Monday, 03 October 2022

In Governance

Reconfiguring Leadership for Progress and Profitability

Change in leadership is necessary, and changing leadership helps in the development process of an institute and businesses. 

Anderson has delved into the history of Change Leadership and links the early origins to the dissatisfaction of leaders during the late 1980s and early 1990s with failed change efforts. Such change initiatives were based on creating and implementing changes in a top-down fashion.

Change was managed in a transactional manner despite the fact that transformations required by organisations were more complex and the stakes even higher. Challenges to leadership were similarly increasing.

Anderson describes the challenge of coping with this rapid pace of change as “capturing a river that keeps on flowing”. However, change practitioners continued to focus on overcoming employee resistance and working on better implementation strategies. Although these are necessary components of a change process, leaders grew frustrated as they were still not achieving the results they desired. This growing dissatisfaction led to the ultimate evolution of the role of the Change Leader, who became accountable for the broader change process, particularly the side of change affecting and involving people.

Having briefly described the historical conditions leading to the emergence and evolution of the Change Leader, let us look at how we need to reconfigure leadership itself as a construct in order to produce the critical mass of Change Leaders the world so desperately requires.

Ken Blanchard describes the process of Change Leadership as messy and chaotic. He emphasises that Change Leadership involves designing, visualising and managing the “change journey”, and that leaders usually do not focus sufficiently on this, but instead focus on the final destination. Linked to this, leaders need to have an expanded awareness of the subtle dynamics involved with change processes as it is these subtleties that will enhance or derail the broader change process.

This highlights a significant paradigm shift that will be required of leaders. Historically, leadership development has stressed a singular, almost linear, focus for leaders, namely the achievement of goals and targets. The so-called “softer aspects” of organisational life such as culture, climate, employee engagement, values, learning, and growth – that is, all the “people components” – have conventionally been relegated to support services such as Human Resources and OD. However, with the increasing complexity of a rapidly changing world and global competitiveness, leaders may no longer have such a linear focus. A fundamental paradigm shift needs to occur, accompanied by cognitive, attitudinal and behavioural changes. Ultimately, leaders need to acquire a new set of competencies and skills.

In keeping with leadership trends and requirements, writers such as Blanchard have emphasised the importance of leaders focusing on the actual “change journey”. Underpinning this shift in focus is an alternate view of leaders playing a critical role in process issues versus a limited focus on organisational goals. Leaders are now required to focus on how people experience change itself, how they are likely to adapt to change, and to understand in depth what aspects of change will have the greatest impact on people.

Blanchard cites a significant study conducted at the US Department of Education. This study postulates that people who are faced with change express six predictable concerns: informational; personal; implementation; impact; collaboration; and refinement concerns.

The study is very useful in outlining the range and nature of concerns people have when it comes to change, and these findings may be generalised across culture and context. The nature and extent of the concerns will, of course, be informed by the magnitude of the impending change.

The six areas of concern are a useful point of departure for Change Leaders, who can then re- orientate their focus accordingly. Change Leaders are able to attend to matters of process efficacy and efficiency and become sensitive to the concerns of people involved in a change process.

Further elaboration is provided by Richardson Sales Training and Effectiveness Solutions, who emphasise Change Leadership as being a coherent leadership response to an urgent need for change. They conceptualise Change Leaders as innovative in describing how “change will look and feel” for the people affected.

To illustrate the impact of adjusting mindsets: in 1954 Roger Banister was the first person to run a mile in under four minutes. Until this achievement, the shared mental model was that it was impossible to run a mile in under four minutes. As soon as this “mental barrier” had been dismantled, the following month, 37 runners were able to achieve this goal. This example highlights how mental models can constrain vision and innovation. The Change Leader’s role in defining and clarifying the vision for the future and going beyond limited mental models is thus a key success factor.

Closely linked to this is the “will” of the Change Leader to empower people to create change themselves and participate in innovation during the change process. This is a unique feature of Change Leadership, as leaders and managers have conventionally taken on the role of maintainers of the status quo. By default, leaders have inadvertently limited creativity and innovation in their organisations, often suppressing critical thinking and the birthing of novel ideas. Creativity, innovation and decision-making have mistakenly been restricted to a small, select group of people – usually at the top of the leadership chain. Unlocking organisation-wide creativity and innovation linked to the change process is therefore a courageous and necessary role of the Change Leader.

An interesting point linked to power relations is highlighted by Greg Satell. He alerts leaders to the tendency to overestimate the power of their authority in driving change. In facilitating large-scale change, actual leadership ability/competence is far more important than authority. He goes on to challenge common associations between authority, power and control, viewing control as an illusion. In relinquishing false notions regarding power and control, Satell emphasises the need for leaders to facilitate true empowerment of people. 

This is a marked shift from the temptation all leaders face, namely to “bully” or “coerce” people into submission. This supports the point made earlier regarding Change Leadership having a different focus and thrust from conventional leadership styles. Conventional leadership styles often regard innovation as risky and therefore restrict idea generation and decision-making to a limited small group.

A key differentiator between leadership in general and Change Leadership is therefore the paradigm within which the Change Leader functions.

Cabanga Media Group publishes of thoughtful economic and business commentary magazines and online media, in several African markets, that include South Africa, Botswana, East Africa Community, Ethiopia, Egypt, Nigeria, and Zambia.