Leadership’s Role in Change

Leadership’s Role in Change

Effective leadership plays an important role in successful change management, guiding and shaping the team to accept change more readily.

On this day in history, we celebrate one of the largest changes to our country, our declaration of independence from England.  While this happened on July 4th, 1776, there are great parallels we can gain from this holiday that is often celebrated through fireworks and grilling without appreciation for what it took for our little (at the time) country to stand up and say no more.  Quick side note, after this post is done, I have to start prepping the grill for tonight, so I am no more immune to the traditions than anyone else, however a part of the evening will be discussing our story with my 7-year old.  For context, this feat occurred when the British Empire was the leading power in the world and encompassed much of the known world.  Great Britain had just defeated France, Spain, and other major European powers, claiming dominance in both military and economic roles.  Enter the upstart Americans, who for years have been saying no more to the English right of rule through various forms of protest including the infamous Boston Tea Party and by this point had already formed a Continental Congress in preparation of open warfare.

America’s First Big Change

When the first shots of the war occurred in April 1775, most colonists did not want full independence from Great Britain, preferring a more moderate change in representation and taxation.  However, many more became “revolutionaries” in response to the growing British hostility to the growing dissent in the American colonies.  In early 1776, Thomas Paine published what would become a bestselling pamphlet called “Common Sense“.

Europe, and not England, is the parent country of America.  This new world hath been the asylum for the persecuted lovers of civil and religious liberty from every part of Europe.  Hither they have fled, not from the tender embraces of the mother, but from the cruelty of the monster; and it is so far true of England, that the same tyranny which drove the first emigrants from home, pursues their descendants still. – Thomas Paine, author of Common Sense

This document became a manifesto of sorts that changed the dynamic of how the colonists saw themselves.  Many prior to reading Paine’s pamphlet considered themselves aggrieved Britons.  This document is credited with uniting the common citizen with political leaders.  Finally, after months of heated debate among the political leaders of the colonies for months, the vote for independence passed with near unanimous approval on June 2, 1776.

John Adams believed that June 2nd should be the date of celebration for independence.  He thought so strongly about this, he intentionally declined 4th of July celebration invitations until he died on July 4th, 1826.  This was the same day Thomas Jefferson died and the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.

Revolutionary Leadership

Thomas Paine is also attributed in writing “The Rights of Man” which supported the French Revolution.  However, he was just one of the individuals the served as a force for change within the colonies.  Many know George Washington as the first president of the United States, however he also set the tone for every president to follow by handing down a legacy of strength, integrity, and national purpose.  However, what is not immediately known to many is his abilities as a leader of his men.  During the American Revolution, he did not “WOW” as a strategic commander, in fact he is not known for his battlefield tactics at all.  Instead, he is known for his leadership in keeping the colonial army together.  The colonial army faced a shortage of ammo and supplies, poor training, and faced a superior enemy that had defeated the other world powers in the decades prior.  Through his motivation and direction, Washington was able to not only keep the army together through incredible odds (see Valley Forge), but eventually scored a crucial victory over forces commanded by the British General Charles Cornwallis in the Battle of Yorktown, effectively ending the American Revolutionary War.

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader. – John Quincy Adams

The founding fathers all exhibited values that lead to highly effective leaders.  These men led through courage, standing up against the premier power of the time and saying no more.  They learned from their mistakes and invented new ways of operating.  Benjamin Franklin is obviously the easiest to site in the field of innovation, but the founding fathers did not have the resources that Great Britain had, so they had to outthink them.  Lastly, this group of men had to work together to accomplish what many thought was impossible.  Teamwork leads to attaining a level greater than that which could be achieved by an individual.  As a leader, reminding that you cannot “do it all”, but build the best team, they will do the best job possible.

Translating Effective Leadership to Today

Many of my readers and I have discussed what I believe is an effective leader.  One of my favorite authors that I believe gives the best leadership lifestyle is Stephen Covey, author of the wildly successful 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and advocate of the values based leadership model.  I highly recommend this book not just to leaders, but anyone who wants to improve their life through a values-based improvement model.  Other leadership models say “leaders are born, not made” or “say/do this and you will be successful”.  Covey advocates a more long-term solution, believing that changing paradigms and relying on good values will improve your ability of being effective in your life.

All the seven habits are important, but Habits 4 and 5 are especially so given our current topic.  Habit 4 is think Win-Win, which is described by Covey as “When one side benefits more than the other, that’s a win-lose situation. To the winner it might look like success for a while, but in the long run, it breeds resentment and distrust.”  In today’s culture, we often think “if I win this argument with my wife/husband/parent/friend/coworker, then they will see my point of view” in reality, it creates and underlying resentment.  People do not want their opinion to be downplayed or belittled, no matter how righteous you feel your side is.  A win-win scenario is when both sides are better off than when they started, it requires great courage, commitment, and consideration.  But how do you seek win-win scenarios?  Without stepping on Covey’s toes, I recommend you read his book, however I will give you a hint, part of it is in Habit 5.

Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply – Stephen Covey

Habit 5 states Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood.  Effective communication is an essential part of our society and an important skill to have as an effective leader.  Many parents will recognize a familiar lesson that I am working with my daughters.  This lesson is that you have two ears and one mouth and therefore should listen twice as much as you speak.  However, the idea of active listening does not translate well to a 7-year old and 3-year old, but we are making headway.  This lesson can easily be absorbed by individuals who wish to be more effective in their lives.

Today’s Change Culture

In today’s change climate, effective leaders are needed to help guide and motivate our society.  Between pandemics, injustice, and political/economic change, there is much of our society that is changing or demanding change.  In the business world, managers assess advocates and detractors of change and develop strategies that allow for the best acceptance of change.  The best ways of doing this is not through forcing the change, but bringing all involved into the change team.  Any change that is dictated from some nameless person on high will never have 100% acceptance, but if individuals feel that they have a voice and are being heard, they are more willing to accept.

Culture does not change because we desire to change it. Culture changes when the organization is transformed – the culture reflects the realities of people working together every day. – Frances Hesselbein

Recently, I had a very constructive conversation over the riots our country had seen in the previous weeks.  The explanation I received over the justification was that there was a community that was not being heard and this was their frustrations boiling over.  If their voices were heard and meaningful change occurred, then peaceful demonstrations would never devolve into violent protests.  This model extends to all stakeholders of this argument and many other very divisive topics in our society.  Effective leadership can be a driving force for meaningful change through seeking to understand and listening before speaking.  The best, but hardest part of this though is that it requires effective leaders from all levels of our government, society, and community to participate in conversations that are often uncomfortable and challenges their paradigm (see Stephen Covey on paradigms).

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