Monday, 1 December 2014

Why is Leading Change so Hard?

One of the biggest differences between working with businesses today versus twenty years ago is simply this: back then there were two types of company (a) those going through change and (b) those who weren’t. Now what is certainly true is that all organisations are going through change – and the only certainty is that this will continue to be the case in the future. Change is constant.

So, if, as leaders, our job is to lead, persuade, engage, delight and ignite our people behind change – why is it so hard? This past week I have been running workshops around Europe and the topic remained a constant one for discussion.

Seemingly insignificant behaviour struck me as profound in terms of the size of the task and the relevance of this particular question. Specifically, when I run workshops that last more than a day – what is always true, no matter where I am, that people will automatically sit in the same seat that they occupied on previous days. So what? Well, let’s think about it. As human beings we create habit, ritual, certainty, familiarity at every turn. It’s part of our survival instinct and what helps us to make sense of any situation in which we find ourselves. In a professional context we don’t even think about sitting somewhere else for day two of a workshop; we automatically return to what we know – which is where we sat on day one.

So, if something so seemingly inconsequential is hard for us to do; trying to turn around a business; reinvent a toxic culture; rejuvenate a flagging workforce – these really are hard to deliver in terms of change. At a deeper level; my personal view is that our default, human response to change is that it’s hard wired to loss. In other words, we automatically focus on what change might cause us to lose and not what it might cause us to gain.

So what do leaders need in terms of skills to succeed? Well, I’m constantly saying that leadership is a relationship business and I am forever talking about ‘leadership’ or ‘executive’ presence. So we need to deeply and genuinely listen (an exhausting task in itself), help others to deal with their emotion in relation to the change, ask endless great questions, stay present, remain pragmatic and optimistic, look to the future, encourage others to focus on what they can control (and let go of that which they can’t), and ensure we have enough resources around ourselves to fend off cynicism, defeatism and exhaustion.