Lecture 12: Change Agents
Some attributes that you can develop to help you become an effective change agent includes creating a clear vision, invoking passion, making clear decisions, inspiring people and becoming a person of character.
So we began by talking about definitions; a leader being someone who has followers, influence and has a clear direction of where they are taking people. A leader has to see different contexts all at the same time such as politics, structure, the story, and human resources. We talked about team building and if the leader clearly understands direction then he understands the mission. The mission answers the why, whereas the vision answers the where, as to where we are going and then the strategy has to do with the how or the game plan. Afterwards there is the decision making as a result of these strategies. All of this leads to change which we covered in the last lesson. But now I am going to give you some basic laws about change. We said that leadership is transformational by its basic nature. Things are transformed; the Ethos is changed, the culture is changed; even the direction is changed. Really good leaders change things. But to do this skillfully means following a certain set of laws.
B. Laws Regarding Change:
First of all, a leader has to develop a clear vision and strategy. It starts with this; there will be no change without this. Vision provides the Ethos for change. If you don’t have a vision for your life, you will probably not change much. Vision is what creates movement and stops us from becoming stagnated. The second law about change: you should always question the status quo. Sometimes it takes fresh eyes to see what we can’t. Are you just hanging on to the past because we are so in love with it? Atrophy in any organization creates a decline; this largely starts at the top. When we are at the top, we start to relax and we start to like the status quo. Small leaders continue to create new S curves. You have to start these before you get to the top. Sometimes a new leader is brought in because there has been such a decline. Interestingly, eighty percent of the churches in America are in decline. This is eight out of ten churches that are in decline. Future leaders of the church now are facing strong gravitational pulls. If everyone wants the status quo then there can be no change and as a result things start to stagnate.
The third point – leaders have to underscore the needs for change; they have to underscore the urgency because normally people don’t want change. We establish a routine and when that routine is interfered with, it upsets our status quo. But for leaders, they live with change because that is part of their status quo. You have got to underscore the need for change to convince those who want the status quo; we need to understand what the things are that we have to be urgent about. Four is to single out key influences or people who have a disproportionate amount of influence or power and get them on your side. We are not going to bring change by ourselves. It always involves people and building coalitions of trust. The fifth rule is to anticipate resistance. You need to know that fear leads to resistance. Change creates a fear with people because of the unknown. They also fear loss, a loss of not seeing people or the routine that they are used to. Sometimes resistance is due to laziness. We just don’t like our routine interrupted. Change is a sense of splashing cold water on someone’s complacency. Change makes people think and some people just don’t like that. The sixth rule is to know the story or the context which respects and understands the past history. Part of storytelling is relating to the past for the purpose of changing the future. Change has happened in the past and we are better for it. Find the things that are respecting in the past and experienced and keep those changes in front of people. New leaders can be oblivious to this.
The seventh point is to leave some things the same. Sometimes in our enthusiasm we change too much; we change everything to make sure we change a little. The eighth rule is to aim for the eighty percent. Don’t wait for everybody to agree with you. If you do, you probably will never go anywhere or those who are in agreement with you may change their minds. You have to come to a decision as to when you think you have that eight percent and take the risk to initiate the change. The ninth law is to be careful with early successes; don’t read too much into those early successes. You can easily assume that you are where you want to be when you aren’t. This is sort of a false summit; this can happen in change a lot of times. The tenth point is to anticipate losses; change is always a mixture of addition and subtraction. Sometimes, you just have to say sorry. The eleventh rule is always be willing to reconsider; if we are not willing to change, what does that say about us as leaders? We need to be frantic learners. This is part of the key to change; we need to be always attentive as to where things are going. If you don’t have the discipline of studying and thinking into the future, you will not bring change.
C. Leaders as Change Agents:
A Case Study: A case study involving Niki with Patty Ross as a speaker. You need to bring the vision to life with storytelling. Niki is about storytelling and connecting with people emotionally. I don’t want to talk so much about theoretical aspects of change, but the actually changes I have experienced with having seventeen different jobs at Niki. Six of them have involved reinventing different parts of the business and also creating a vision and direction that the organization at first didn’t consider and recognize nor think that it was possible.
1. Creating the vision and bringing it to life with people. Foremost, it is about creating that vision. Beyond being able to create a vision, it is about bringing it to life with people. It is about communicating it and turning it into something that each individual can personalize. It is something that is so aspirational and inspirational that it motivates people to move and consider the possibilities. This is also about creating a picture that others can see. This almost creates the question about it being possible. Another point focuses on building passion. This is about an infectious and contagious element that you bring in as a leader. When people listen to you and they are connecting with you, they start to feel your energy and your excitement. More importantly, they help you consider the possibilities beyond what is in existence today. Vision and compassion need to come together with the key ingredient being an idea of possibilities. The third point is making clear decisions. As a leader, you can have an amazing clear vision and a lot of passion, if you are not decisive and not deliberate and accountable for making decisions and holding others to it, people will not have a lot of trust in where you are leading them. People will not follow leaders they don’t trust. So you need to be decisive, committed and thoughtful and you are accountable.
