The Leader’s Role in Managing Change

Three ways leaders can inspire their teams to change.


Facebook Share Icon LinkedIn Share Icon Twitter Share Icon Share by EMail icon Print Icon

We all know that change happens, and that people react to it in different ways. They can resist it out of fear of the unknown. They can take a wait-and-see approach and adapt once they are comfortable that the change is for the better. They can also try to adapt to the change quickly and reap the benefits sooner. Finally, they can promote change, always being on the lookout for better ways of doing things. It would be great if our organizations were full of change promoters, but that is not always the case. Therefore, we need leaders who are comfortable with change and can also inspire their teams to embrace it.

If people see that a leader is positive about change and actively seeks it out, there is a strong possibility they will learn to be more comfortable with it.

One way that leaders can demonstrate a commitment to change is to be a role model for change.  Frequent, simple adjustments like modifying the way reports are generated, meetings are held, or departmental objectives are developed, can demonstrate a leader’s promotion and support of change. If people see that a leader is positive about change and actively seeks it out, there is a strong possibility they will learn to be more comfortable with it.

1. Leaders must effectively communicate the details about any upcoming change.

Clearly explaining to all who are affected by it and why it is necessary is a prerequisite to success. Effective communication requires clearly delivering the message and ensuring that people really understand it. Yes, this may require repeating the message more than once. Yet, if your team is not clear about the change, commitment and support will be lacking and the results may fall short of expectations. In his book, “The Advantage,” Peter Lencioni writes about the need for a leader to create, over-communicate and reinforce clarity. Obviously, the point here is that the message or the mission must be understood by all, and that leaders may actually have to take extraordinary (and repetitive) steps to ensure this. Mr. Lencioni believes that clarity is a key component of a leader’s overall effectiveness as it eliminates confusion by providing a consistent message and a path to follow. Once there is clarity of purpose, it is easier for others to spread the word, freeing up the leader to do even more.

2. Leaders must gain the trust of the team.

Trust is built over time based on actions a leader takes, such as really listening to people, taking responsibility for actions (rather than blaming others when things do not turn out as planned) and keeping confidences when necessary. On the other hand, trust can be quickly lost when contrary actions are taken. The author John C. Maxwell has written: “People buy in to the leader first, then the vision. If they don’t like the vision but like the leader, they get a new vision.” In simple terms, leaders must do what they say they will do all the time.

As leadership is frequently defined as the ability to influence others, a leader must know when and how best to exert this influence. When managing change, this ability to influence becomes even more important. It is easier to simply tell someone to do something (because they have to), but it is more effective and self-sustaining to influence someone to do something (because they see the need and want to). This involves seeking input from others and often this input is wide-ranging and even contradictory. Yet the best solutions often come from conflicting points of view. Mastering these conflicts by collaborating to either find common ground or a completely different vision will help to achieve commitment to any change, while expanding a leader’s influence.

3. Leaders must know how to recognize and measure success.

Here, the role that metrics play is critical. Appropriate metrics must be sought out and the most meaningful ones adopted. Although it has become a cliché, it is also a truism that what gets measured gets managed, and furthermore, what gets managed gets better. Leaders should always employ metrics, but it is especially important when changes are made. When there is objective evidence that clearly shows a change has led to improvement, the momentum for further change increases. Nothing breeds success like success, and the right metrics are needed to reflect this and make the acceptance of change in the organization a little easier.