Change: The One Constant in Leadership
Rick Forbus, PhD
Change is the one constant these days. Going back a few years to the beginning of the economic downturn, change and uncertainty have been constant occurrences. As I heard a client say so eloquently once, “the economy and business is like good ‘ole southern weather, just wait awhile and it will completely shift on you.”
Leading through change and crisis is the pinnacle of great leadership, in my opinion. Many of my coaching clients aspire to have management and leadership agility with discernment as they lead their organizations or their teams through change. That is the premise of this article.
Trove, Inc. has adopted nine core competencies of leadership in our coaching and training practice. In essence, every coaching session, every small group session and most of our workshops use these nine competencies as a backdrop. These core competencies of leadership are:
o SETTING DIRECTION
o ALIGNING PEOPLE
o MOTIVATING AND INSPIRING
o LEADING TEAMS
o BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS
o FACILITATING ETHICAL CONDUCT
o LEADING CHANGE
These nine leadership proficiencies are the composite result of our investigation of core leadership competencies from business schools, government agencies, the military and companies. They are in prerequisite order. Notably, leading change is last. More times than not, coaching clients, leading from the “C” suite or from the project manager level, deal with change. Change leadership becomes the topic of many a coaching session.
The order of these leadership competencies is very specific. For instance, setting direction or leading with clarity of vision is a necessary first step for any leader or manager. If a leader is not clear of the mission, purpose, vision or outcome, and, cannot clarify that vision with a course of action, there is no need to attempt to lead through change. Secondly, why attempt to align people and talent, resources and strategy with something that is not clear. The importance of the nine capabilities is only trumped by the importance of the exact order in which these competencies are developed.
Leadership skills and human behaviors, coupled with the situation-at-hand, bring these core skills into motion with fluidity and spontaneity. After the vision is set, a leader may certainly find that relationship building, communication and leading teams are features of the immediate leadership need. Situational leadership is a well-worn topic, but assuredly factors in to how these core skills will unpack against the everyday leadership challenges.
Leading through change, or, around change is frequently the top priority for our clients. Trove uses professional development plans, leadership assessments, team interaction scenarios and retreats to bring about positive leadership results. In coaching sessions, we sometimes bring scenarios to the session and encourage the client to create a change plan. Often decision-making styles and stress behaviors are important components of the coaching conversations.
Stress impacts leadership on a good day, but when change is added to the mix, leaders are sometimes tempted to succumb to their stressors, rather than deal precisely and strongly with the change. Stress can range in intensity from pressure to trauma. In between these extremes are feelings of anxiety, worry, nervous tension, fear and doubt. One of the key reasons leading through change is such an accomplishment for leaders is that developing the skill to tackle the change, whether through implementation, relational interactions or a blend of the two, is that leaders must address stress while leading others. Stress is the second enemy of change leadership and management.
Leading through change requires coaching and development in:
o Strategy and implementation skills (risk, sequencing and tracking)
o Communicating the plan effectively
o Employing soft skills, like recognizing diversities in human behaviors and then, synergizing the parties involved.
o Managing and marginalizing the affects of stress
Most times the use of powerful leadership skill and behavior assessments give us, as coaches, the data necessary to provide direction and the ablity to confront certain blind spots with a client. One client’s stress behavior was to dial up his assertiveness and lead through change as Attila the Hun, while another client had the tendency to go into introverted and withdrawn stress behaviors during stress. Each had their own coaching opportunities and the coaching plan contained different goals, but resolution was achieved.
Change is not going away. It is a reliable aspect to many of our unreliable circumstances. Just like an aspiring leader must learn to develop the skill to set direction and communicate with strength and clarity the vision, so must a leader develop the competency to lead through change. My opinion is that leaders should take the ninth core leadership competency and make it the first priority in their leadership development plan.
Rick Forbus, PhD
Partner – Executive Advisor and Coach
Trove, Inc. – Atlanta, GA