How Great Leaders Create Great Change

Have you been watching the politics play out in Washington this week? I guess you could say the honeymoon’s over for President Obama. While Congress debates his proposed bill, the “First 100 Days” of his administration are being closely watched by concerned men and women throughout the country. They are looking for him to “walk the talk” and deliver on the change he promised in his campaign. He’s got a big job ahead of him.

In some ways, the President’s challenge, with the exception of scope, is similar to what business leaders are facing on a daily basis as they plan for and implement the changes necessary for their organizations to be successful in today’s economy.

In fact, in my book, It’s Not A Glass Ceiling, It’s A Sticky Floor, I reinforce the notion that real leadership is not leading in a “business as usual” environment. Rather, it is stepping up as a leader when times are tough, when there is great ambiguity and fear, when people feel in crisis and don’t know where to turn… times like we are experiencing now.

As many of you know, I spend much of our time coaching executives who are leading change initiatives and I always encourage them to do two things that I see President Obama doing as well. First, pay attention to the basic, very human, needs of people who are either being impacted by the change or are charged with implementing the change. Chances are they are feeling uncomfortable and even apprehensive. They need to know the who, what, why and how of the change. This is always a time for over-communicating.

Second, be systematic in how you sell and implement the change. One change model that I find most useful is by John Kotter. He introduced an eight-step change process in his book, Leading Change. I think the first few steps are the most critical for business leaders. In President Obama’s short tenure, he’s already employed them. Here they are:

  1. Establish a sense of urgency. This week, as President Obama was trying to get Congress and the American people on board with his Stimulus Bill, he was focused on creating this sense of urgency. He had a consistent message around the pitfalls that will happen if we fail to act now as well as the upside of what will be possible.

    Business leaders need to do the same. Folks need to have a reason for embracing the change and the energy to sustain it over time. Don’t assume that the need for doing it now will be intuitively obvious to others.

  2. Create a compelling vision. I don’t think anyone can dispute that President Obama has created a clear vision for the country. His winning campaign centered on change and rejected the idea of “business as usual” for the U.S. government. With the Stimulus Bill, his message has focused on creating jobs while fixing the infrastructure, health care and education systems; decreasing our energy dependency and keeping folks in their homes. It’s a simple but value-laden message that is fairly easy to remember, especially when he repeats it all the time. 

    Creating a clear, concise, consistent and compelling vision for your change initiative is perhaps the most important step in the change process. Take the time to set your priorities and craft your message. Give examples and tell stories to paint the picture for others.

  3. Communicate! Communicate! Communicate! Having completely embraced both traditional and relatively new media forms, President Obama is able to effectively drive his vision for change through constant and consistent communication. It’s about sending the right message, to the right people, at the right time, using the right communications channel. Have you watched him on YouTube? Are you one of the 13 million who get emails from him? Did you watch his first press conference? 

    Many different communication channels are available to your organization now and should be leveraged to ensure you are effectively reaching all of your target audiences.

The world will continue to watch the Obama administration closely to see if and how they can deliver on their plans for change. I hope they do. And fortunately, I’m an optimist!

If you want to be more effective leading change on your organization, check out SHAMBAUGH’s Webinar on Managing Change Effectively and our Executive Coaching Solutions.

Don’t forget to register for SHAMBAUGH’s upcoming Sticky Floor Webinar on Making Your Words Count on February 26th from 12-1:00pm EST

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