All leaders face the same challenge — how to lead needed changes to improve, enhance and innovate your organization. In other words, how do you make tomorrow different?

Leadership is providing vision and guidance to those that you lead. If you aren’t doing that, you aren’t leading, you’re just marking time until you aren’t there anymore. Leaders provide a way forward for people, someplace in the future that people can believe in, that will be better, and reasons why they should help achieve the future state.

History is full of great leaders with a vision. They summoned the support and will to achieve their vision by sharing it. Kennedy’s moon landing, Gandhi’s free India, Dad’s move to Sacramento. The last one was personal, but you get the idea.

So, what does that have to do with leading change? Well…really…everything.

Statistics support that all change requires leaders to engage and lead change – otherwise, no change will occur. Seems very logical, but leadership focus oftentimes gets lost in all the efforts underway.

Early in my career, I developed a project management course for senior executives to support a new project management process developed for our company. The objective of the course was to embed leadership skills and empathy for the stakeholder’s role in dealing with complexity.  Since the organization exhibited excellent leadership, the CEO insisted that the C-Level executives go through the first class.

One of the course exercises was to identify and sequence the milestones of a fictional scenario. The first fictional scenario exercise was landscaping a back yard from bare dirt. Most of the executives wrote down two words, and stopped. Taken aback – I asked, “Do you have all of the milestones identified?” They all said, “Yes.” When I asked what, they had written, they said, “Hire Landscaper.”

On reflection, it made perfect sense. These were senior executives that had stock options and multiple residences. When they wanted to go somewhere, they didn’t need to learn how to fly, they just called the pilot and told them where they were going.

However, you can’t just jump to a leadership “destination” without the basic internal commitment to the journey. You need to decide where you want to go, have a basic idea of how and what you will do when you get there, and can articulate and provide support to those with whom you want to take the journey. Ownership, articulation and support of emotional guidance to others is critical in leading a change.

Good Change Leadership and the Competency Journey

A better approach to working with the executives was to be more prescriptive and to outline what a change leadership journey looks like.

Whether you are leading or following there are basic steps that are required to lead change. The leaders that become masters, start out at an awareness level, and keep adding until they are masters at leading change. They are committed to learning and taking their own competency journey to support the new vision.

A good way to describe a competency journey is to arrange it into an internal map that outlines what would be demonstrated by a leader at each point in their own journey towards a new state, Awareness, Basic, Skilled, Master.

  • Awareness is primarily looking inward
  • Basic is starting to help others
  • Skilled is leading others
  • Master is driving momentum

Change Leader Journey

At Awareness, you internalize what the change is and understand the basic steps that are required to achieve the vision, and commit personally.

The Basic level requires you to prepare and help others to understand their role in the new desired target state.

When you are Skilled, your clear understanding of the changes needed, balanced with your ability to encourage flexible responses help strengthen the new state.

When you are a Master, you are communicating and involving others through dialog, and providing inspirational messages about the change.

At the center of all effective change, is the leader, giving voice and vision to those that they lead.

Without change leadership, nothing will change.

Are you leading change, or following?

“If you don’t change the direction you are going, then you’re likely to end up where you’re heading”  – John C. Maxwell 

If your company is interested in developing change leadership capability, we can help. Get in touch today.

Please Note: This is the first in a multi-part series of articles focused on change leadership

  1. How Do You Make Tomorrow Different?
  2. The Importance of Culture