Leading Change: Phase 2

Leading Change

Photo by John Krzesinski. 5 March 2011. Available at Flickr.com.

The next stage in the change process is to discern the vision, give shape to it, and communicate it.  I have carefully chosen my words here. Note that I didn’t say, “Articulate Your Vision.” In my opinion, that kind of thinking too often leads to abuse rather that true leadership. It comes from the old “Great Leader” model — you know, the one that led to an entire nation following the likes of Adolph Hitler. Yeah. Maybe that’s extreme, but the “Great Leader” idea is still alive and well in the world at different levels and to different degrees.

To impose your vision on people — even when they allow you to do it — is unethical. It’s just wrong. Moral leadership does not impose an idea on people, it tries to discern the vision of the people and then give it form and graceful articulation so that what was seen only dimly — as through a fogged mirror — becomes clear and empowering. When a leader exercises this kind of vision-building, the people don’t sit back and say, “Wow, what a great leader we have!” They stand up and say, “Wow, what a great vision we have.”

Like the previous stage, to enable lasting change, you have to address the dual dimensions of organizational and individual dynamics. Regarding the organization, you need to revisit your purpose, goals, values, and vision. This is assuming your organization already has these; otherwise, you will have to development them fresh — a process that should not be rushed and may benefit from the help of a professional consultant.

The reason you need to refresh these foundational aspects of the organization is to ensure that the change you are proposing is consistent with your organization’s strategic vision. Otherwise, you could end up leading a change in the wrong direction.

This can happen at the national leadership level as well. Our political leaders can lead a change process that significantly departs from our foundational values, goals, and purpose as a nation. While it would certainly be change, is it change in the right direction?

Again, you must also consider the individual at this stage. One way to do this is to help people discover their own core values and aspirations and then connect these with the company’s values and goals. In other words, help people make the connection and see how your organization can help them reach their goals and bring to fruition their values.

Another key thing here is to affirm people’s contribution to the past successes of the organization. If you fail to do this, you may cause people to feel resentful about the change, as though everything they did in the past is of no value. And this leads to the next consideration.

Allow people to mourn the loss of the past. Yes. That’s exactly what it is: a type of mourning. How do you help someone to mourn the loss of a loved one? I’m not a professional counselor, but one thing I have learned as a missionary and pastor over the years was that people love to talk about their lost ones. So, let them talk. Show an interest in what they have to say. Throw a “Remember How It Was” party. Let them relive the past and enjoy it with them. This will help them to move on toward the future.

Finally, make sure you paint a clear picture of the desired future state. Use stories and metaphors to help people grasp the idea. As the leader, you are the forensic artist who is drawing the vision as you hear people talk about their aspirations and passions, and as you listen to the voices emanating from outside the organization telling of coming trends, dangers, and opportunities. You are not the source of the vision, but the artists who enables others to see it.

I will continue these thoughts in next week’s post. I would love to hear your thought too. Please share in the comments section below.

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