Leading change: It’s what they see you doing

As the leader, you can instruct your team, (especially those leading change), to think big, integrate, be accountable, communicate effectively, embrace the unknowns, etc. For sure, have the change plan up and ready and well communicated.

However, as Andy Phillips the ‘change guerilla’ and fan of small improvements recently noted Change Management Is Not Enough. His point is that changing the system usually won’t do it – that culture has to change too. And, as change comes by different degrees, so too culture matters.

That said, the best parenting line is:

‘It’s not what you tell your children, it’s what they see you doing.’

No matter what their view of us – love or not – our children constantly look to us for cues.

The same applies to leaders and staff in organizations.

So, if we do something different that’s effective, (i.e., it resonates enough with people that they themselves do something different), the thing you chose is more likely to be about culture change.

And, it has to be something people will see you doing, not just a line in your next speech.

The absolute best model of this is the much-heralded Richard Branson. As I always ask in my leadership training sessions, “What do you think Richard Branson is doing when his latest stunt is featured in the press? He’s communicating to the people of the many Virgin brands, here’s the attitude I want to take in building the Virgin brand.’

You’ll note that he gives many speeches, but it’s the action-oriented activities that get media coverage. The activity may seem a bit over the top, (space travel!), but it’s the attitude that matters.

The same applies to leading change in your organization. The bigger the change, the more it calls for your people to see you doing something that represents where you want them to go.

So, what action do you pick? Where do you begin? Here’s a simple way to practice this approach: To paraphrase Gregory Bateson, “Change is happening all the time; our role is to identify useful change and amplify it”.

Find where people are already doing something different, (there’s always someone), and amplify it by doing it yourself as dramatically as your nature will allow.

Next, repeat the exercise with an even bolder amplification of where you want people to go.

Connect with Alan

leading change

Alan Kay is a solution focused change consultant and author of ‘Fry the Monkeys, Create a Solution’.

Art by  Jerico S.

Alan is an internationally renowned strategy and change advisor and an author of two books on speeding up change. Alan's work is widely influenced by the theory and application of Solution Focus, an approach that enables real attitudinal and behavioral change within organizations. He asks better questions to help teams build on strengths, clarify goals, and start taking action. Building on his credentials as a marketing communications client-service and general manager for a multi-national advertising business, Alan established his busy consulting practice, the Glasgow Group. Since its creation in 1994, The Glasgow Group has served a broad range of sectors in North America and Europe including financial services, technology, telco, advertising, government, education and not for profit. Alan is a peer-reviewed member of SFCT and his work is featured in a variety of books and journals. His book, ‘Fry the Monkeys. Create a Solution,’ has been widely acclaimed. He teaches executives at the business school of York University (Schulich/SEEC), in Toronto.

  • I facilitate The Leadership Challenge Workshop. What you’re describing is one of the five practices of exemplary leadership. Model The Way.

    As leader, you’re a reflection of the way you want your team to behave.

    So today, begin setting the example of what’s expected.

  • This is great Alan. Be a “Good” example. Employees play follow the leader, just like children.
    So important to “Be the Change you want to see” in your company.

    Thanks and take CARE.


  • Thanks for the mention Alan. Appreciate it.
    The worse the leader, the bigger the gap between the rhetoric and the reality.

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