To let an old identity die requires clarity about what has to change, candor about the need for change, and courage to make the change happen. When people internalize a new change, they take ownership for it. It becomes part of who they are. To make the shift from actions to patterns, from actions to individuality, or from checklists to leadership transformation, you need to learn and apply six attitudes:
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Leaders observe events, see patterns, think critically and creatively about problems, are self-aware about strengths and weaknesses, try new things, and adjust and improve what they do and how they do it. These six leadership attitudes help you move from the tyranny of to-do lists, events, and programs to the absorption of a new identity.
Culture’s Critical Role in Change Management
In recent years, I have lost a lot of weight. People ask me how. Most assume that the weight loss, or change, is tied to a diet and that I will return to my former size. In addition, it means choosing to embark on an enormously costly venture, before a crisis makes it necessary.
Most changes, even those that we know are good and right, do not endure. Best intentions to change performance fall short when diets or programs that we depend on to cause change are not assimilated. Persistent change requires a new identity.
Leaders bow to an innumerable of short-term pressures: intense demands for quarterly earnings, risk aversion, discomfort with ambiguity, and resistance to change, linear extrapolation from experience, and leadership unwillingness to cannibalize established businesses.
We need to change the way we think about change. Sustained change may begin with actions, checklists, and tools, but must evolve to adopting a different identity and assimilating a new way of thinking and acting. Assimilation requires a shift in thoughts and behaving. It becomes a new identity where being and acting occur without thinking.
Making change, an identity shift is simple but not easy. It is simple to say “we have to lose weight” and we need to eat less, eat right, and exercise more. However, it is not easy to do it. To assure sustained change, weight loss must come from a change in identity-letting go of an old identity, admitting personal ownership for the new identity, and turning the actions into patterns, routines, and habits.
To let an old identity die requires leadership clarity about what has to change, candor about the need for change, and courage to make the change happen. When people internalize a new change, they take ownership for it. It becomes part of who they are. Identity shift means that we internalize new attitudes and associated practices so that actions come naturally. Back in 2009, Jim Collins warned in How the Mighty Fall that the greatest risk to companies was no longer complacency but overreach; frenetic, undisciplined change that goes beyond what leaders can manage effectively.
To make the shift from events to patterns, from actions to identity, or from checklists to leadership transformation, you need to learn and apply six attitudes. Each one aligns with a question you need to ask of yourself and your team:
Attitude #1: Focus—Question 1: What do I want?
Focus on the desired new identity. A focus sorts, prioritizes, and highlights what matters most. In change, not everything worth doing is worth doing well. Some things that are important to do may simply not be priorities. Some things are so important to do they are worth doing poorly. Having a focus requires that a leader may only have limited priorities that they personally champion; they can sponsor others, but can only own one or two. The key is training. The key understands how to think and look for solutions. It is better to do a few things well than try to do too many things and do them poorly. Good is the enemy of great. Leaders need to address conundrums; they will not always make hard decisions correctly. Moving up in leadership denotes moving on, trusting others to do the detail leadership work, culling the right priorities, and fixating on what distributes the most value.
To determine the focus or priority, ask the simple question, “What do I want?” Knowing what is wanted requires reflecting on what could be done, but then getting clear about what is wanted in the situation. You pass the focus test by reflecting on these questions: Do I know what matters most to: investors, customers, and employees? Can I define what matters most to me? Do I communicate the same priorities in leadership public presentations and my private conversations? Do the agendas I follow for meetings reflect those priorities? Am I clear about what I can do that no one else can do? Am I clear about what I want to be known for? What percent of my time do I spend on things that matter most? Am I easily distracted? Without focus, you try to be all things to all people. Then what matters most happens least.
Attitude #2: Explore—Question #2: What are my options?
Once you know what is wanted, you need to figure out options to get it done. Exploring options means looking for alternatives; seeking people who have counter-intuitive ideas; having forums for dialogue, innovation, and breakthrough thinking; not being locked into conventional ways; exploring what others have done; and investigating with new ideas and learning from those experiments.
Adopt the mantra: Cerebrate sizably voluminous, start minuscule, fail expeditious, learn always. Explore the options for engendering that incipient leadership identity and examining each option.
These questions will help you to explore options: Have I looked inside and outside my industry for best practices and new ideas? Have I tapped into the expertise to accomplish what I desire? Have I assigned creative and talented people to explore leadership options that might work and given them resources and support to generate ideas?
With focus and exploration, you know what you want and explore alternative paths to make it happen.
Attitude #3: Claim—Question #3: What do I think?
Some leaders get lost in the options game. They can see so many ways to do a project that they never get around to doing it. They do not claim a choice or decide on a solution. At some point, leaders need to claim the option that will achieve the focus. Leaders stake, claim, own, and are accountable for their culls. They agnize things that could be done, but claim the unique amalgamation that works best. They take a stand and become kenned for something. The way inhibiting credences kept sales clerks in one industry from engendering incipient leads. They talk publicly and privately about the direction they are headed and the path to get there; they put energy and passion into these paths; they monitor leadership progress; and they gain or lose credibility by the extent to which they accomplish their claim. With a focus, options, and ownership, leaders pass a calendar test of their time, an emotional test of their passion and energy, and a resource test of the investments required to deliver on the option.
