Only Leaders Willing to Change Themselves Can Change Their Organizations
Having seen good, bad, and ugly examples of organizational change management, I believe there is a direct relationship between the willingness of leaders to undergo changes that affect them personally and their ability to effectively drive change for their organizations. To illustrate, consider this tale of two organizations.
I’m in North Carolina this week helping a retail chain with over 100 stores implement an enterprise-wide planned change initiative. As I drove along a rural highway on my way to one of those stores, I noticed that some of the leaves had begun to change color while others seemed to cling to the bright green hues they had displayed since spring, as if protesting the beginning of autumn. Leaders, it dawned on me, are just like fall leaves. Some appear to undergo bold transformations as they enter new seasons, as if they have consciously chosen to become the change they wish to see in their organizations. They adjust their personal perspectives, priorities, and processes and adopt new ones that better support changes desired by the organization. Most of the leaders in the organization I am currently supporting are in this category. They are eager to make changes that affect them personally in order to facilitate the transformative changes the organization desires. Because they, too, are changing they make very effective change agents.
Leaders in another organization I supported were much less willing to make changes that affected them personally, even though doing so would have helped them move their organization forward. Those leaders expected others in the organization to adapt to changing times yet they themselves were reluctant to do so, preferring instead to conduct business as usual. They refused to adjust their own perspectives, priorities, or processes - yet that is exactly what they expected of others. As an example, senior executives in that organization instituted changes intended to help the organization operate more efficiently and encourage its middle managers to be more nimble and responsive to market demands. Yet, those same executives were reluctant to relinquish decision-making control to the middle managers overseeing the daily operations. Even minor decisions and changes still needed to be fully vetted and approved by executives at the very top. As a result, the organization never did improve its efficiency or "nimbility." Leadership's reluctance to change how decisions were made undermined the entire organization's ability to change.
Leaders must be willing to change themselves in order to effectively implement and manage planned change for their organizations. As Gandhi would recommend, they must be the change they hope to see in their organizations.