Stop Believing These Persistent Myths About Leading Change

Leading change, Leadershipwatch, nature, flowers

Let’s change the way we lead change!

In one of our most-read articles here on Leadershipwatch ‘What Does Change Mean to You?’ I describe how change always has been and always will be a natural part of our lives. We’ve dealt with change ever since we humans started to wander this globe. We have seen over and over again how it works, how we can turn it into a motivating, inspiring and successful experience instead of feeling burdened by it. But somehow some persistent myths about leading change are still alive. These myths hinder us instead of helping us. It is time we stop believing them.

Let me give you a quick overview, some food for thought, and then hand it back to you:

Myth #1: Change needs to be managed

“It is something you need to control and steer in the direction you want it to go. It requires a vast amount of analysis and planning upfront so that everybody can get clear objectives and tasks and everyone knows what to do. Change management is a set of skills you can learn by training. You need to learn the right tips & tricks and correct tools and models, and you will become successful in managing the change.”

You cannot manage change like you manage a production process in a factory.

I always use the following ground rule: the average ratio between the hard side of change (technical evolution, information – data – content, analysis – facts – figures, machines – robots, etc.) and the soft side (humans, ambitions – aspirations, habits, values, cultural alignment, shared vision – strategy, collaboration – teamwork, trust –confidence etc.) is 30/40% – 70/60%.

Leading change successfully is working 30/40% on the ‘hard’ side but 70/60% on the ‘soft’ side

Myth #2: People resist/don’t like change

“People are change-averse by nature. They like to keep the status quo. They are afraid of losing what they have. Don’t expect people to embrace change, you will have to convince and even force them otherwise they won’t move.”

Wrong! People are not afraid of change, but many of us don’t like to be changed. We like to be able to steer (or at least co-steer) when it comes to changing our situation. The more we feel a lack of control, the more our resistance will grow. The more we feel control over our own destiny and see for ourselves the opportunities for progress, growth and improvement the more we will jump forward.

Leading change means finding ways to create that climate of autonomy and ‘self steering’ in situations where whole groups of individuals, whole organizations are impacted, and where creating alignment between individual, cross-team and cross-unit differences therefore is a crucial challenge.

Successful organizations create environments where change is not perceived as a task but as an opportunity to grow as an individual in a more than strictly professional way

Myth #3: Changing other people’s mindsets is what counts

“Change means changing people’s mindset in such a way that the overall objectives can be reached. Technology, structure, processes and procedures will help, but in the end it is the mindset of the people that will make people change their behavior. Therefore a substantial amount of the energy needs to be assigned to changing the mindset of people.”

True, successful change very often implies a need for change in mindset. But can we actually change people’s mindsets? We can provide new thoughts, theories, models, or facts. We can try to explain how these have changed our own thinking. But even then, will it give us the power to change other people’s thinking? I don’t believe so. The only person you can change is yourself. When it comes to changing other people’s mindsets the best you can do is to offer alternative circumstances where people can experiment with new behavior and new patterns, and see what it brings. These new experiences will influence (and this sometimes takes a while) their thinking and eventually their mindset.

It’s easier to act your way into a new way of thinking, than to think your way into a new way of acting

Don’t let yourself be tricked by these myths!

Here are some practical pointers that might help you. I’ve seen these working successfully in many complex change situations:

  • Embrace the fact that you are not able to control all elements of the change.
  • What if you would shift your leadership style from controlling to facilitating/guiding?
  • What if you would shift your mindset from trying to give all the answers to letting your teams come up with the answers? See what happens.
  • What if your leadership style would focus more on creating team alignment about how we want to change rather than on convincing individuals to change?
  • What if you would focus more on ‘helping people to steer’ rather than ‘trying to reduce resistance’?
  • What if you would focus more on experimenting new behaviors than on teaching new thinking?

I’d like to know your experiences and thoughts. Feel free to share!

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Photo: AddelPic/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Aad Boot leaning against a door postAad is a global business advisor, change leader/program manager, executive team facilitator, leadership coach, and frequently asked keynote speaker. He is founder and managing partner at HRS Business Transformation Services where he works with senior executives and their organizations globally in three key domains: ‘leading complex change’, ‘cross-cultural leadership’, and ‘post-merger integration’. Find out more about Aad, our services, and keynotes.

One Comment on “Stop Believing These Persistent Myths About Leading Change

  1. Pingback: Three Star Leadership | Wally Bock | From the Independent Business Blogs: 6/7/17

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