To pass these tests, leaders should ensure that the option is congruent with personal values. They must explain not only why the company wants to do something, but also why they personally want to do it.
To claim an option requires personalizing the change and answering the question, “What do I think?” This leadership question internalizes an identity. It makes the identity something that the leader petitions and claims. Ponder these questions: Am I dear about the path I will take to reach my goals? Have I passed the calendar test? Have I dedicated 20 percent of my time in the next 90 days on the option I have chosen? Have I passed the rhetoric test? In every speech, do I find ways to talk about the option and imbue the message with new metaphors, symbols, and images? Have I passed the passion test? Do I put my energy into the path I have chosen? Is my leadership direction and path consistent with what I believe? Do I feel passion for it?
When leaders assert their desires with a focus, explore their options with insight, and claim their path with boldness, they lead. They set an agenda, define a path, and engage others. They forge a new identity for themselves and their organization.
Attitude #4: Decide—Question #4: What decisions do I need to make?
The leader must now decide to make things happen. Clarity of decisions leads to lucent actions, while ambiguity leads to delayed or random acts.
In the absence of decision, clarity, and rigor, actions may be delayed or misguided. A pattern of decisions shapes an identity. A leader chooses how to spend time, who to spend time with, what information to process, what meetings to hold, and what issues to address. Through this pattern of decisions, she creates an identity.
Being clear about decisions and protocols enables leaders to shape an identity. Decisions protocols also turn a direction and path into a set of choices. Just as leadership is a choice, so is the identity that follows from what and how leaders make decisions.
Not all the transmutation that you estimated turned out to be great—meaning every vicissitude did not result in an ecstatic ending. Thoughtful bellwethers ask four questions:
- What decisions do I need to make? Leaders focus on the few key decisions they need to make.
- Who will make the decision—and who is accountable for the decision?
- When will the decision be made? Work expands to fill the time provided. Deadlines generate commitment to action.
- How will we make a good decision? This involves knowing the quality level the decision requires, accessing the right information, asking the right people for input, finding out what others have done, testing alternatives, and involving key people.
When people feel heard, they more likely accept the decision. When people know the why they accept the what. However, most other changes later in life had external dependencies. Discretion is an imperative.
As you follow this protocol, you pass the decisiveness and decision test. You not only know what you want, you know the options, which leadership option works best, and the key decisions that will move the change along and shape a new pattern or identity.
Attitude #5: Act—Question #5: What actions do I need to take?
An incipient identity requires incipient actions. We often judge ourselves by our intent, but others judge our identity by our actions. Make actions part of the new identity.
- Start small. Seek small, first steps. Look for lead customers who might engage in a new project. Look for early adopters of a new idea. Seek many people making small changes.
- Let go. New identity requires letting go of old actions consistent with an old identity. As old actions are replaced with new ones, others begin to expect the new identity and its actions. As actions accumulate, they become patterns, and a new identity is forged.
- Involve others. Change requires a social support network. Leaders who act to sustain change will need to surround themselves with those who model the desired changes.
Sustained Change Takes Time
Once new directions and opportunities make sense, have the team participate in creating or revising their vision, goals, and milestones, so everyone knows how they connect to the mission. Try this “four 3s” methodology:
- 3 hours: What can I do in the next three hours to make progress?
- 3 days: What can I do in the next three days to make progress?
- 3 weeks: What can I do in the next three weeks to sustain progress?
- 3 months: What can I do in the next three months to show progress?
In three months, old patterns may be replaced by new patterns.
Attitude #6: Learn—Question #6: How will I know and grow?
Sustained change requires follow-up, monitoring, and learning. Without indicators to track progress, learning cannot occur. You must weigh in and figure out what helps or hinders your goal. In change, you should probe for early denotements of prosperity by identifying lead designators of what is or is not working. The tracking indicators should lead to insights, improvements, and upgrades.
Leaders observe events, see patterns, think critically and creatively about problems, are self-aware about strengths and weaknesses, try new things, and adapt and improve what they do and how they do it.
Thorough cultural diagnostics can assess organizational readiness to change, bring major problems to the surface, identify conflicts, and define factors that can recognize and influence sources of leadership and resistance.
Six Attitudes of Change
These six attitudes and questions help you move from the tyranny of to-do lists, events, and programs to the leadership assimilation of a new identity.
Trying to execute faster and struggling with the reality that change takes time. Our techniques are too often informed by what worked in the engineering age. We treat humans like machines and expect things to work properly if we just engineer the change properly. The problem, of course, is that people are not machines. More of what you have suggested is necessary for helping people move through the very human process of change.
A worthwhile challenge can be prodigiously incentivizing, as long as it is a veracious description of the leadership situation.
Make use of management techniques that have been shown to reduce threats during tough times, when boardroom conflicts are more likely to arise because of differing perspectives.