Change Always Comes Bearing Gifts

I was reminded of this Price Pritchett saying when I recently spoke in Paris at a global business leaders conference. The seven hundred plus international attendees had come to learn the latest lessons on leadership and how to deal with the tumultuous changes being experienced by organizations across the globe.

I asked the audience if the level of change could be likened to an ocean wave, how big is that wave today? The responses ranged from tidal in size to tsunami-like in scope. I agreed. From my perspective as a business owner and who’s company spends a lot of time supporting our clients on major change initiatives the types of changes we’re experiencing both professionally and personally in our lives are unprecedented.

As I engage with C-suite executives, speak at conferences such as the one in Paris, or consult with my clients they all admit that the conventional wisdom around leadership development and dealing with organizational change has gone by the wayside. In fact, the level of so much change and its complexity has tapped out our workforce and maybe you too. A woman from Munich raised her hand and asked a question that stirred the audience, “So what are the leadership traits and behaviors needed to successfully re engage our workforce and thrive in this tsunami-like business environment?”

Over the next hour I shared my research from sixteen years of examining this ever-evolving topic. Here is my executive summary of the emerging leadership traits of today’s excellent leaders are:

A keen sense of Self-Awareness: Leaders today are faced with ongoing change, ambiguity, and, in some cases, misfortune. What gets them through is their keen self-awareness of themselves, which includes knowing their core values, beliefs, and principles. Having a sense of “true north” allows leaders to stay focused on the things that matter and to be resilient through difficult or stressful times. Self-Awareness also means staying centered, particularly during crisis or stressful situations, and then knowing how to diffuse a situation before things get out of control. This calls for having the presence of mind to take a breath, or even walk away until you’re calm rather than just working harder and forcing a solution. Sometimes you have to slow down in order to speed up.

Strategic Orientation: One of SHAMBAUGH’s senior consultants recently conducted an exercise with a group of executives. He had them stand up, close their eyes and with arms out stretched and fingers pointed, guess the direction of magnetic true north. The executives pointed in all directions of the compass including up! After the laughter subsided, a compass revealed the direction of North. It got the executives thinking that in the absence of providing their subordinates with clear direction (strategy) as well as a sense of where they are today (orientation) then the chances of actually hitting the business targets are significantly reduced. Today’s leaders need to beware of not spending time in the minutia, responding to a list of emails or checking off the “to do” list. They need to get out of their offices and engage in conversation regarding trends, what the customer values, and spend time intentionally planning and being that strategic thinker.

Leveraging Partnerships and Relationships: Companies are realizing that they don’t have all the intellectual and people capital they need to deal with the complex issues in business today. In SHAMBAUGH’s Women in Leadership and Learning Program we emphasize that it’s just not good enough to navigate through business using the old saw, “It’s who you know, and who knows you”. It’s about engaging in partnerships that can yield greater ideas that cultivate a stronger competitive advantage. Belonging to social networking sites like LinkedIn or Facebook are not only useful; they’re critical. Organization’s can leverage social media tools and learn what’s going on in the minds of their customers and their employees and can engage in targeted conversations that can cultivate ideas, which result in greater innovation and increased performance and sales. Does your website or blog magnetically pull in members because it stays constantly relevant and current? What are you doing to forge new partnerships and relationships inside your company’s supply chain, with user groups or alumni?

Effective communications: I shared with the audience recent studies indicating that 75 percent of American workers are disengaged from with work mainly due to communication breakdowns. SHAMBAUGH coaches a number of executives on how communications can greatly impact their ability to engage their employees. For leaders to fully engage their workforce they need to be intentional about how they communicate their mission, set of values, and principles. Illustrating these through personal stories, which create visual images, which employees can identify with, consequently making them feel valued for their strengths and their contribution. When trying to inspire action and commitment, great leaders are approachable and their conversation speaking style is less directive but rather a conversational style that sets the tone for others to share their ideas and opinions. They encourage healthy debate, which I refer to as “constructive fiction,” which allows everyone to feel more empowered that their ideas are heard and taken seriously. Effective communication also means communicating with both optimism and honesty about the reality of the present and the future. Sugarcoating the issue, denying the problem or not taking the blame, undermines credibility, support, trust, and ultimately performance.

Innovative thinking: Recently, as a student attending an innovation workshop, we were asked by the facilitator to draw a picture of a hanger. Many of us, including me, drew a picture of a coat hanger. However, several participants drew pictures of an airplane “hangar”. Since it was close to lunchtime during the workshop, one participant was motivated to draw a picture of a hanger “steak”! Innovative thinking is the new hot diversity topic – diversity of thought. Today’s excellent leaders are constantly thinking of ways to stretch their thinking and those of their colleagues. What have you done recently to foster innovative thinking? The next time you go by a newsstand, buy a magazine that you wouldn’t normally buy. Notice the articles, advertisements, and points of view. Excellent leaders are always looking at new perspectives.

Embracing Change through Resilience: “Change Always Comes Bearing Gifts”. What “gift” is change bringing to your life right now? Perhaps the gift is improved patience or tolerance. Perhaps the gift is improving your resilience in dealing with changing circumstances in the work place. Another re-org? Uggh! Yes, as my Paris audience revealed, the level of change that’s disrupting our lives both personally and professionally is tsunami-like. Is that wave drowning you? Maybe the gift change is bringing you is a surfboard! Ride that wave of change to new beginnings.

To find out how well your organization is riding the wave of change, please visit to find out more about today’s new leadership model for navigating the rapids of an ever-dynamic business environment.

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Rebecca Shambaugh

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