Dr. Robert Karlsberg  and Dr. Jane Adler

Article Summary:

What are the six habits of great change leaders?

The Habits of Successful Change Leaders

Leadership is never easy. Leading change is particularly tough.

Good leaders at every level recognize the importance of strategic planning and goal-setting to reaching new heights in performance. But most of them have difficulty getting their plans to fully deliver on their promise.

Great change leaders, on the other hand, have the "execution advantage." While their strategic plans might not be significantly better than anyone else's, they achieve great results because their organizations execute plans more rapidly. This enables them to make changes more easily, in response to market demands.

The result? A significant competitive advantage.

Here are some habits of great change leaders, and suggestions for putting these habits into practice in your organization.

1. Provide an Inspiring Mission and Clear Direction
Great change leaders know the value of creating a mission and direction that everyone understands and can follow. They also know that they need to communicate this mission and direction in ways that everyone - from senior leaders to front-line workers can personally relate to.

One technique you can use to ensure that people understand and are genuinely committed to your objectives is to think "WIIFT" - "what's in it for them." What aspects of your message and plan appeal most to each group in your organization? What will make their lives easier, their work more productive, their jobs more meaningful, or their futures more secure?

Once you've identified what's most important to each group, make sure to emphasize these appropriately each time you communicate. Your overall message may stay the same, but when you think, "WIIFT," people will not only hear your message more clearly, they will be more motivated to take an active role in furthering it.

2. Hire the Best People
Great change leaders know that top performance comes from top people. They work to hire the best people they can. And when they have to make a choice, they hire for psychological factors -- attitude and character, knowing that specific skills can always be learned.

When Herb Kelleher founded Southwest Airlines, he set out to change the standard of service in the US airline industry, To do this, he said, he and his team developed a policy of hiring for attitude, then training for skill.

To promote a strong team environment, a key value at the airline, Southwest's interviewing process screened applicants in a group interview process. Applicants who paid attention to and cheered on their received higher marks than those who focused exclusively on their own presentations.

To hire the best people for your organization, the most important step is to identify the critical attitudes you need to further your objectives. While the specific skills you need will vary with each position, you need to identify key psychological factors that coincide with your organizational direction.

Once you've identified these psychological factors, design your hiring process to screen for them. The more employees' psychology is in-sync with your objectives, the more willingly they will devote themselves to your cause, and the fewer control mechanisms you will need.

3. Build a Strong Leadership Team
Great change leaders know the importance of having a strong guiding coalition, since it's virtually impossible to lead significant change on one's own. They surround themselves with a team of strong leaders, and don't feel threatened by a subordinate's greater knowledge or ability in one particular area.

Great change leaders put a considerable amount of effort into assembling the right team - then work with the team to build mutual support and collaboration.

To put this into practice yourself, recognize that the best leaders don't try to be masters of everything. They focus on maximizing their greatest talents - then delegate everything else. They identify the key skills, experience, credibility and attitudes that they need to create meaningful change - then set about to find strong leaders with these attributes and abilities.

One skill you do need to master is the ability to match the right talent to each job. In fact, according to the late management guru Peter Drucker, the most successful business leaders in history shared the ability to pick "the right man for the job." If you can master this one skill, you'll be able to build a strong team of leaders whose strengths complement each other's and whose abilities to collaborate effectively lead to rapid implementation of your strategy.

4. Get Out of the Way
Great change leaders communicate the company vision and direction clearly, ensure that people are committed to this vision, then empower people to take independent action and make decisions that further the company's mission.

In order to truly empower your people, and get them willingly moving in the direction you want - you have to set the vision, direction, and pace - then get out of the way. You must give up some control and be willing to accept some risk. This means that you need to set up parameters within which people can operate that allow them to take risks, but risks that don't jeopardize the future of your company.

The CEO of one global technology company found that he was losing business to smaller, more nimble competitors who were able to respond rapidly to customer needs. In his huge organization, district managers needed to get multiple approvals for virtually every expenditure. By the time they were able to attend to customer needs; the customers were fuming.

The CEO had a real dilemma. Managers needed to function more independently, yet the sheer size of his organization required strict controls on cash-flow. The solution he came up with was to give each regional manager the ability to authorize expenditures of up to $5,000, to satisfy current customers, or to gain new business. This enabled managers to make independent decisions without risking company financials in the process.

5. Communicate Regularly
Great change leaders are visible. They're visible when things are going well and they remain visible when times are bad. They always make sure that people have accurate information on performance, progress, and milestones achieved on the way to the big goals. And they're genuine.

Great change leaders don't hide behind their staffs. They recognize what John Kouzes and Barry Posner, authors of The Leadership Challenge, found in fifteen years of leadership research - credibility is the critical foundation of effective leadership.

People don't follow you because of your technique - your speaking skills, your technical ability, or any other objective criteria. They follow you because they believe in you. That belief comes from consistent exposure, from regular communication, from doing what you say you will do, and from speaking from the heart.

Change is tough on people largely because of the uncertainty that goes along with it. As a leader, your willingness to communicate regularly and honestly goes a long way to inspiring the confidence you need to inspire people to peak performance.

6. Reward and Recognize the Right Performance
Great change leaders know that reward and recognition have to be consistent with vision and direction. When Lou Gerstner took over IBM he found himself presiding over a collection of powerful fiefdoms, each one vying for resources and jealously guarding its "turf." This silo mentality prevented the company's most talented and creative minds from working together to solve problems and develop innovative products.

In order to encourage people to work collaboratively, Gerstner changed the compensation system so that high performers would be rewarded based on total corporate performance. He also changed the rules for getting promotions, so that they were consistent with his new performance philosophy.

The result? The new policy had an almost immediate psychological impact. People began behaving in a way that furthered Gerstner's objectives because the rewards motivated them to move in the desired direction.

If you want people to change their habits you must recognize and use the powerful psychological motivators of reward and recognition. Evaluate your appraisal, compensation and promotion system. Ensure that appraisals are frequent, and that your reward and recognition programs move people in the direction you want them to go.

Dr. Robert Karlsberg and Dr. Jane Adler are experts in leadership effectiveness and the psychology of change. As principals of Executive Dynamix, they work with senior executives and business leaders to maximize performance and accelerate key results when leading or implementing change. For more information visit ExecutiveDynamix.com

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