Coaching Change Management from a Serving Leader Perspective

Effectiveness in leadership has a nexus between serving and change leadership approaches. An effective leader continually drives strategic and valuable change while simultaneously responding to the ever evolving business environment and fulfilling the mission of the organization and its employees. In essence, the one style of leadership increases the efficacy of the other. For example, driving meaningful enterprise wide change requires a leader to actively sponsor the change. This is the change leader’s opportunity to “Upend the Pyramid.” A truly active sponsor leads by not only words but by example, modeling the change for their team, finding ways to make acceptance easier by removing operational and political barriers and rewarding for new behaviors through attention and gratitude.

Likewise, the effective change leader continually “Runs to the Great Purpose.” Through difficult times of disruptive change, a change leader serves both the organization and the individual through defining the change in the framework of a greater goal. The leader articulates the individual’s sacrifice to the benefit of the goal. The change leader enables the employee to find value and purpose in their daily efforts and accomplishments so that motivations, efforts and results are aligned with the great purpose of the strategic change.

From a standpoint of leadership development, it is then imperative to teach and coach the model of change management with a serving leader perspective. To accomplish this, the two approaches should not be considered as simply similar and potentially complementary but rather integral, specifically considering the following when teaching and coaching a change management methodology:

  1. Create an appreciation for each approach as an enhancer of the other. In any credible change management methodology, active sponsorship by multiple layers of leadership is the single most influential aspect in managing disruptive organizational wide change. Active sponsorship of a change becomes powerful and more influential when the leader upends the pyramid - removing barriers that inhibit the employee, prioritizing the individual’s objectives according to the greater goal, and specifically working towards making it easier for the individual to change their behaviors.
  2. Offer serving leader tactics that operate within the framework of the change management model. Serving leaders build on the strengths of those around them and thereby create a more engaged, productive and content team. Too often when faced with disruptive inevitable change, leaders may respond to employee resistance as lack of will. However, lack of ability is a common cause of employee resistance to change. The serving change leader approaches resistance with more than one good faith attempt to provide information, alleviate fears, prioritize training and reward for positive new behaviors.
  3. Work within the cultural boundaries of the organization. The most productive, sustainable and least disruptive way to change an organizational culture is to change individual behaviors. In large complex organizations, changing behaviors on an individual level requires the patience, concern and dedication of a serving change leader. Behaviors are personal. Changing behaviors requires the leader to acknowledge the current culture while raising the bar for the individual. The leader sets a new expectation, demonstrates its importance and finds impactful manners by which to reward the individual. 

In general, today’s organizational leaders see a connection between leading change and the serving leader. However, to reap the benefits of the two in practice simultaneously, the coach, mentor or trainer should serve their coachee first by identifying the synergy between change management and serving leader.

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When You Don't Agree With Change: A ThirdRiver Perspective

Change can be complex and nuanced. I was reminded of that as I read “How to Lead Change You Don’t Agree With” by Business Matters. Although it would be wonderful to have a “5 Easy Steps to Manage Change,” there are times when ‘easy’ feels too soft of an answer. In this quite interesting, to put it mildly, political season we are experiencing that the old adage “all politics is local” holds true. People are interested in and voting for what they see as impacting them personally- either policy or principle. When discussing managing change it is important to remember that “all change is personal.” People tend to align with a change based on how they see it personally impacting them.

As leaders who are looked at as the examples of how to manage a change, there are certainly several compelling things that can be done beside “grinning and bearing it.” I would like to add another layer to recommendations made by Business Matters in their article.

It’s not hypocritical:

It is human to hold both excitement and concern for a change. Employees can see right through a manufactured smile of a leader who is not committed to something. So better yet let’s show our employees through our example that the best leaders can see, think about, and discuss both the benefits and concerns of a change. The best leaders then willingly choose to move forward with the change after deciding that the change is in the best interests and serves the greater goal of the organization.

Think Positive:  

The research on Asset vs. Deficit Based thinking shows that an intentional focus on Assets- what is working, best practices, strengths, opportunities, possibilities, etc.- engages your brain in entirely different ways than when you focus on Deficits- what is wrong, broken, not working, failures, etc. So if you choose to start off with and focus the majority of your thinking on Assets your “Thinking Brain" will function more effectively and powerfully than when you focus mostly on deficits. Focusing on deficits tends to limit your best thinking and put you more in your “Emotional Brain.” While we would never encourage ignoring the deficits, they deserve their due, we do recommend starting off with and spending more time thinking about assets before considering the deficits of any change.

Look forward:

A simple but powerful analogy of this point is that of driving a car and looking more out the front windshield than your rearview mirrors.  In real life, if you were driving on a busy highway and you choose to look more in your rearview mirrors than front windshield- at best you will be driving backwards.  At worst, you would likely cause much damage and suffering. You should reference the rearview mirrors only inasmuch as they help you to move forward toward your destination, while staying focused on looking out the front windshield.

Be Proactive:  

The author notes that once a change has been decided upon, movement is critical vs. delaying action on the change. One way that we like to provide comfort for leaders and their teams to move forward on a change is to proactively schedule “After Action Reviews.” These reviews provide regular checkpoints on the successes and challenges of the change, as well as, appropriate remediations where necessary. While “Change Cheerleaders” are often ready to bolt out of the starting blocks with a change, sometimes naively we might add, and “Change Curmudgeons” are usually entrenched against it, sometimes foolishly we might add, there exists a majority in the middle that would be OK with moving forward with a change but are hesitant because they are concerned that the challenges might not be fully thought through. Frequent and well represented checkpoints to review and remediate the change can provide the confidence of a “safety net” to many in the organization. With such a safety net in place, the majority of the organization is enabled to become comfortable embarking on that change.

John Porcari is the Serving Leader and Greater Goal Coaching Consulting Practice Director at Third River Partners, LLC, a Leader Development and Strategy Execution consultancy located in Pittsburgh, PA, and serving client everywhere.


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