I have had the privilege to work with some wonderful and effective change leaders during my consulting career, but I’ve also had to work with leaders who were just the opposite! So, what are the traits that distinguish effective change leaders?
I was working on a major transformational program for federal agency. A huge challenge when working with government employees is keeping them interested and motivated. And when you consider a situation where the project involves changing the way they work, the support and interest is a bare minimum. Fortunately, the primary project sponsor heading the department responsible for implementing and executing this transformational program was a highly effective change leader. Here’s what I observed he did differently, through what I like to call the ‘ABCDE’ approach:
- Active and visible participation: The primary sponsor was actively involved at each stage of the program. Not only did he participate actively in the governance and decision-making process, but also ensured participation from other department heads.
- Be with the people: The sponsor understood and appreciated the impact of change and transformation on his team. He empathized with the apprehensions of his teams while encouraging them to continue moving forward towards a new work culture. At every step he stayed connected with the teams.
- Consistent and coherent communication: Instead of assuming that his directives would be followed, he constantly communicated with his teams to ensure that his inputs have been understood and that there was no miscommunication. He also ensured that all Line Managers were cascading consistent messaging, and that the entire organization was aware of the vision, business benefits and group level benefits of the program.
- Demonstrate leadership: The primary sponsor always played the role of a leader by discussing critical matters with the senior leadership of the organization to ensure project success. He never “let go” or assigned his responsibility as Sponsor to just anyone and stayed at the forefront in good times and bad.
- Empower the team: This is the most ignored perspective of a successful leader. Most leaders have a strong personality and can get the work done at their level, but their teams at times fail to achieve similar results. This is because the teams have not been empowered, nor have they been assured of complete support. Effective Leaders empower their teams with their action and directions.
I strongly believe that project/ program leaders need these ABCDE traits to be effective and successful change leaders. As per PROSCI, there are three winning habits of effective change leaders: active and visible leadership, building a coalition, and direct communication with employees. These habits echo the traits defined in earlier section. In my professional journey I’ve learnt that we can help project leaders become successful change leaders through coaching and leadership consultation sessions.
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