Leaders know progress is always preceded by change. And, you also know a lot of people don’t like change. Their minds and bodies war against it – they prefer stability vs. change. This tension represents the leader’s on-going challenge and today’s challenge… How do you get people to change?
Leading change is a process. I wrote about it in a post entitled 3 Steps to Real Change. Today, let’s take a deeper look at the key levers leaders have at our disposal to instigate change.
After attempting to lead change for decades, I’ve found only three catalytic elements capable of consistently instigating change.
Vision – A preferred picture of the future can drive change. However, it must be compelling enough to make people want to leave their current reality. By definition, the vision doesn’t exist; therefore, people must have enough confidence in the leader and his or her sense of the future to leave the safe harbor of the known and head out to sea. It is largely a voyage of faith – faith in the rewards the future holds and in the leader’s ability to successfully navigate the unknown.
Fear – Another strong incentive to change, fear moves people – specifically, fear of future consequences. It’s often a change or die mentality. Even the most ardent opponents of change will usually join up if the current course and speed looks to end in disaster. This may not be seen as the most lofty motive for change, but it can be effective. Often, leaders will combine vision and fear by sharing a preferred future AND the consequences of not pursuing it.
Pain – If a person, or an organization is in pain, change is much easier to embrace; change can even be seen as an ally. My personal bias is to never have to use this lever. If you do, it may mean you were not able to proactively orchestrate change. An example of this is when a person has a heart attack and THEN decides to lose 100 lbs. and stop smoking. It seems like it would be better to be proactive, pursue health and skip the heart attack! Make no mistake pain can lead to change – if you survive the heart attack.
Here’s a final thought… Vision is the least efficient of the three strategies but I believe it to be the most effective. When people change because of vision, there’s a higher commitment to the change effort. You can even think of vision as an intrinsic motivator to change, while fear and pain are extrinsic motivators.
So, when you need to make change happen, choose your strategy carefully. But, regardless of your approach, always lead change – that’s what leaders do!
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