Squandered Opportunites: How Leaders Can Eliminate Threats to Change

I had an interesting experience a couple of months ago. I worked with planning teams in a number of different organizations in the US and Europe. Being part of so many meetings back-to-back, I noticed a pattern. When the most senior leader was actively involved in the meeting – rolling up his or her sleeves, asking questions of me and the team, challenging assumptions, etc.  – the quality of the conversation and the overall productiveness of the meeting was much higher than when the leader “sent his regrets.”

When the leaders took part, those meetings often took on an urgency, as if they were saying, “How can we apply what we are learning and doing right now?”. But when the leader wasn’t there, the meetings were OK, but they lacked any enthusiasm to get something done. As someone said to me,  “You’ve given us a lot to think about.” See the difference?

I got curious and conducted a survey to test my assumptions. I identified four areas where leaders of successful change acted considerably differently than their less-successful counterparts.Here is one example:

Eighty-seven percent were strong – and visible – supporters of the change from start to finish. As some survey respondents wrote, “Our CEO has taken many opportunities to personally get Involved – from speeches to blogs to working with our senior team.” “. . . initiated process, drove the execution, watch very carefully the achievement of identified milestones; first responder to help people with difficulties and legitimate resistance(s).”. . . “CIO covered project status and progress at his weekly direct reports meeting and with business leader meetings.”

In contrast, leaders of failed change tended to either drop their support after the initial hoopla or else fail to show people that he or she was still strongly behind this initiative. A couple of comments from those respondents: “Spoke about the need for change at the beginning and participated somewhat in initial meetings with the external consulting firm. They were not subsequently visible.” “Our most senior leader unequivocally endorsed this change, but then did not track it as implementation languished with middle-level management. Meanwhile, staff working directly on the project completed their preparatory work.”

(The report titled Squandered Opportunities: How Leaders Can Eliminate Threats to Change will be published in a couple of weeks. I will provide a link to the free report in my blog. The report covers all four key actions plus a few other leadership actions that didn’t scored quite so high but are still worth considering.)

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