12 August 2006

Leadership and change

If you look at what people expect from leadership, then you that it is not much what they expect. A leader does not need to plan the lifes of others. He does not need to lead others lifes. He does not need to live others lifes. All this people can do themselves.
What people really want from leadership is clarity. A leader really needs to reduce or take away the insecurity people have about living. A leader needs to clarify the future and in which direction it will go. A leader needs to clarify what happened. A leader needs to show confidence at the moment people feel insecure and because of that are frightened.
What does that mean for a leader who leads a change? It means that a leader most of can tell what the consequences are from the change. A leader should be able to tell why the change is necessary. What are the advantages and disadvantages of the change? How will the world look like after the change? The leader needs to show confidence in the success of the change. The leader will need to believe that the change is necessary. But why do so many changes fail?

Changing successfully
Change is a highly researched subject, especially changes that failed. Several authors have given their ideas about the factors for failure and added their factors for success. Take De Caluwé for example, who states that the change process needs to fit the organizational culture. Others tell us that the failure was caused by the lack of a good plan. Systems thinking states that failures to change are caused by the parts of the system and how they interact. So finding causes for failure to change is easy. But why should we not look at the reason for change.
With many change activities you could ask te question of necessity. The question you could put forward about change is: “Why do organization want to change?” Several answers are possible to this question. But is the real answer to this question not: “Because it is possible.” Most of the time, when we look at the reasons for change, the need to change is minimal and most of all made up. And most employees even think, that change is just a way for most managers to make their mark.
And that idea about managers makes clear that most leaders make a big mistakes when it comes to change. They forget that for people to change, they need to be absolutely clear about what is going to happen. And if we know anything about uncertainty, it is that people become fearful in unclear situations. And uncertainty feeds wishes of keeping the situation as it is. It can even create forces that wish to return to times when everything was clear, known and understandable. This conservatism among employees was created by leaders who were not clear about: “What is going to happen?”, “Why it is happening?”, “How it will happen?”, “What people are allowed to do, and what others will be doing?”, but most of all: “They did not make it clear if they believe that the change is necessary?”

Personal change
If you look at creating change in your personal life, you can see how difficult it can be to change. Take for example the plan to start running every sunday morning. So you plan to get up early, before everybody is up. The first sunday you choose to realize your plan it is raining. As you had not expected it, you did not get gear to protect you against the rain. The second sunday fails also because your children get up even earlier and want to talk to you as you come downstairs. The third sunday you remember that you wanted to go running after you wake up late in the morning. So you do not go running. It seems that having a plan to change, without the conviction is the same as having no plan at all.
A different example however shows how easy change can be. You are fired at your employer, for whom you worked eight years. You lived a short fifteen bike ride from your workplace. After a few weeks you find a job in a place that is fifteen minutes driving from where you live. Now you get up a half hour early every morning to make your lunch. It seems that you are completely convinced of the need to change.

Off course you wil say now. The first example is not the same as the second. And you are right. In the first case you made an investment into your own future. In the second case the investment was into certainty about your future. What seems to be important in change is the attitude you have towards the change. How important do you think you are yourself or how important is the security a job can give you?

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