Leadership can be tricky, very tricky. Often it is the job of the leader to not only design but also to communicate and enforce the roles of every other person within their organization.

As we know, purpose can become lost in practice, therefore, I’ve decided to share my top 5 tips for leading in times of change. I’ve studied leadership for years, personally led groups of more than 150 people, and developed programs and schedules based on complicated team-dynamics and variables.

These are the tips that have become most useful to me, throughout my experiences. Hopefully, they will become just as useful to you!

Here is a quick summary of what we are going to explain.

5 Powerful Leadership Tips in Times of Change:
1. Don’t Manage, Lead.
2. Vision and Communication.
3. Enforce Expected Behaviors.
4. Take Advantage of Break-Out Sessions.
5. Be Proactive, NOT Reactive.

With these five tips, you are certain to become a more effective and efficient leader in ANY situation. After all, proper leadership is considered a critical aspect of successful business, and can often be the deciding “make or break” factor in determining the success of businesses that are struggling in times of change.

Let’s dive into the meat and potatoes of what these points mean and how you can make them work for you!

1. Don’t Manage, Lead

Leaders set the course for their teams.

Managers are not always leaders, and leaders are NOT always managers. It is important to keep this distinction in mind. Good leaders often become managers, but they do not have to be.

The importance of this point is inherent in the logic of utilizing your formal power as a manager to invoke compliance among your team. Compliance is dangerous, it is a result of subordination and displays of power or rank. Those who manage their team based on compliance fail to become effective leaders.

Instead of compliance, I implore leaders to focus on gathering commitment. Commitment occurs when you and your team recognize a common and important purpose. Think of it this way, commitment is a result of one’s personal motivation rather than the fear of consequence.

If I were an employee, and every time I made a suggestion to my superiors it was discarded because I am “lower in rank,” I would only ever act due to the fear of repercussion. I would find no personal or intrinsic motivation to perform, much less perform well.

Effective leaders avoid “pulling rank” at all cost. The benefits of gathering commitment are bountiful, here are just a few.

Benefits of Commitment:
1. Personal motivations ensure better personal performance.
2. Personal motivations also ensure automated teams that act on their own.
3. Commitment is a result of purpose and direction, meaning that better decisions are made in line with company interests and from all team members.
4. Commitment denotes trust, good ideas are bountiful and effectively communicated this way.

This is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the benefits of commitment.

The best way to instill commitment from within your organization is to focus on this one phrase: Don’t tell them HOW, tell them WHY.

Telling somebody exactly how to do something is often perceived as bossy, micromanaging, and will only ever get that person to act in accordance with the distinctive action that you set for them.

Instead, telling somebody WHY to do something displays the inherent purpose of that person’s work. “Why” also uncovers the truth about the effectiveness that a person has, and gives them freedom to act in line with the company’s best interests.

In fact, one of the most common complaints that employees have regarding demotivation is that they have little freedom or “wiggle room” to act or experiment in different ways within their jobs. This is the result of being told HOW and not WHY.

I’ll give an extremely basic and generic example to make my point less complicated.

Let’s say that I am a hiring manager and I need somebody dedicated to turning on the lights in my store every day. I find a good fit for the role and I say, “Come in here at 10 am and flip this switch.” I’ve just told them how to do their job.

So what happens if the lights burn out one day? The new hire comes in, flips the switch, did the job. He performed perfectly based on HOW I wanted him to, yet the result is nothing of any importance or effectiveness.

Now, what if I told him WHY to do the job. I say, “When you come in at 10 am, the lights will need to be turned on to operate the store.” This way, even should a light burn out at some point, the new hire can relate the purpose of his work to the desired result. He can change a light if necessary, and do whatever it takes to keep the lights on. He’ll likely also be more satisfied due to the inherent freedom associated with having a purpose to achieve.

This is a result of leadership and not management.

2. Vision and Communication

It is the job of every leader to envision the future of their organization and to communicate that vision to their team. This is absolutely essential in managing committed and effective teams.

