Changing Leadership

Changing Leadership to Better
Lead Organizational Change

The most complex and difficult organizational changes typically start at the top, when business leaders choose (or are told) to make significant change happen in their organizations. I knew a senior business leader (let’s call him John) was told by the CEO to “fix” his organization’s higher than average turnover. That’s a big, hairy, and complex challenge. As John learned later, one of the hardest things for leaders is, to “fix” the organization, they may need to change the way they lead.

It’s not that John wasn’t a good leader. Rather, his approach to leading change hadn’t evolved with the changing needs and challenges of his team. To get his team to work differently, he needed to lead differently.

Changing how we think about leadership.

Changing the way we lead can be daunting, because we’ve likely been leading the same way for a while, it’s comfortable, and it’s worked (so far).

Here’s why it’s critical to reexamine how you are leading change in the organization: Your people rely on you to help them know where organization is heading. If that destination is somewhere new and different, then your people also rely on you to tell them how to get there.

When faced with organizational change, the most successful leaders I’ve worked with have embodied the principle of situational leadership, founded by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard. Situational leadership suggests that the most effective leadership style is situational, and that leaders must assess the needs of the people they are leading to determine how to best lead.

To adapt their leadership style to the situation, situational leaders consistently demonstrate these four abilities:

  • Diagnose, or understand the situation they are trying to influence.
  • Adapt, or adjust their leadership style to the situation.
  • Communicate, or interact with others in a manner that people can understand and accept.
  • Advance, or manage the movement.

Blanchard and Hersey developed two questions to help situational leaders determine the most effective leadership approach:

  1. Do my people know how to do what I am asking them to do?
  2. Are they willing or motivated to do it?

The answers to these questions provide insight into the most effective leadership style for the situation. As you can imagine, when people know how to do something and are motivated to do it, a leader can be far less directive than if people either don’t know how or aren’t motivated to do what’s being asked.

Lead so they can follow.

Remember my friend John? Until he was asked to “fix” his organization, he hadn’t worried about his leadership style. After all, he had helped lead the organization to where it was. But John recognized that he couldn’t expect to lead his team in the same way as before and expect different results. If he wanted to mobilize his team to address the organization’s high turnover, then he had to learn different ways of leading change.

Leading organizations through major change (whatever that change is) requires attentive leadership that understands the needs of the organization, rather than assuming people will “figure it out” along the way. (Sure, you’ve hired talented, smart, innovative people who could figure things out, if left to their own devices. But what happens if they become frustrated, confused, or lost along the way? Time is lost. Productivity is impacted. Morale takes a hit.)

The most successful leaders of organizational change I’ve worked with have relied on situational leadership to help them lead their people. They’ve looked at how they are leading, assessed what their organization needs from them at that critical point, and decided to lead accordingly. Using situational leadership, you can change the direction of your organization by changing the way you lead.

Want to connect with Heather about situational leadership? Give us a call at (859) 415-1000 or drop us a line in the form at the bottom of this page.

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