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Leading for Change

One of the great things about what I do is the opportunity to coach emerging and early career leaders. It takes me back to my coaching experience as a new principal and how I viewed my role and responsibilities. Like many of the leaders I coach, I had this belief that I had to do it all, had to be the smartest person in the room, have ALL the answers. Let’s be honest, LEADERS are DOERS. And what that frequently leads to is a feeling of frustration followed by uttering the phrase ‘I will just do it myself’.


For today’s post, I want to focus on how that works specifically with change.

Change is one of the few constants we can count on. But, what exactly is your responsibility as the leader when it comes to change in your organization? Many leaders would respond by stating something along the lines of ‘I have to the be the change I want to see.’ In essence, many leaders feel they must be the one to drive change, to be the one doing the heavy lifting, putting it all on their shoulders for others to see. Back to the conversation I mentioned at the top of the blog, this particular leader was focused on how to drive systemic change. Her working belief was, like I mentioned before, she must be the change.

Ok, here comes THE point of the post. When it comes to leading change, it is not your job to make the system change. Rather, it is your job to create conditions in which people feel empowered, trusted, and see the need for change. If you are successful, THEY will create the systemic change. A change that isn’t person dependent but system dependent. I’ll say it again…

“it is your job to create conditions in which people feel empowered, trusted, and see the need for change”

So, how do you do that? How can you create the conditions where change happens from within the system and is not pushed from top down? Here are a five quick suggestions:

  1. Listen – yep, spend time actually listening to your people. In a time when we are faced with the ‘Great Resignation’, one of the things driving people away is feeling not valued. This is more than buying them swag and food (although everyone loves that). I had a conversation with a leader recently who brought in a 360 degree feedback process where people didn’t just answer a survey, but interacted with others (anonymously) to share and understand perspectives of the issues. As leaders, we sometimes might get a little tunnel-visioned and need to hear all perspectives.
  2. Stop solving everyone’s problems for them – BIG one here. Leaders think they have to do it all. WHY?? Stop it!!! Something I have always pushed with leadership teams is to empower people to solve their own problems. Train them, coach them, support them. Pick them up when they fall…but stop solving their problems. If we want employees who really engage, they have to feel they have a say in it, a stake in it.
  3. Communicate – I believe myself to be a very good communicator. But, often in working to build toward change, I have fallen here. The key is not just communicating plans, initiatives, and solutions to our change needs. Communicating the reasons you feel a change might be necessary is essential. I’m not talking about whining or complaining, instead communicate through the sharing of the current state (data, anecdotes, images, stories from other organizations).
  4. Celebrate – small victories are essential in the change process. As much as we’d like to wave the magic wand and see the ideal state overnight, it doesn’t work that way. So, celebrate each step on the road toward the change you wish to see. Be cautious not to just celebrate the early adopters, as this can cause resentment and undermine your process. Celebrate them, yes, but find anything you can to prop up those who let others go first when they take their small steps. And, of course, when the laggards finally come along, it’s party time!
  5. Model – change will not happen if you share a desired state and do nothing to model it. I’ve seen times when a new initiative is being brought forward and the leaders aren’t in the room for the training. No matter the reason for your absence, your crew notices you aren’t in the room and the message is clear to them. The boss isn’t on board so neither am I. Be present, learn WITH your team. Attempt to model your learning (it’s ok if it doesn’t go well, it’s a chance to let them know early failure is ok).

So, leaders, as you look at the current landscape and identify areas where improvement and change are necessary, keep this in mind. It’s not your job to create all the change – it’s your job to create the conditions for change. You’ve got this…go have an incredible week!




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