I am often asked what I believe are the key traits that underpin an effective change leader. Having been involved in change in the capacities of a people leader, a leader of change and a contributor to change, I've come to believe that there are a few key elements that underpin the success of a change leader.
Resilience. The ability to bounce back, or just pick yourself up, dust yourself off and move on are traits not often spoken of, yet I believe they are the most critical. Things will go wrong. You will make mistakes. You will make people mad, and they will let you know it. It is a reality of change management and leading people through times of evolution and revolution. If you are easily stressed, find it difficult to cope or want to continually please everyone, then either get out now, or look to strengthen this aspect of yourself.
Strategic and Tactical Ambidexterity. The ability to work simultaneously in a strategic and tactical capacity will bode you well in leading change, or as a leader in general. The ability to keep an eye on the true north of the project whilst managing the day to day politics and project needs is a skill that not everyone possesses. However the best leaders have this uncanny ability and it is what underpins their performance. Make time each day to reflect on the strategic elements of the project, whilst ensuring that the administrative and political elements of the project are managed in the context of the project scope. Don't be blind to the politics of the project, and at the same time don't engage in games to do with the politics. In that one sentence you have a golden key to relationships success in the change project.
Rest and Reflect. Whilst the above two points are fairly obvious, this point is often discounted or not even regarded. Yet when I look at the leaders who have inspired me, and when I look back at my own approach, I see that the ability to rest and reflect is a key attribute of a leader, especially when driving change. When leading change you need all the energy you can get, simply because you are investing energy in the people you are leading. So find ways to take genuine time out reflect on the day that was, and to explore in your mind what tomorrow may be like. Take time to chill. Play a game on your iPad or Xbox, or read a good book. Take your mind away from the reality of the day. We often forget that when leading people our primary tool is our brain. So give it some time out, rest it, and allow it to be at its best so that you can role model with ease and energy the new behaviours every day.
So there you have it; my key traits that underpin effective, and outstanding, leaders of change. I'd be interested to hear what else you think are considered key traits of change leaders, so feel free to leave a comment.
Whether you are a leader of people, a leader of change, or just leading yourself through a period of personal change, there is one ability that will most likely underpin your success as much, if not more than, most others. It also happens to compliment the attributes of successful change leaders that I spoke about last time.
In a way it goes without saying; when you lead people, change or yourself there are many moments you will encounter that leave you questioning what it is you are doing, why you are doing it and should you keep doing it? In fact sometimes it is just plain difficult and it may seem as though there is no light at the end of the tunnel. These are the times when it's important to be absolutely clear on the reason why you are engaging in an activity. This will become your true north. It is your reason for doing and being. Irrespective of whether it is leading others, change or yourself, being clear on 'why' is especially important in two key areas; Personally and with regards to the activity you are engaging in.
Personally; what is your own personal reason for leading this project, team or yourself through this process of change. Things will get tough. In fact it's rare that everything goes smoothly in a period of change! So being clear about 'why' you are doing what you are doing is critical, because some days, or even weeks, this may be the only incentive for continuing! Importantly, when you are clear on this, you will find it easier to connect with, and to inspire, other people on a more personal level in relation to your leadership or the change event. Being clear personally opens the door to engaging leadership. You can think of this component as your internal compass...and if you have ever been hiking in a group, you will notice that people are usually most interested in the person with the compass...and they follow the lead of the person with the compass.
The Activity; what is the reason for the activity you are leading? In his book, Structure and Dynamics of Organisations and Groups, Eric Berne talks about the need for being clear about the primary task of an activity so that you can in turn be clear about the type and nature of roles required to achieve the task. This then means that you can be clearer about how to structure other aspects such as communication and process requirements. Over the last 10 years it has become my practice to continually ask myself, and not just the groups I work with, 'what is the reason for doing this...the primary task'. If the above point is considered your compass, then being clear on the primary task is your map. You may be motivated personally, and have your internal compass aligned as described above; but without the map you can still be going around in circles and never reach what you set out to achieve. I once worked with a leadership group who were experiencing less than optimal results; and so I asked a simple question...'what is the primary task of this team'. I received six different responses from a team of eight people. Each of the team members were motivated...but for most of them the map was different. Once they had a shared map, there was never any doubt of the success that they went on to achieve.
These are two simple measures that can underpin your personal success and the success of your activity. They are easy to keep top of mind; and if they aren't, change that today. I think you know why.