2. You also have to build and aspire and motivate teams. So this is about empowering the organization and invoking confidence in individuals and leading them from where they are. Everybody is at a different state within their journey. It is about providing support. There is also a key element of having fun. It is keeping a certain amount of lightness, energy and willingness. They can see your drive in your vision, but they also see you as being approachable and that they can relate to you on a day to day basis. There is also the idea of character and you continuing to assess your character, looking at it from a professional, personal and spiritual point of view. If you are a leader that can stand up in front of your organization and say that you made a mistake and that you missed something, it is a huge testimony to individuals. The fact that you can be safe in making mistakes and you as a leader is walking the talk; it is really about being a leader that people love and want to follow. When I think about the big initiatives that I’ve driven throughout Niki, my short list of change agent’s attributes include strategic thinkers with a vision that is shared. They are fearless and very traumatic risk takers. They can envision success and they will push the boundaries as to what is possible, but they are not going to be reckless to the point of putting the organization or people at risk. That is a constant management balance that you have to do as a leader. You have to be a continual life-long learner of where trends and industry and norms and culture are going. You need to stay ahead of that curve. They have to be able to envision success and they have to be amazing storytellers. You cannot command as a senior leader and connect with people through stories, through emotional connections and through possibilities if people don’t follow you. Being able to take very complex change principles and philosophies and vision and not be able to emotionally connect to people’s head and hearts will not drive people to movement.
3. Being able to manage the complex; this is about making the complex simple. If people can’t personalize what this change means to them, they will not follow. This will elevate a certain amount of resistance and actually paralyze many people from being able to move. So, it is about relentless passion for the end goal and it is really about having the ability to sustain. We refer to it as a marathon. You will get a significant amount of resistance and challenges with any bold vision. As we also say with our athletes, rest and training must go together. You have to be strategic and deliberate on how hard you are going to push and when you have to slow up sometimes so that you can bring people along. Key ingredients to change include the idea of combining change and change agents which must come together to be a really effective leader and to be able to drive change. Amazing leaders are those that can drive change if they have certain attributes and elements along with style and communications and how they connect with people. I have seen tremendous people with a lot of skill that can drive significant change but they are not leaders. People will not necessarily follow them at a strategic and global level. From my perspective and experience, I think they have to go together, which I think leads us into a mastering the art of leading change which takes purpose, passion and perseverance.
4. Attributes and actions that lead to success: The first one is demonstrating confidence and vision and the passion to carry it through. This is about believing that you can achieve the unachievable. It is about creating a willingness to change. This can take a lot of time to work through as to what the specifics are. It may not initially be clear but it is something as a leader you have stay firm and relentless in your passion and drive to understand what you are passionate about. You take your vision to where you want to go and the possible steps that are in between. It is being able to take the risk of articulating those changes and vision; if you are not super passionate and convicted that you can lead the change, you can see and know the intersection points of success, and it is really hard when people push against you to stand strong in the direction where you want to go. You must believe in what your vision is having convictions that you can stand behind. It is really about focusing on what is possible and you see that problems become opportunities versions issues that can’t be overcome. I personally am involved in different levels of innovating, designing, engineering and manufacturing products with Niki. All of our designers are working with digital now on how we make products. This has involved a significant amount of change and many who have been in the company for some time want to know why we have to change. Why do we have to create products differently? If you don’t continue to reinvent yourselves, other people will. This is an important message for all of us as leaders at all levels of the organization.
5. Modeling Inclusive Leadership: The whole aspect of diversity; for example, I started Women of Niki, a network about elevating and promoting women in the organization. Niki is still male dominated with most of the senior executives are men. I am one of the top one hundred leaders of the organization, but I’m one of the few female leaders. The theme of the network was for the promotion of women focusing on three major imperatives. One is about creating communities and the second one is about mentorship with the third being about advocacy. It was about inclusiveness and allowing women and men despite their style and where they came from and their experiences to realize that they could still be successful. You didn’t have to act and communicate the same way in order to be a senior leader in the organization. So, that inclusiveness was really where you incubate a lot of ideas. If you as a leader will create the space for people’s voices to be heard and to be leveraged, it will create some of the most innovative ideas perfected in an environment that really can change culture. I am very passionate about this and I have also found that each initiative if you include people and invite them in, it is where you will get the largest momentum in movement in helping people to feel like they want to be part of something bigger and part of the change. It is really about engaging early adopters and inviting people in who are the most resistant. It is fear based; I see it every single day. The designers, engineers, the people that have been in the organization for a long time; when you meet them where they are and connect with them, understanding their fear and what they are resistant to. Once you have the theme, then you know the strategies and actions that you need to take to help them through that. A lot of times their fear will surface helping you to understand and proactively address and respond better to those fears.
