Understanding change roles

Change is a tricky thing.  Most organisations need it; most leaders are called to bring it about.  Yet, most people don’t like it.  Anyone who has led for any length of time will have stories to tell of change management, highs and lows.  The danger is that because change can be hard, we are liable to feel that we should not do it.  This may be based on previous experience.  When change goes badly, we learn the wrong lesson and assume that the answer is not to change, rather than reflecting on what happened are learning from it.

When considering change it is important to understand four possible roles for a leader.  The liklihood is that we will naturally default to one or perhaps two of these styles.

  • Telling – highly directive, few if any options for others
    • “This is what we are going to do”
  • Selling – still few options, but more focused on influencing and gaining a favourable response
    • “This is the problem, and here’s why we think this is a great solution”
  • Consulting – a lot of input from others with an openness to adapt to feedback, but decisions made by the leader(s)
    • “We think there is a problem, do you agree?  Here is a potential solution, what do you think?”
  • Coaching – more of a partnering model, decisions made collaboratively or even independently of the leader
    • “How do you think things are going?  Do we need to do anything differently, if so, what?”

Clearly the list above is in reality a spectrum rather than four discrete options.  Fitting our approach neatly under one of the headings may be very hard, but we should be able to see our ‘favoured’ approach.

Where this list gets challenging is in two realisations.  First, different people respond to different methods.  Therefore, if we only ever employ one or two styles, we will always miss a group of people in our organisation.  Some people love being told what is going to happen.  Others need to feel that they have been consulted.  Second, different phases of our change programme will require different approaches.  For example, it might be right to start the process at the ‘coaching’ end of the spectrum, but at some point it is likely that a leader will need to move towards the ‘telling’ end or risk going round in circles forever.

These two needs for different styles challenge us as leaders to consider how we manage change and may require us to operate outside of our comfort zone.  If we fail to adapt our approach then there is every chance that change will be a lot more tough than it needs to be.

The last thing to note is the possibility of falling off the end of the spectrum beyond ‘coaching’.  This is the place where leaders can find themselves when they simply stop leading.  They no longer play any part in the change, either to consider the need for it, or what it might look like.  Such a lack of involvement is an abdication of leadership and will usually be detrimental to the organisation.  Leaders who find themselves here need either to get back on the spectrum or get out of the organisation.

You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Leave a Reply

Powered by WordPress