is increasing exponentially, change is the new norm. How many times do we hear this type of affirmation in a week? Organisational change and transformation are a constant in most organisations, independently of the sector or geographical location.
In this climate, the role of a leader is evolving and increasing in importance. This is due to advancements in technology, a higher educated and informed workforce (knowledge worker), the tendencies to have flatter hierarchical structures and a diverse workforce, (Drucker, 1999: 8).
Leaders are carrying a heavy weight with regards to their role in change management and organisational transformation. Kotter (1990), highlights the transformational and guidance roles of leaders and their ability to cope and support others in unchartered territories.
During change, leaders are obliged to display key attributes to support and build capacity with the stakeholders involved. Bass (1985) asserts that the team driving the change forward needs to be led in a way that inspires and broadens their interest, beyond their one self-interest for the good of all involved.
Leading and succeeding in change
To guarantee the success of change management, leaders need to possess “key attributes for effective change leadership: strong self-image and belief in oneself, high energy levels, a love of people, functional competence, knowledge and strong drive”. (Graetz et al., 2006: 247). Furthermore, they need to erect their professional identity, as Gee (2001: 86) underlines, this “is the manner in which individuals understand and present themselves and how they wish to be perceived by others”. This requires a high degree of emotional intelligence (EI) to show empathy and social skills. Goleman (1998), identifies the five elements of EI, Self-awareness, Self-regulation, Motivation, Empathy and Social skill. Leaders need to be conscious of how their emotions affect other people and acknowledge other people’s emotions, reacting appropriately. Being aware of other people’s emotions enables leaders to understand people’s personal interests. This promotes engagement and drives performance, leveraging personal motivation.
This kind of idea of the ‘heroic’ leader is fascinating and compelling at the same time, in particular for all the individuals that are searching for a meaningful work experience. Nevertheless, maintaining those standards requires an incredible amount of energy and strength.
Considering this, the big questions are: Who and How are organisations supporting leaders during change?
The Lone Leader
Being a leader responsible for organisational change/transformation can be a very lonely place. If the change includes workforce restructuring, this can create a moral internal conflict. Having access to information not openly available about the change to come, initiating a workforce consultation process and deciding the way forward after organisation design activities, can all cause uneasiness even for the most experienced leader.
Stress in unsteadiness
Furthermore, being responsible for the organisation’s outcomes and results, while reducing the workforce and maintaining morale with the ‘survivors’ can be a daunting challenge, leading to stress. This could have a very negative impact on the change process itself, since ‘Stress affects employees in a personally negative way and reduces the effective behaviour’. (Whetten, 2000: 99).
Interestingly, findings from the APQC (2014) research study reveals that, “organisations have a leadership deficit in the areas of Strategic Planning, Change Management, Knowledge Sharing, Listening, and Emotional Intelligence”. Surprisingly, in the same report respondents say that their organisation was giving leadership development little or no priority.
If this is the case, being a leader during organisational change/restructuring is a truly lonely place.
Leaders need to tap into their own resources and find ways to support themselves, being conscious of their limitations, be acquainted with their own Emotional Intelligence and above all, they need to develop and manage their own resilience, morale and motivation.A truly ‘heroic’ challenge.
To support this quest of strengthening our resilience here are some tips:
Resilience can be defined in our ability to ‘bounce back’ after the inevitable life obstacles. Dr. Greg Eells developed a model to help us remember how to shift our mindset to improve our resilience, SAVES.
- Social connection – In difficult times, helps if we can find someone to connect to, we need to tap into our network, to share the load or bounce ideas off people we trust. Also, if we want to feel better and release good chemicals in our brains, let’s be generous and do things for others. Finally, to release even better hormones it would be great if we have somebody to hug (be sure it is reciprocal).
- Attitude – If we feel that we have fallen into a dark spell of negative attitude, it helps if we remind ourselves that nothing is permanent, things will change and nobody knows what opportunities tomorrow will bring. Also we need to consider the whole situation, it is not always about us.
- Values – Understand your purpose in life and in the tasks you are required to execute. Find something meaningful to hold on, while perusing what really matters to you.
- Emotions – Understand your emotions, learn to work with them, channel the positive emotions and manage the disruptive ones, learning to let them go.
- Silliness – This is my favourite one, don’t take yourself too seriously, risking to miss the bigger picture. Don’t forget to laugh at yourself, even better if in good company.
Fall down seven times, Stand up eight. Japanese Proverb
By Paolo Ruoppolo, Senior OD & Talent Consultant