Developing a vision and acting on it is the very nature of business and entrepreneurship. Their needs to be a system in place that spreads an uncensored and crystal clear vision/mission of the organization to all employees and every person that makes an impact. The cost of NOT doing so is very high.

There is a reason that Costco Wholesale paints its vision in the break room for their employees. They want to ensure that every person understands the nature of the company’s values so that they know how to best act in line with them when making a decision.

Developing a vision is about taking note of where you are, and clearly defining where you WANT to be. This way, you can develop a path of necessary actions (a roadmap) that will aid you in achieving your vision.

A vision should be created with the following characteristics in mind:
– Goals: Know what your company wants to achieve, and how you are going to delegate those achievements over time with proper goals.
– Values: Consider the ways you want people to act on behalf of the organization. What does your organization stand for?
– Simplicity: Needless complication is nonsensical and irresponsible. Simplicity ensures clarity and less room for harmful interpretation.
– Think Forward: Remember, there needs to be a change involved to pursue a vision. How is your company going to be better in the future?

These are just some simple considerations when developing a vision statement for your organization. The next step is properly communicating that vision.

As a consultant, I can certainly vouch for the importance of proper communication. Communication is often regarded as the single most important part of business (and relationships) success.

Communicating the vision statement to your organization should achieve a few things. 1) No person should be left with an ambiguous view of where the organization is headed in the future, and 2) every employee should know what their role is in establishing that future.

#2 is more difficult to ensure because it takes on a much more interpersonal approach, but it also instigates commitment from within employees. Often, times of change can be leveraged to create more committed, and therefore more productive, teams.

As I develop plans for communications in my change management consulting, I form schedules around when to communicate the vision-statement to ensure that the future vision is clear, and I also strategize ways to have leaders communicate interpersonally with their teams to ensure that an individual commitment is nurtured!

3. Enforce Expected Behaviors

Let me ask, when you train somebody to do something, do you reward them for doing the right thing, or do you punish them for doing the wrong thing? There is a world of a difference between enforcing and punishing when it comes to developing trust and commitment from within teams or employees.

In fact, dog trainers have found that there is more trust, and more effective learning, that occurs when you enforce positive behaviors as opposed to punishing negative behaviors. I don’t mean to liken your employees to dogs, but I do believe the principle applies well to the human psyche also.

Logic also dictates this fact! If you do nothing but punish someone for something they do without giving them a direction to act in, they will feel that they are set up to fail, and will distrust the person punishing them.

This is why it is important to view mistakes AND successes as learning opportunities. With a mistake, you can correct it and learn from the issue in order to improve future performance. With success, you can use that behavior to positively model others within your organization! It’s inherently win-win.

Enforcing expected behaviors should come as a no-brainer, however, it is often one of the least considered aspects of successful business leadership that can make effective differences within an organization.

This occurs because employees are often simply expected to perform the desired behaviors, and adding rewards is (wrongfully) seen as nothing but complimentary as opposed to a supplementary benefit for organizational success.

Small rewards are enough, as long as it is something that displays appreciation and the importance of a person to the organization. Employees regard a sense of importance and appreciation among the highest satisfaction characteristics within their work.

Employee lunches, small talks, even something as simple as saying “thank you for the hard work” have personally made a difference in my motivation and performance even when I worked in retail. It has an energizing effect.

What do you plan on doing to show some appreciation to your teams? I suggest doing this on a regular basis to enforce company “wins” and model employees.

4. Take Advantage of Break-Out Sessions

Break-Out sessions are great ways to quell concerns and clarify vision in a business setting.

Ah, break-out sessions. Break out sessions are becoming one of the most popular and useful ways to develop trust, quell concerns, and communication vision to those within your organization.

This occurs because break-out sessions are inherently informal, more interactive and engaging, and allow for a slightly more interpersonal experience for employees.

Break out sessions are small-to-medium-sized conferences in which you leave the floor open to discuss larger overarching business matters. These business matters could be concerns, successes, vision, and other important considerations.

