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What Is Change Leadership?

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A Guide to Leadership and Change (Part 1 of 3): There’s leading through normal times, and then there’s leading your organization through a change. You might be tempted to say that there’s no difference between change leadership and everyday leadership, but that would be naïve. Change leadership has its own demands and requires a different mindset and an extra set of capabilities in order to lead your organization to a new place.

The Difference Between Everyday Leadership and Change Leadership

Everyday leadership is not easy, and I don’t mean to dismiss it as such. It takes a special type of person to motivate employees throughout the organization, drive toward results, satisfy investors and analysts and hobnob with partners and influencers. On a different scale, leading a function, unit or division, such as Sales, requires its own set of abilities and discipline, including greater attention to detail and keeping your sales managers and reps focused on hitting their number on a weekly, monthly and quarterly basis.

Putting it in perspective, you might think of it as the difference between peacetime (normal) and wartime (change) leadership.In peacetime, you are essentially toeing the line, working toward goals and objectives that could have been in place for quite some time. Reviewing annual budgets and setting numbers and targets for the year ahead by adjusting a few numbers is not leading through change. That’s same old, same old. And that’s okay — as long as you don’t become complacent, stale and stagnant. These are times to train your employees, perfect your processes and refine your business so that you’re operating at peak performance and capacity.

But when that’s not enough, it could signal that it’s time to change. It could be large or small, company-wide or contained within a business unit. Whatever the scope and scale, when leading the charge to a new objective, you become the catalyst, the driver and the change agent. You need to inspire and motivate your troops to see beyond their current roles and the way they perform them to the end result of the changed organization.

Change leadership requires different skills and abilities beyond the norm (think of a turnaround CEO or manager), not the least of which is being able to manage your day-to-day activities while transitioning toward the changed business. You can’t really afford to take your eye off either ball (current or future).

Key Steps Toward Successful Change Leadership

While you might be energized and eager to take on your new change, put that gung-ho attitude on hold for a moment. You can’t just send the front-line sales reps and staff into battle. Switching metaphors, it’s a marathon, not a race. True, you can’t drag your heels and watch your competitors eat your lunch, but you also need to pace yourself and take the steps necessary to see the change through. Consider these key steps toward successful change leadership:

Create the Vision

  • Leadership workshop. Get leaders together, and help them understand the need for change; give them a chance to contribute and create a shared vision. This is a great opportunity to assemble your ambassadors to hear about the change, begin to devise a plan and identify milestones and challenges along the way.
  • Create a change story together. By working through the steps with your leaders, you’re building joint ownership and commitment among a critical group that will help you to drive the change. You have your reasons for initiating the change, but by participating in this workshop, they will be able to adapt and tailor the story to resonate with their part of the business, making it more personal and concrete for the managers and employees in their units.
Own the Vision

  • While you are converting your layers of leaders to adopt and embrace the new vision and changes, you cannot delegate your role in the process. If you convey an attitude of “It’s out of my hands now; hopefully, they’ll see it through,” you will be letting them know that it’s not that important to you or the business. You must be passionate about the change and guide others at every opportunity until the change is complete.
  • Help your leaders (whom you trust will become staunch advocates) connect the big picture to why they’re together in the workshop: What will the future look like, and how will you get there? Let them be a part of that process so that they also feel some ownership over the change and the path to get there.
  • Equip your leaders to “verify the degree of adoption” of the changed environment. Are employees doing what they’re supposed to be doing, or are they clinging to the old ways? How are you monitoring and measuring their progress? CRM systems are certainly a key tool when overseeing changes related to sales, but there are other methods to be employed.
This is the first of three posts on change leadership. Parts two and three will focus on Creating the Vision and Owning the Vision. 
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