Leaders across the globe are preparing for more change. Digital transformation is now top of the agenda and business model redesigns are occurring in haste; companies want to thrive – or at least survive – in post-COVID conditions.
It’ll take ‘gung-ho’ and guts to transform in these times. The landscape’s never been more complex; a ‘new normal’ to define. Driving change will be a battle and leaders should pause and reflect. Yet, there is no time to waste; leaders must soldier on and move at an uncomfortable pace.
Meanwhile, expectations have changed on how leaders ‘show up’ and provide. They must be clear, decisive, and confident; expose a more human side. Being ‘a person of the people’ is a challenge for most, and harder for those that excel in ‘command and control’ posts. Now with continuity restored and a post-COVID plan of attack, organisations need true leadership; there’s no turning back.
As leaders confront what feels an impossible ask, many will seek solace in Sun-Tzu. ‘The Art of War’ provides timeless advice. Here we share advice for leaders that is timely; influence others with skill, show up authentically, and gain wisdom, at every turn.
Influence is to affect change in another’s thoughts, feelings, and actions. It means communicating a message so that it lands with the perspectives, motivations, and agenda of the audience; be it one person, or many.
Effective change leaders must be able to influence others with skill, and while change management requires more than influence alone, John C Maxwell would say “Leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less”. This is twice as true today. In the past, legitimate and formal power was enough to drive action, however a modern workforce lacking certainty, control and connection is not so compliant.
Advice to influence others with skill:
1. Contemplate intrinsic motivations and the personal agenda: be persuasive by speaking to desire and removing fear.
2. Leverage the forces of societal influence: gain early commitment, build ‘liking’ and unity with your influence targets, and enhance your message with social proof, scarcity, and symbols of authority.
3. Be deliberate in sequencing key stakeholder interactions: consider the conditions required to make each move, and the best-placed person to land a message – it’s not always the most obvious person, and it’s not always you.
Authentic leaders inspire others, bring people together, and create the energy essential to overcome tough times. Organisational transformation is challenging in any environment, but today’s change landscape is complex; a tired, remote workforce further hinders. After all, people want stability when things are uncertain, making it harder to motivate change.
People also want leaders they trust. Employees will follow and remain loyal to those that establish honest relationships, have values they respect, and who demonstrate genuine care and consideration for their workforce. To be trusted, leaders need to be authentic, and that means knowing and being themselves, and sharing who they are with others. It’s only then that their people will be inclined to sacrifice more, which is what they’ll be asked to do.
Advice to show up authentically:
1. When communicating, be clear, honest, and direct: find a way to be a ‘straight talker’ that’s congruent with your style.
2. Share your own experiences, perspectives, and feelings: it’s better to be vulnerable than vague.
3. Value ‘realness’ over perfection: people will forgive mistakes if they know and trust your intent.
Organisations today are finding themselves in unique – yet common – circumstances, with leaders feeling unprepared as they rally the troops for more change. The reality is, it’s the worst time to undergo transformation, yet it’s the only time to do it; those that avoid taking the necessary steps now, risk relinquishing the opportunity to do so later.
Most leaders will rightly lack the wisdom required to lead change in these conditions. After all, no one has experienced this situation before, or been expected to drive more change in this most unstable and unsatisfactory environment. Knowing when to charge and retreat is key; leaders who fail to maintain the right balance of pressure would do better to wave their white flag.
Advice to gain wisdom:
1. Have an open mind and step out of your comfort zone: try new things and speak to new people.
2. Seek education and council in others: read books and consult professionals and trusted advisors.
3. Be humble in your position, considered in your actions, aligned with your values, and willing to learn from your mistakes: authentically ‘own’ any failings.
So, as leaders ready themselves for campaign, we know it’s not a fair fight; the tension of pace and care is acute, the stakes and expectations never higher, and leading change is feeling impossible.
But there’s hope. How leaders draw on influence, authenticity and wisdom will determine whether they win or lose the war, and no one’s expected to do it alone. Effective change leaders deploy a team of specialist advisors, and we’ll be at your service when you need us.
I have heard that in war Haste can be Folly But have never seen Delay that was Wise.