Leadership for change

Leading a culture for change
Delivering change is a challenge. Here’s why it should be addressed by leadership rather than management.

The best leaders nurture a healthy culture, embrace the spirit of co-design, and enrol their team in the work of change. Good leaders empower their team, helping them feel supported, seen and heard. Poor managers take power from others. Here’s how good leadership can be a powerful force for change.

Change is hard

From the outset let’s acknowledge that no matter the leader, change is hard, and there’s many reasons why. As a leader it’s helpful to adopt an empathetic posture to understand why it might be a challenge members of your team.

Fear of the unknown

People become comfortable in their familiar routines and structures. Failing to clearly articulating the alternative can trigger fear and resistance.

Loss of control

When familiar routines and structures are altered, people can feel like they’ve lost control over their environment and what they do and how they do it.

Comfort zone

Most people prefer to stay in their comfort zone, the familiarity feels safer. Change requires moving to a position that might present as challenging and uncomfortable. It takes work.

Resistance to change

Some people simply don’t like change. They might be resistant to new ideas, approaches or environments. They might prefer things simply stayed the same.

No understanding or enrolment

People might be resistant when the benefits and reasons for change are unclear and the team hasn’t been engaged in the process.

Disruption and inconvenience

People develop familiar routines and ways of working, change disrupts and often inconveniences these ways, making the change hard to embrace.

Lack of support

It’s impossible to effect change without the support of resources and guidance to guide, describe and implement change.

What leadership for change requires

Good leaders create a safe space where their team feels seen, heard and supported. It starts with culture.

A healthy culture

A good culture for change is flexible, adaptable and open to trying things. It values the individual and the team alike. A healthy culture doesn’t just make change possible, it makes it easier. And that’s the role of a leader. It’s leaders who establish, define and nurture the culture – that requires skills.

Skills

My top five leadership skills are all vital in effecting change.

Curiosity requires asking questions and being willing to experiment. It leads to knowledge and understanding. The curious leader supports trying something new and potentially failing, in order to learn and get better. It’s an important skill to utilise along the path to change.

Cognitive Empathy requires you take the time to understand someone. Understanding what they think and why they think it requires being curious about those you’re leading. Ask questions:

  • What’s the hard part for them?
  • What if you imagined they were afraid? What do you then see?
  • What do they believe?
  • What would change their mind?
  • How might they be right?
  • What are they not saying or the question they’re not asking? Why not?

This understanding can be used to shape interactions, communication and how to work with them.

Humility starts with I don’t know, and ends with what do you think and let’s work this out together. It make a conversation possible in which the focus is on understanding rather than being right or wrong. Helping create a space for learning, empathy and treat people the way they should be treated.

Listening means you’re not talking. You’re instead taking the time to understand someone’s ideas, viewpoint and supporting their input. By listening you can identify and embrace good ideas, and begin to identify and address concerns. The best leaders spend less time talking and more time asking questions and listening to the answers.

Generosity supports others through sharing, listening and showing empathy. Generously leading change, requires good communication, transparency and making space for change agency. Good leaders give people a generous space in which they might be be seen and heard.

Trust and psychological safety

For a team to embrace change, it’s vital they trust the leadership. They must feel comfortable to express their ideas, take risks and be vulnerable, without fear of judgement or punishment. This requires embracing transparency, humility, empathy and feedback. Helping build trust and creating an environment where teams are more engaged, willing to take risks and embrace change. This is a psychologically safe space.

Good leaders lead by example to establish psychologically safe spaces. Modelling better behaviour. Admitting mistakes. Giving actionable and constructive feedback, as well as regularly acknowledging the work their team is doing. Embracing all feedback as a gift, even when they don’t agree they accept it with grace. Celebrating mistakes and what can be learnt from them. In this space change is no longer a threat but an exercise in teamwork.

Enrolment

If your team aren’t enrolled in the values, goals and vision of your organisation, they’re likely to be less motivated to embrace change or step up to support leadership within the organisation. By leaders enrolling their team in their vision for the organisation they create a safety net of clarity, understanding, and endowing their team with the confidence in the change. Through enrolment, the team will feel more connected to the organisation and more willing to embrace change.

Conclusion

Leadership for change requires the nurturing of a healthy culture, supporting and embracing change. A culture of flexibility, adaptability, engendering trust and psychological safety. In an environment where the team is supported in expressing ideas, taking risks, and being vulnerable. Requiring leaders with curiosity, empathy, humility, listening, and generosity, to effectively lead change. Leaders nurturing a supportive and empowering environment, facilitating change and setting their team up for success.


Image by Markus Spiske [cropped and edited]

Hi! I’m Michael

I’m an architect and coach, helping the professional culture of the architecture profession. I believe the best way to do this is support leadership development.

I’ve worked in architecture for almost 30 years, and ran my own practice for 14 years. I understand architectural practice from the inside out. Fun Fact: my NSW architect’s registration is #10 007 and I have a license to skill.

I help practices work on their leadership team and strategies. Supporting practices to become more open, fluid, and adaptable. Realising the collective energy, passion, and capabilities of their people.

Interested in hearing I can help? Let’s chat about the leadership development of you or your team.
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