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How to become your own change leader

by Jackson B

By Campbell Macpherson, international change expert, Executive Fellow of Henley Business School and author of the 2018 Leadership and Business Book of the Year. His latest book, The Power to Change is out now, published by Kogan Page worldwide. www.changeandstrategy.com

It doesn’t matter whether you lead people or not, you can be your own leader of change. In fact, you need to be.

2020 has shown us that the ability to lead successful change is the most important leadership skill of all – and that it is not the exclusive domain of the C-Suite, for successful change leaders are needed at every level of an organisation. It is a business-critical skill that every single one of us needs to develop. Whether we are leading others to embrace change or we are needing to embrace change ourselves, the skills we require are the same. Because whichever way you look at it, the responsibility for accepting change and making it work – is up to us.

The core role of a leader? To help their people to want to change.

This is the key theme of the ‘Leading Change’ workshops I run for Henley Business School and organisations worldwide.

In the 25 years I have been helping leaders to lead change and enabling employees to embrace change, I have come to realise four key truths about change:

  1. All change is personal. Even the most comprehensive organisational change is the culmination of a myriad of personal, individual changes.
  2. We all erect our own personal barriers to change – ansd they can be overcome. We can’t erecting these barriers; it is an automatic, evolutionary response. Some of our barriers last a millisecond, some may last a lifetime.
  3. All change is emotional. In fact, emotion is four times more powerful than logic when it comes to change. We saw this during ‘Covid Lockdown 1’ in the Spring. We learnt that we can embrace difficult change if we have a strong emotional reason for doing so; a higher purpose. As one, we adhered to the rules knowing we were saving the NHS and protecting the vulnerable members of our community.
  4. No-one changes simply because they are told to. We only change if we want to.

Therefore, as a change leader, our core job is to help our people to want to change.

Successful leaders of change are clear about what they are trying to achieve, and just as importantly, why. They are so clear about these things that they are able to remind themselves and their people of them when things get tough – as change inevitably does.

Successful change leaders do their homework before embarking on the change. They know the magic that they wish to retain. They identify ‘sacred cows’ (those things that nobody questions) and ‘elephants’ (those questions that nobody asks) that may get in the way of success.

They are clear about the challenges and the implications of the change. They know that every new direction has consequences. Even ‘good’ change is a net gain and involves some degree of loss.

Successful change leaders engage with their people. They know that the most important part of communication is listening. They instigate change with their people, not to them.

Campbell Macpherson

Campbell Macpherson

Successful change leaders are empathetic. They know that their people will be experiencing a rollercoaster of emotions as the change progresses, and they help their people to understand that these emotions are normal. They cut their people some slack and help them to overcome their emotional barriers to change. They help them to observe their emotions rather than be defined by them. They help them to detach themselves from their negative thoughts and stop fuelling them. They help them to diminish their fears by articulating them and working out how to work with them.

Successful leaders of change also work hard to find the emotional triggers for each one of their people, for they know that if they fail to engage their people emotionally, they will not be committed to the change – and the change will fail.

Successful change leaders know that their success depends upon the ability of their people to be ready, willing and able to embrace change.

You can be your own leader of change.

This is the key theme of the ‘Embracing Change’ workshops I run for employees, based on my latest book, ‘The Power to Change: how to harness change to make it work for you’.

There are two types of change: change that is forced upon us, and change we instigate ourselves – and both are highly emotional journeys. And the successful navigation of both types of change is very much in your hands.

While I highly recommend finding a coach to help you through the transition, in the end, the responsibility for success is yours. Even with assistance, you will have to be the one to change. And to do that, you will need to be up for changing. Remember the old joke about social workers: “How many social workers does it take to change a light bulb? Only one, but the light bulb has got to want to change.”

You may have to be your own therapist; overcome your own barriers to change, embrace the change and make it work for you.

To lead yourself through change, you will need the same skills as any successful change leader – clarity, honest analysis, empathy and compassion. You will need to conduct your own SWOT analysis, help yourself observe your emotions and detach from your negative thoughts. And you will have to find your own emotional triggers – after all, you know yourself better than anyone.

You will need to give yourself the power to change.

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