How to REALLY do Change Leadership

An organization I’m working for is going through a radical restructuring initiative, prompted by a budget crisis. The budget crisis was pre-COVID, so the past year has been really hard on this organization, its employees and leaders. While most people understand the urgent rationale for the proposed changes, there is not a lot of positive feeling, or cooperation, around how the change initiatives are being prioritized, communicated, or evaluated.

The dissatisfaction with the roll-out and consultation around major change illustrates the importance of three key leadership mindsets that influence successful change initiatives: the being mindset, the relationship mindset, and the inspirational mindset. When organizational leadership, from the president down to the front-line managers, practices all three of these mindsets, the organization will benefit from more buy-in, more creativity, and a smoother transition.

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Black & white image of a pawn chess piece looking into a mirror and seeing himself reflected back as king.

Changing an organizational chart or department structure can be as simple as creating a document with a new chart, a new policy, and new reporting lines. Presto, change-o! But changing the structure without addressing how people relate to their roles and their colleagues leads to resistance and even failure in big change initiatives. Leaders need to model the way forward by reflecting on what the change means for them personally, the values that guided the change initiative and their aspirations for future work. A significant organizational change requires of people at all leadership levels an awareness that new priorities must translate into new behaviours and attitudes. Surfacing these new attitudes and creating a space within the organization to coach and be coached through the being changes required is part of a recipe for change leadership success.

The shift in the relationship mindset that a significant change initiative requires is more straightforward. Not only can new structures create new reporting and collegial relationships, but change leadership requires leaders to expand their worldview to include a broader network of relationships in the organization. Best practices in change leadership will tell leaders to find their allies and their go-to team, and the relationship mindset encompasses that. But additionally, developing a relationship mindset as a leader means that you cultivate trust and work relationally to advance the organization’s agenda. This requires showing vulnerability, being open and transparent to the extent possible, and demonstrating personal empathy. In organizational cultures where leaders enjoy a great amount of trust, this ability to be fully human at work rises to the top of the list of reasons why.

The last mindset shift that a large change initiative requires is the one from the management mindset to the inspirational mindset. As the discussion of the being and relational mindsets indicate, part of effective change leadership is working out how you, as the leader, need to show up to the work in order to increase the buy-in and enthusiasm for change. At all levels, people want to believe in the mission and vision of the work they do. We all want to work for people we admire and in organizations that serve a larger purpose. Connecting to your vision and mission for your leadership career and your organization is one way to tap into the inspirational mojo required for people (yourself included) to embrace change.

Shifting your mindset to encompass being, relationship, and inspiration is not as easy as a flip of a switch. Even gaining the insight that you need and want to make these mindset shifts is often not enough. This is where coaching and accountability come in. Engaging coaching and the coach approach to management and leadership in parallel to your change initiatives can help bridge the gap between insight and behaviour and mindset shift. Coaching provides leaders with the tools to anticipate, practice, review, and consolidate the mindset shifts they need to make in order to make good on change initiatives.

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