Lessons in Great Leadership: Leading People Through Change
Japan's prime minister from 1998 to 2000, Keizo Obuchi, wrote an article in the International Herald Tribune that provides us with three quick leadership lessons. He writes:
"The systems and processes that made us so successful in the past no longer work. They have become heavy shackles that hold us down. It is not easy to abandon the formula for previous success. Yet we realize the world has changed."
These could have been the words of a group head explaining the latest earning report to the analysts or the words of a GM whose "heritage" format was under attack.
Leadership Lesson #1: Acknowledge that things are going to be different and not necessarily pleasant for a while.
Obuchi continues, "Painful structural changes are under way. Our country, which once prided itself on its "lifetime employment" practices -- once hired, a graduate was guaranteed work at the same company until retirement -- today has an unemployment rate higher than that of the United States. Japanese companies can no longer afford to make social stability a priority and keep workers on the payroll regardless of earnings. So unemployment is not just an indicator of our immediate economic problems, it is a byproduct of our transition to a new economy."
Leadership Lesson #2: Followers already know change is painful. They need to know why it's worth it.
Great leaders take the time to explain what is happening and why. They use the word "because" a lot. Workers are more willing to put up with change when they feel someone is in charge and there is light at the end of the tunnel. People who are used to one way of doing business will go through predictable passages when change occurs.
1. Denial. This is when you must provide as much information as possible.
2. Resistance. Allow people to talk about their concerns, and listen more than you talk.
3. Exploration. Once people go through the first two stages, they start to look for ways to deal with their new situation.
4. Re-commitment. If you've done a good job of leading people through change, you will have new bursts of creativity and loyalty from workers who have made it through the storm.
Leadership Lesson #3: Paint a picture of the future.
That's the "vision thing."
Obuchi concludes, "When Japan overcomes its current economic difficulties, it will emerge a more vibrant and flexible society. We will be in an even stronger position to support the values that we share so deeply with the United States--freedom, democracy and respect for human rights."
Peter Drucker (and there is only one other Higher Authority) put it like this. "What you have to do and the way you have to do it is incredibly simple. Whether you are willing to do it, that's another matter."
What leaders have to do today is lead people through change. It's as simple as 1-2-3. Acknowledge, explain why, and paint a picture of the future.