When people feel invited in, they feel heard and feel respected; they will become part of what you are doing. If they don’t, they will try to sabotage things out of fear. That is where I’ve seen some of the biggest mistakes leaders have made. Just because they were the leader, people will follow them; not so. I have seen the top four leaders in the organization make a call on something and it not go anywhere because the idea got stopped and killed simply because the people underneath wouldn’t follow. Skill in overcoming the cultural obstacles, Niki has a very unique culture. I have seen people come into the organization with amazing experience and pedigree and not make it six months. If you don’t have respect for the heritage that brought the company up to this point, the culture that exists, the dynamics and the language that is used and the style of leadership; if you didn’t catch up fairly quickly that communications, presentation and bringing people along through stories, people will no longer listen.
So, it is you understanding the culture and taking the time to be a research assistant. You need to gather data which will give you themes and those themes will help you set your direction and that direction will help give you strategic action.
This involves building confidence over time by taking small risks and learning from your failures and celebrating the successes on the way. This digital strategy, I have been on this journey for about two and a half to three years. We are just now getting a significant amount of sponsorship and alignment across the senior leadership team. I use the Olympics in London as a platform to start the first showcase. I lot of the ideas and tools we had been incubating were pulled out where we started to demonstrate those more broadly. So, starting small and building and learning as you are going, all are critical elements to make sure that you are shaping it in a way that is suitable and sustainable.
6. Be a Student of Change: Never stop being a student of change. If I had to look back where people make their biggest mistakes in driving change from a leadership perspective; the first mistake is trying to go it alone. It is important to bring people along and meeting them where they were and understanding what success looked like for individuals being able to personalize the change. Everyone wants to know what was in it for them. That was at all levels of the organization. You need to make sure that you walk the talk and that you are modeling that. The second one is to not underestimate the influence of power and resistance. Don’t avoid this because otherwise it will lead to failure. Listen with interest and curiosity, really seeking to understand is a critical element and identifying the theme and opportunities. Then underestimating the values of cultural dynamics and power heritage; it is really hard when you are driving and leading change to not personalize it. In being convicted of what your passion is, you can see what success would look like so clearly. When you get resistance of people pushing back, it is hard not to let it penetrate you and thus taking it personally. You just cannot do that. The minute the organization and individuals who are following you feel that you are no longer being objective and open to different ideas, insights and feedback; it becomes very difficult for people to want to come along beside and support you. You must be able to depersonalize it, remaining calm and not making assumptions. A lot of time you can assume that you know what’s going on in organizations or within individuals. Just like in any relationship, you need to clarify your assumptions and making sure you are driving from alignment and from joint understanding. Then it is about remaining flexible and present; it is the immediacy of what is happening next. This is the balance within the vision of where you are going. But what are the challenges of the obstacles of the moment; these are times when you need to stop and talk to find out what is going on. Now, as a leader, how do I need to adjust?
My last three points; first, it is about believing in the impossible. I truly believe that people are the ones that change and drive culture. Before you embark on the change you want to drive consider, what is possible and what impact it can make. Sometimes it takes time, even years and sometimes it has to be refined over and over again until it becomes what you want it to be. Are you able to embrace a bold vision despite the risk of challenging the status quo? When I started Women of Niki, people said that I was going to put my neck out there; people are going to wonder what I was doing. This will be seen as if women are not happy and supported. I had no one else that wanted to come along side me and support me. My boss said that he believed in me and if I think I can do this, then you should go do it. We started small and slowly it grew. There are two events a month and now the distribution list is over two thousand people. We have anywhere between one hundred and seventy five to seven hundred people coming a month. These are both men and women. Yes, I had the vision and I was passionate about it and I was willing to stand up and take the push back even when I was standing alone. I had so much conviction of what it would mean not just for women but also to Niki. I believed in the unachievable at the time.
The second step is really about success as opportunities. Do you see hills or mountains? It can become so paralyzing as a leader, you see everything as being overwhelming. When you have huge challenges in front of you, break it into smaller chunks; go step by step taking a chunk at a time. Initially they came to me saying that they needed to get closer to the market and we need to figure out how to get it done. That was my brief. If I would have looked at that holistically, it would have paralyzed me and I would not have been able to even start. I started thinking about it and what it meant. You need to try to anticipate what some of the resistance is that you will encounter. What are the biggest concerns and obstacles this change will cause to surface. You will get additional ones as you go through the process. Consider who and what can help you; the best leader is the leader that leverages the collective talent of people that are around them. There is no leader that I have seen that has been successful on their own. If you are a leader that can identify and recognize talent, you can connect with people in their sweet spot, create the capacity for them to do their best work and support them, you will get so much out of individuals. It is about helping each individual, helping them to realize their full potential. My successes have not been because of me, but they have been because of the people around me. And finally it is about the influence to transform. So I believe I can do this; am I determined, capable and committed? Am I really ready to initiate it and lead it? It is one thing to have the passion and vision and identify what you think some of the challenge will be. This really is about a marathon; driving significant transformational change is not for the meek. It has to be something that you are totally committed with and determined to do; you have that relentless drive to be able to make sure that you are in it until you get there. That also means pacing yourself. You need to continue to do your work as an individual, what motivates you and what demotivates you; when do you need to rest and when do you need to refuel and not to over commit. All of these are key things of discovering about you as an individual. I have to continue to re-invent myself as much as I am trying to re-invent the organization.