Effective change leadership & the power of the people around you
The ability to critically reflect, refresh and renew is crucial for change leaders, but being able to engage and motivate people is just as important, according to AGSM @ UNSW Business School
Being comfortable with the uncertainty of change is a powerful tool for leaders to develop. But the ability to critically reflect, refresh and renew is crucial, but being able to engage and motivate people is just as important.
Dr Rose Trevelyan, Adjunct Faculty member at AGSM @ UNSW Business School who teaches MBA and Executive Education courses, says while there has been a lot of work on contingency planning lately, it's important to acknowledge we can't predict the future.
"Change leaders need to build the capability to pivot and be truly agile. Finding comfort in uncertainty can be hard for people but also relieving. It gives them the opportunity to take risks and innovate - to get closer to goals or learn a lesson that will get them there," Dr Trevelyan said.
Managing people is the key to effective change – and it's a skill you can learn
According to Dr Trevelyan, a change leader's most important skill is understanding people. Change can take many different forms – large scale strategic turnaround, creating new team roles, shifts within business units or a new project. But if the key stakeholders are not engaged or motivated to join you on the journey, the roadblocks will continue to increase.
"People say they don't want to get into office politics, but leading change is all about that if the political skill is used in a positive and constructive way. We need to get people comfortable with being political at work. You need to be good at presenting a message in a way that lands with your audience," Dr Trevelyan said.
"Anybody can learn anything. What does differ is people's preference for taking on different roles. Being able to adapt your approach to the situation while leading from a place that isn't your natural preference is key.
"It takes time and skill to build commitment and engagement in a dynamic context, but you need to be engaging to pull people toward your change agenda. Once recognised, it's a skill that can be developed and strengthened," Dr Trevelyan said.
Change can come from anywhere
You don't have to be in a senior role to make an impact on your organisation. Change leaders are those who are willing to lead when they may not have the authority but have influence.
"Leadership is influencing, and we can influence without being the boss. Senior executives who are not on the front line don't necessarily have the right information – you need to listen to your troops," Dr Trevelyan said.
"People shouldn't be blinded by seniority. Change can spread organically instead of cascading from the top down. Sweep them along in your own enthusiasm. Positivity is infectious."
Role modelling is also extremely empowering – and doing is a real driver to help others with change. It can help people find purpose and meaning, which also gives confidence that change is possible.
Understanding the impact of change
Leading and driving change takes a lot of energy and grit, and constantly pivoting and overcoming challenges can be exhausting. The course also covers the importance of self-reflection, sharing the load and building resilience skills.
"We focus on preparing people for turbulence, looking after yourself mentally, physically and emotionally. Developing muscles of agility even when things aren't hectic," Dr Trevelyan said.
"People may think leading change is achieved through a project management template, but there's more to it than that. We need to recognise you can't build a simple roadmap to change, the approach should shift many times based on feedback and how people are responding to the direction as you progress."