Leading Change Means Changing How You Lead

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The strategy of change

To develop an effective strategy in the midst of constant change, leaders must improve their ability to identify what changes will make their organization more competitive. This series examines data from companies around the world to provide practical insights for executives looking for an edge in dealing with complexity and change.

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One of the biggest challenges for executives is that job requirements can change dramatically and unpredictably, as the last two years have clearly shown. Leaders have inevitably divided their attention between responding to the pandemic and managing a remote workforce, and have been further challenged by issues such as social justice, supply chain disruption, climate change, hybrid labor arrangements and geopolitical instability.

It would be easy to conclude, like many commentators, that the key requirements of leadership are flexibility and empathy. While these qualities are certainly beneficial, especially in this specific, stressful moment, this is the enduring requirement of leadership contextually effective. Effective leaders are those who adapt their leadership approach to the context and challenges they face.

History is replete with examples of individuals who have demonstrated exceptional leadership skills under certain circumstances, but have been unable or unwilling to change their leadership approach later. It is often observed in business that above a certain size, a founder is rarely the most suitable executive to lead the company, as this requires a different leadership style and skills. Alphabet’s success is in part a testament to Sergey Brin and Larry Page’s confidence in recognizing the need to step down from the CEO role. By comparison, Facebook’s current woes are partly due to Mark Zuckerberg’s failure to recognize this need.

Three imperatives for effective change

In our work with leaders, we encourage them to look at contextual effectiveness as three key tasks:

Draw the map: The late publisher Arnold Glasgow observed that great leaders spot a problem before it becomes an emergency. They consistently map the changing dynamics of the business environment and create a clear, prioritized vision of where the business should go.

Establish mindset: The second task of leadership is to ensure that the leadership team has more than just a cognitive understanding of the map. The leader’s mindset fosters a shared belief in the need for change and an enthusiasm for the improvements that successful change will bring. This enthusiasm is crucial as achieving change is harder than maintaining the status quo.

Communication of the message: If the map credibly identifies the change needed and the mindset whets the appetite for change, the message is the key tool to activate that change in the broader workforce population.

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subjects

The strategy of change

To develop an effective strategy in the midst of constant change, leaders must improve their ability to identify what changes will make their organization more competitive. This series examines data from companies around the world to provide practical insights for executives looking for an edge in dealing with complexity and change.

More in this series

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