I have seen many people employ positive breakout sessions using anonymity as well. For example, have every employee write a concern or question on a slip of paper and drop it into a hat, then have the manager cover them over the course of the session.

This way, employees can gather information that is relevant to them with the comfort of knowing they aren’t being judged or misunderstood. They will also gather a useful model for thinking about solutions from their managers and/or leaders’ perspectives.

Utilizing a break out session during times of change is extremely valuable, especially when you consider the ambiguity of change and the nature of break-out sessions to resolve this ambiguity.

Here are some tips for beneficial and engaging break-out sessions:
– Bring Energy:
Nobody wants to sit and listen to a dull person talk for hours on end. Bring some excitement to the experience.
– Creativity: The best way to cultivate an engaging experience is by being different. Get creative with your presentation!
– Get Personal: The more a person knows you and becomes comfortable with you, the more your trust them and are willing to go the extra mile for them.
– Stay Casual: Formality is not welcome in effective break-out sessions. Formality is often a barrier to breakthrough-ideas.

With break-out sessions, you can get to know your teams, dive into personal motivations, tackle resounding issues, develop trust and commitment, and more all at once.

5. Be proactive, NOT Reactive

Reactive companies don’t do well in times of change. This is because they had not considered or prepared for these challenges or are simply part of an industry that is very elastic and sensitive to change.

Being proactive in business is about preparing for the worst, and hoping for the best. Never focus only on preparing for the best, otherwise, you might experience the full force of Murphy’s law. (Anything that can go wrong, Will go wrong)

Proactivity is characterized by the freedom of choice you have to respond to a stimulus (or change in situation.

Reactivity, on the other hand, is a forced response often caused by the pressure to act, often without prior planning or preparation.

The inherent benefit of proactivity is the freedom it allows for businesses to choose the most optimal solution to an issue and the most beneficial direction in times of change. In his book, Man’s Search For Meaning, Frankl wrote “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response.”

Put simply, proactive organizations CREATE the circumstances they wish to thrive in. Reactive organizations BECOME the result of their circumstances. In personal psychology, proactive people are the visionary’s and reactive people become self-denoted victims and surrender their personal power for change.

To become more proactive in times of change, follow some of these key characteristics of proactive organizations:

– Solidify Your Vision: Without a vision, how do you intend to choose a path for your organization?
– Focus On The Future: Learn from mistakes then let go of them. The future is what matters and that level of focus is needed in order for you to develop the circumstances around your organization’s success.
– Focus On Controllable Scenarios: Wasted energy occurs when we attempt to control things that we simply can’t. Focus on what you can control and make strides in that direction.
– Solution-Oriented, NOT Problem-Oriented: Don’t consider the issues, consider the potential opportunities. In fact, every business began by solving a problem fo sorts and finding the opportunity in the issues!

With these considerations, you can make big changes to the culture of your organization for the better!

Conclusion

All in all, changing times are inevitable in business. These points are merely a way to describe the methods and abilities that you have to make changing times work for you as opposed to against you.

Remember, opportunities are found in the challenges in the same way that diamonds are found in coal. It takes some pressure and time before you can develop an organization that is centered around a proactive and positive culture of autonomy and commitment. But when it is, you’ll be a force to be reckoned with.

I’ll summarize the points here!

5 Powerful Leadership Tips in Times of Change:
1. Don’t Manage, Lead
2. Vision and Communication
3. Enforce Expected Behaviors
4. Take Advantage of Break-Out Sessions
5. Be Proactive, NOT Reactive.

Hopefully, I’ve helped you more effectively lead during times of change!

Thanks for reading!
Work With Austin

-Austin Denison is a management consultant and coach from Southern California and founder/CEO of Denison Success Systems LLC. He is the author of The Essential Change Management Guidebook: Master The Art of Organizational Change as well as The Potential Dichotomy: The Philosophy of a Fulfilling Life.

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