How To Develop Effective Change Leadership

leading in organisational change

What do we need for successful change?

My previous post dealt with the importance of organisational change, this one goes on to look at how change leadership is needed for effective transformation.

People don’t necessarily find change easy but change is essential.  Organisations have to change, it is inevitable, but managing that change effectively is another matter.

To deal with change we need positive forward momentum. Starting to do something can help us both practically and psychologically as we face change (Johnson, 1999).  But it is important to note that activity needs a purpose.  Dr Spencer Johnson, in his excellent book ‘Who moved my Cheese?’ is not saying that meaningless activity is the answer; but when there is change, we cannot ignore it, we need to get busy.

The importance of change leadership

But where does our purpose come from? This is where leadership is so important in the change process.  And here we are not just talking about top-down leadership, we are talking about leadership at every level and by everyone within an organisation.

The structure and culture of many older businesses and institutions is based around a top down, bureaucratic and process driven style of management.  This can be very efficient for managing large-scale organisations when change is slow paced but this structure does not have the agility to deal with faster paced change.

This is one reason why organisations need to re-think their approach to leadership and ensure they are developing leaders at every level.  When the pace of change is high then decision making needs to be delegated.  Individuals need to be able take the initiative and higher level managers need to be comfortable with their teams taking risks. Everyone needs to take ownership for the greater vision and values of the organisation.

How coaching can support effective change

Leaders and managers may have received some formal training but many have not.  The idea of providing little or no training, and just a yearly appraisal for feedback, is not a good formula for effectiveness.

The world of sport demonstrates the contrast. Roger Federer has dominated men’s tennis for much of the last decade and is recognised as one of the best tennis players of all time.  So why does he still need a coach?  Surely he knows more than anyone else alive about winning tennis competitions at the very highest level?

Just as a professional sports person is always looking to improve their game, Professor Hansen, from Berkeley University has done research to show that the same can, and should be applied in the workplace and shared his findings in ‘Great at Work’ (2018). If we really want to improve we need to look at one aspect of our work, analyse our performance and get quick and regular feedback to support improvement.

This is one way in which executive or leadership coaching has a strong parallel with sports coaching. Coaching provides the most effective way of creating a regular opportunity to reflect on work and provides a framework for improving performance.

The Evidence for Coaching

I have always been quite proactive in reading, attending courses and developing myself and for a long time I was dismissive of coaching.  Experience has now taught me otherwise.  And it is not just me, empirical evidence has also shown that one-to-one coaching is more effective than self-coaching, team coaching or team teaching in increasing performance (Losch,Traut-Mattausch, Mulberger, Jonas, 2016).

As professionals we all reach a limit as to how far we can improve without external feedback from a coach or equivalent (Gawande, 2017).  Therefore it is important to coach and develop leadership as broadly as possible. In this way the overall effectiveness of a corporation or institution improves, as does it’s ability to manage complexity and adapt to change.

Coaching is a tool to support change management

As George Bernard Shaw said, “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” (1944:330)

If an organisation has to change then people’s thinking has to change.  Every team member needs to grasp the opportunities of change, overcome their fears and take ownership for change.

Coaching, particularly in one-to-one contexts, ensures that people feel heard and appreciated, it supports the development of individuals, facilitates good thinking and assists in aligning behaviours to the overall vision and values of an organisation.

Regular coaching helps to develop leadership and keep the impetus for change.  Increased leadership helps to maintain momentum in the implementation of strategy across an organisation.  This is essential for effective change management as without direction and drive there is no process to manage.

If you would like to read more about change leadership I highly recommend Leading Change by John Kotter.

And, if you would like access to some bonus content and get updates then please do sign up for my email list.


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