A Leader Steps Up
“I guess it is up to me”. These words were expressed by a director at the end of a day-long discussion on leading change in his organization. I asked each member of the group to share a few words describing their day. He went on to describe the increasing burden of responsibility he felt as our conversation took us through what leaders at all levels need to do for their organization to move forward successfully.
His organization is like many others I find myself in these days – more than 50 years old, in an industry moving faster than most (telecommunications), with a hundred or more changes underway. Many significant changes were impacting his specific division: removal of a layer of management – a major reorganization of his division – the implementation of a new system integrating many existing business processes – and several new product launches.
He realized that if these changes were going to be successful in his division, it was up to him to step up to the challenge and act as a leader. Not as a manager, which so much of his past training and experience had prepared him for, but as a leader. If his people were going to get through these changes, and the many more swirling around, he was going to have to lead.
He came to understand many things about leading change during our day together:
He realized his role in engaging the complex system of stakeholders inside and outside his division.
He recognized it was up to him to clearly spell out to everyone in his division where the organization is going, why it needed to get there and his divisions role in that journey.
He confirmed it was his role to clearly align all the changes underway in his division with their strategic priorities.
He realized it was up to him to cancel a few changes underway that did not align with all the other changes.
He recognized there were aspects of their project planning that needed to be improved. Specifically, he knew the make-up and mandate of several major project teams required some attention immediately.
He understood communication could no longer be in-sourced to the communication department who regularly relied on broadcasting change information out to everyone at the same time. He knew it was up to him to get the managers and supervisors together more frequently to discuss the changes and set the supervisors up with the information they needed to fully engage their employees.
He realized little if any attention had been paid to helping everyone through transition over the past few years of nonstop changes. Specifically, he knew there were several key things that everyone needed to stop doing that would help ease the workload and create the necessary space for the major changes to be more successful.
These realizations did not come to this director all at once. They evolved over a very full day of discussions, assessments and learning about the integrated approach to leading change. Nor did they come to everyone in that workshop. Some participants were minimally engaged. But not this director.
On this day, this director stepped up. And he did it in a very public way as many of his peers and even a few of his managers were in the program with him to hear his summary comments at the end of the day. He took personal responsibility for ensuring change was successful in his division. That is the true act of leadership. Using “I will” rather than “someone should” language, ensuring everyone in his division knows where the buck stops, being inclusive while taking ownership are all acts of stepping up to be a good leader.
Fast forward one year. I was back in that same organization guiding another discussion leading change. I heard from several managers and supervisors from that same division. They all spoke of progress made over the past year. They had seen some significant success in some of the major changes. While there were still a few lingering headaches, they all expressed an appreciation for what felt like turning a corner over the past year. Much of the overwhelming and confusing sense of panic from years past was replaced with a sense of progress and resolve. They indicated much of that progress came actions their director had taken over the past year.
Not everyone in that first workshop stepped up. But that director did. His division was much better off because of it, as was the whole organization. Speaking out and stepping up to the obligations of helping people do things differently to move the organization forward is the very essence of good leadership.
Copyright 2018, Chris Edgelow