A Fish Rots From The Head
— Anon
follow the leader fish3.jpg

Many managers will acknowledge that change management is often difficult and rarely handled well. Yet whilst much of the strategic change management focus has been towards those who are most impacted by the change, a few brave leaders also dare to venture into the critical role of championing the change.

Management theory of the last 100 years has well acquainted us with the concepts of personal (informal, collegiate) leadership as opposed to professional (formal, hierarchal) leadership. We each have our own leadership strengths that lean to either a buddy or boss style of leading people, however in the management of change, more is demanded of us as leaders.  

In winning the hearts and minds of our people, leaders must excersize the skills of both personal and professional leadership to  secure willing cooperation. This might seem a somewhat scary prospect for leaders who feel exposed in publicly leading the change initiative, yet it is so often the very thing that our teams must first see in our leaders, before accepting change themselves. In demonstrating both a personal and professional, approach to leadership,  three critical things a leader must do is to make loud public actions, remain consistent to message and abide by the truth.


Like in all cases, mere are never enough. Loud and visible actions, be they symbolic or genuine, must be consistently  . For example, if the change in your organisation is to adopt an activity based work (ABW) style, [where staff are encouraged to change their work setting depending on the task on hand], than your CEO must themselves demonstrate this good behaviour by changing work settings through the day. Commonwealth Bank CEO Ian Narev and Colonial First State CEO Brian Bissaker both modeled good ABW behaviours by changing work settings frequently through the day. These actions are effective because they 'pull', rather than 'push' others to change.  


Leaders have become very good a deploying positive PR message on company intranets, to then only squander any good will earned in momentary corridor conversations. For example, if the change in your organisation is to adopt a new software application, then promote the change not only on your intranet news page, but also when speaking to colleagues on an elevator ride. It is so easy to forget that in those 30 seconds between floors, others  riding lift with us, some who we may never have met, are can not help but hear the words we speak. Those off the cuff comments will always be deemed more truthful that those posted on the company intranet, so use them to reinforce your message of change.


If your change is a difficult one, for example, if it involves laying off employees, then do not avoid nor white wash the issue with spin. Acknowledge people's fears head on and avoid the temptation of softening the blow serving up half-truth spin that only serves as a disservice to you and your people.  The fear of change is often tied to the fear of uncertainty, if leaders then fail to create a sense of certainty, even if that certainty is a negative one, than it only serves to prolong angst and make the change more difficult.

Living as a leader, is to live in a fishbowl, where our words are actions and words magnified, interpreted and repeated. Leaders in a change initiative must step out loud and proud, adopting the skills of both professional and personal leadership, to truly embed the change they wish to see in their organisations. 

It's time we changed our heads, lest we be the head that is changed.


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