Process improvement initiatives and change projects have become major milestones in many organizations’ history. Due to the dynamics of the external environment, many organizations find themselves in a continuum of change. The scope reaches from smaller project changes in particular sub-business units up, to corporation-wide transformation processes.

Unfortunately, not every process change leads to the expected results. There are multiple reasons for potential failure. Typical barriers to change are unexpected changes in the external conditions, a lack of commitment in implementation, resistance of people involved, or a lack of resources. The implications of failed project changes go beyond missed objectives. More important is the negative symbolism and the de-motivation of people involved. People within the change team may become dissatisfied with their own performance or with the lack of support they received. As a result, some of them may never again be willing to commit themselves to initiative changes. Similarly, people affected by the (failed) change effort may develop growing skepticism. They might perceive future changes as “another fancy idea from management,” that implies extra work and few benefits.

Political campaigns are based upon promises of change, but seldom are the pledges made from the lips of these people matched by real, measurable results after someone is elected. In all fairness to these politicians, attempts to bring about change encounter fierce opposition and resistance from those around them. Most leaders see the need for change, but few can convince others to believe in change, and fewer still can achieve change. This illustrates how the viability of change depends solely upon the development and enforcement of its processes for implementation.

There are a few essential qualities a leader must possess:

Understands the Organization

Sometimes an organization lacks the people, resources, or energy to successfully implement change. Just because a change can be made does not mean it should. Leaders understand the organization and the people that make it what it is. While people must be persuaded (pushed) to make changes, they should also be allotted the comfort to adjust to the new way of doing things.

Persuades

It is the leader’s responsibility to put the weight of change on their shoulders, but the burden should not be carried alone. In fact, unless you persuade the key players on your team, then the attempt at change is marked for failure. Before you try to make changes, make every effort to win over the influencers around you.

Takes Risks

In the quest for change there is the chance that you are going to mess up and make things worse. You can’t let the possibility of failure overthrow your commitment to make changes. No one has ever achieved greatness by not taking risks and the desire to get better requires us to get out of our comfort zones.

Leads by Example

After a leader proves his or her commitment to the cause, then the team will be persuaded to follow. You must lead by example! Decisive action on the part of a leader inspires the confidence in his or her team.

Has Thick Skin

Everyone gets set in a routine and they get upset at anyone who threatens to disrupt the way they operate. Any time you try to implement another change you are going to be disliked by someone. However if you try to make everyone happy then your company will suffer. Either way, you are going to face criticism so you might as well do what is best for your company.

Gives Praise

A huge change takes a toll on everyone involved. Be sure to praise those around you when an objective is achieved. Doing this will re-motivate those team members and give them a sense of achievement, so they will want to strive to get better.

Keeps the Train Moving

When making changes you will hit some road blocks or experience failures. When this happens, be vocal and help your team figure out what went wrong and put it in perspective. Mishaps plant the seed of doubt and cause people to second guess your leadership. In these moments it is critical that you reiterate the reason for change, and refocus everyone on the next steps rather than stressing about taking a step backwards.

Learn to drive change rather than demanding it. As an influencer it is imperative that you communicate what you are trying to accomplish and design a clear road map for those around you to follow. If you can see it you can achieve it!

Bradley Belford

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Comment by Mike Sheehy on June 3, 2010 at 4:40pm
Great post, Brad. I think it’s always interesting to see what types of leaders are out there. Some people define leadership as completing a goal, while others see leadership as a way to enable others to become leaders. A great book for this is Tom Rath’s ‘Strengths Finder 2.0’. It helps people understand what type of leader they are by looking at 30 unique strengths. It’s sold at most bookstores.
-Mike
J&L Marketing, Inc.

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