Change is part of life — it’s quite simply unavoidable. As leaders, it’s on us to embrace change and view it as an opportunity for growth. Your team most likely will not see it that way — at least not at first. Our influence as leaders, however, has the potential to impact how smoothly (or roughly) change occurs within our organization.
To do this, we must first understand ourselves and know that change is measured by its impact on all who are connected to it. Based on both my failures and successes as a manager, I believe that all great leaders possess:
An understanding of their own behavior. This discipline, once it becomes a habit, will allow us to reference our own experiences and challenges to lead change effectively.
An understanding of their actions. To be aware means that we can interpret what drives how we think or what we do.
An understanding of their own thoughts and feelings. I’ve discovered that understanding my own thoughts, feelings, fears, apprehensions, etc. have helped me to relate to those in my sphere of influence.
Authenticity in their communication. Authenticity is key. We can’t lead someone in a truly genuine way if we don’t believe in ourselves. If we cast a vision of change and where we are headed requires the buy-in and effort of other people, then we had better lead from our heart and not from our lips.
My team’s communication style comes more fully to life when we approach communication as a collaborative relationship-driven process, rather than a top-down announcement or memo-style approach. It is important to involve your team in conversations regarding change. During these times, there are several things we as “change leaders” must keep in mind in order to increase team involvement — and more importantly, team enthusiasm — within our organizations:
1. Spare no detail. We as leaders may think we are doing our team members a favor by withholding certain details of how we plan to get to where we are going. More often than not, however, those we lead may view the lack of details as poor planning and/or disorganization. It’s important to keep them in the loop in a timely and informative manner.
2. Understand their concerns. We forget sometimes that those we manage might very well feel overwhelmed at the sheer volume of ideas that get discussed in planning meetings. My solution is to anticipate this and be sensitive to the fact that change can and will evoke fear if it is not properly communicated and managed. We must “feel their fears” and get ahead of a possible train wreck before it has the chance to occur.
3. Don’t perceive silence as acceptance. If things become quiet, that’s when your antenna needs to go up. It’s easy to recognize people who aren’t on board when they voice their concerns, but in the 20-plus years I’ve led people professionally, I’ve learned those who say nothing can bring momentum to a screeching halt. The most effective way to prevent this is through effective and open communication and collaboration. People want to feel that they are part of the process, and if we have an open collaborative environment, they will be more apt to get on board, even if their idea isn’t the one chosen.
4. Remember that it works both ways. I used to think I was a good communicator until I was in an open leadership meeting and asked my team for complete transparency. What I thought was effective communication was nothing more than me telling everyone what I wanted to see happen. True communication is a two-way street, and when done right will result in engaging conversations. When conversation becomes a habit, only then will we see the type of seamless communication that we as leaders dream of.
6. Don’t favor technology over face-to-face communication. I love technology as much as anyone else, but I’ve learned that when it comes to leading change, people skills go a long way. The latest technological breakthroughs of our time have allowed our industry to advance faster than we ever could have imagined, but people are the same. If you want to see positive, effective growth, then you must learn to improve your face-to-face people skills. Get inside your team’s heads. Find out what motivates them. Ask what their goals are and where they see themselves as it relates to where your organization is going. This will ignite a passion on the inside of them that no amount of money can buy you.
7. Show your gratitude. Simply put, when people around you do their job well, let them know how much you appreciate it. In my experience, affirmation builds a person up like nothing else will, and it will encourage your team to keep up the good work because they want to rather than because they have to.
Change is difficult and can be challenging for even the most experienced of leaders. While there’s certainly an adjustment period involved, if we lead from a place of understanding and keep our team informed of strategy shifts as they happen, we’ll emerge a stronger team because of it, and will be more apt to navigate the ever-changing waters of the business with gusto.
David Villa is a best-selling author, speaker, and trainer. He is also CEO of IPD, a world-class marketing agency.