Leadership and Change – A Curious Connect
At a recent marketing seminar for CMO’s, a curious question was posed to an esteemed clique of panelists. “So, how does it work? Does leadership cause change? Or does change result in leadership?” This was going to be a tricky one, especially when you had to sound erudite, yet genuine, in front of an intelligent audience. As I had expected though, the answer was an obvious, yet smart one.
“There is no leadership without change and there is no change without leadership.” To the spreadsheet-minded finance folk, this may seem as a mere play on words. A deep-dive though, will reveal how profound the statement is.
From an organization’s standpoint, change is inevitable. If you do not accept it, it will get you. Change invariably causes a degree of chaos, and chaos is fair-game for all involved. Swift organizations which inculcate empowerment will often find leaders emerging from this rubble. These may be managers of today, silo-ed in various pockets of the organization. Given a little direction, though, they will be leaders of tomorrow, driving the organization forward.
On the obverse, ineffective leadership leads to what can be called “counter-productive change”. Plain-vanilla sustenance of established models is the hallmark of a manager, not a leader. A real leader must challenge the limits of existing organizational boundaries, constantly striving to inculcate a culture of change. This is not to say that the change-management philosophy need be compulsive – not at all. The operative word is “calculated change.” A truer phrase does not exist in the compendium of leaders seeking organic growth.
So, what are the traits that must be in the armory of a true leader, in a dynamically changing environment? One key facet is building an environment of mutual yet genuine appreciation. Numerous studies have stressed upon this as a key weapon to counter change. A clear understanding of employees’ intrinsic strength is another attribute of a successful change pioneer. Simply put, encourage team work, yet acknowledge employees as individuals with complementary skills. Finally, psychological safety encourages controlled experimentation within the team – something that can yield extraordinary results for leaders in the face of crises.