Leadership mindset for positive change

Recently, I got an invitation from a state institution to train their senior management on “Mindset for Positive Change”.

People management issues with Robert Mandeya

This entity has been struggling with rolling out their recently introduced innovation. According to the executives, the most resistance to change was coming from their internal senior managers. It was therefore becoming extremely difficult for the organisation get acceptance of the change by the external publics.

It is imperative for any organisation to get a buy-in for any change from its internal publics before they sell it to the external publics. It could be a service, a product or any new idea, the internal publics is the first port of call in any selling endeavour.

What is change?

Webster’s Dictionary defines change as something “different, altered, modified, transformed or converted”, as “something that is not the same as before”.

What is important here is that change is a normal phenomenon. Nothing remains more constant — or as the old quotation goes: “There is nothing as permanent as change” (Heraclitus: 540-475 BC). If a living organism is growing, developing and maturing, we say this is positive change. All organisms go through a natural process from birth, growth, maturation, decay and eventual death. Similary, many organisations may come and go.

Some become bankrupt, some are acquired or merged, but some live on for centuries and go from strength to strength. It is their ability to adapt to their changing environment that ensures their future success.

Mindset for change

Dynamic and disruptive change involves dislocation, conflict, confusion, uncertainty. New ways are nearly always received with coolness, even mockery or hostility. Those with vested interests fight the change.

According to Don Tap Scott, “these shifts demand such a different view of things that established leaders are last often to be won over, it at all”. It goes without saying that change is also a perception; we may see it as positive or negative, as too fast, slow or about right. We perceive it as great, small, simple, and complex or in between. It is subjective. As we say, “One man’s meat is another man’s poison”. One thing is certain, however. It is here to stay and ll not go away. The power to change your mindset will change your life. Like one famous leader Franklin D Roosevelt observed, “Men are not prisoners of fate, but only prisoners of their own minds”.

Essence of rapid complex change

What is different today is that much of the change we experience in working in an organisation, is that it seems to have increased in rate and scope.

Parikh (1991), a leading proponent on change leadership, coined the wonderful phrase “raplexity” which combines the concept of “rapid” and “complex”. We feel the impact of change daily, and it is sometimes magnified due to the media. The world is shrinking, as telecommunications and travel bring us closer together, to bring globalised change.

Some facts about change

Letters that once took weeks to travel by sea mail, now take only seconds by e-mail. Yet this leads to the “future shock” syndrome or our sometimes feeling overwhelmed by, and even drowned in information.

Managing change to some extent is the changing of information into knowledge. It is the digesting of only what we need, turning it into nutritious knowledge. Knowledge that is useful, value added and applied. This process has become known as knowledge management (KM).

The leading of change must be based on sound knowledge management. “Nobody can force change on anyone else. It has to be experienced. Unless we invent ways where paradigm shifts can be experienced by a critical mass, then change will be a myth” (Adapted from Emery and Trist, The Evolution of Socio Technical Systems).

Change at the individual level

All social systems, such as work organisations, comprise individual employees as the basic building blocks. Change can be from bottom up, which starts with each of us, as an individual. Here, our cerebral or cognitive self operates at a knowledge or awareness level, knowing what change is needed and why. We need to be aware of the nature, causes and outcomes of change. Knowing the benefits of change may be critical. On the other hand, change can be from top down also. Another level — still individual — is in our emotional self, and in the limbic system. Here, our attitudes, values, motives and drives come into play. How strongly we believe and feel about the changes is fundamental to whether we are willing to change. This level is more complex and difficult when it comes to change.

The group or team level

As we move towards the next level, we would appreciate that most employees work as members of a work group or in a team. Peer pressure maybe effective where the majority are in favour of change, but this can depend upon the degree of resolve among the group minority. Even if the minority feel strongly, and resolutely opposed, or have a strong personality, peer pressure may not work. In fact, sometimes such pressure produces a more stubborn resistance. The leader must understand their team members motivations, values and attitudes towards change.

The organisational level

Organisations comprise teams and individuals. A social system by itself only changes when the majority of its stake holders support the change. Leading team change is only one step. Aligning all the teams is another step. Organisational values and vision can be applied, as well as the policies, systems or structures, to support the change needed. Aligning top down, with bottom up initiatives is ideal.

Pro-active or reactive

There are different reactions to change. Some people are more “pro-active”, willing to change and even initiate change. Teams may comprise a diverse mix of individuals, some wanting change and falling into the positive and “pro-active” type. Others may be indifferent towards or even opposed to change and more the “reactive” type.

Mandeya is an executive coach, trainer in human capital development and corporate education, a certified leadership and professional development practitioner and founder of the Leadership Institute for Research and Development (LiRD). — robert@lird.co.zw, info@lird.co.zw or +263 772 466 925.