I studied change management at Australia’s top-ranking business school. For two years I was immersed in a plethora of academic models, frames, processes, tools and (outdated) case studies.
Even at the time I was struck by how academic and theoretical it all seemed. Every approach started with, ‘just get the people on board’ and then take them through this or that multi-phase strategy that will result in the achievement of the desired ‘change state’. It was all very ‘left-brain’ – logical, pragmatic and sequential.
In my own real-world experience of leading teams on three continents, I’ve found that the ‘just get the people on board’ piece is ninety percent of the game! It’s about connection, empathy and inspiration. My starting point was always to find the staff with the right attitude.
In his excellent book, ‘Leading Change’ (the only way to do it by the way!), Harvard Professor, John Kotter, advocates an 8-stage change process. Step two is to ‘create a coalition of the willing’. That’s about finding people at every level of you business who are up for change and inviting them to create a movement and energy that infects those around them.
Kotter’s book is twenty years old, but his thinking has never been more relevant. We’ve seen more change in the last five years than the last five decades. We’re all now in the business of change (and if we’re not, we should be). We must rapidly adapt if we are to succeed. For many of us that means checking we have the right attitude – and if we don’t – fixing it fast!
THE 3 ELEMENTS OF Attitude
Attitude refers to the willingness to embrace doing things differently and adopting a positive mindset towards experimentation.
Positivity means having more pleasant than unpleasant feelings in regards to how we experience our lives. How we ‘feel’ depends on a combination of emotional reactions that cascade through our brain and body and the thoughts we have. '
When we monitor what we are thinking we can recognise patterns to positivity or negativity. By challenging negative thinking and consciously re-framing our thoughts, we can develop a more positive attitude. As Abraham Lincoln observed,
“We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.”
Positivity is crucial for effective leadership. Leaders must be motivators and problem solvers. They must paint a picture of what is possible for their team and then show the way forward – often into uncertainty. There will be problems. Fixating on them, becoming personally discouraged or allowing the team to do so can be fatal.
Whilst unbounded and unrealistic optimism can be counter-productive, leaders must manage their own self-talk to ensure they are thinking, acting and communicating in a way that will positively impact those around them.
Most of us are experiencing change in multiple areas of our lives. Some enjoy challenges to the status quo. Many more resist. Neuroscience research now shows that change requires conscious effort. This means the executive part of our brain must assess what new habits must be developed to adjust to the change.
Long-term habits are stored in the middle part of our brains in areas called the ‘basal ganglia’ and ‘hippocampus’. By consciously and intentionally developing new habits and learning new things (guitar or Spanish anyone?) we are able to develop the neural connections that aid us in adapting to new situations.
As leaders, mastering change is now imperative. I find many leaders are challenged here. They don’t know how to respond to a less-certain environment and hide in detail and process. That’s a short-term and ultimately doomed approach. We CAN adapt how we feel and act in changing environments by re-wiring our brains. The choice to do nothing or consciously adapt to become better leaders is in our hands.
‘Proactivity’ is the first of Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective people”. He defined it as “taking the initiative by realising that our decisions are the primary determining factor for effectiveness in our lives.” We now know much more about how our brain’s function influences the decisions we make. Fundamentally it’s about ensuring we have a healthy and balanced mind and body.
With the way forward less obvious than in more predictable times, leaders must be proactive. It’s up to us to seize opportunities, ask great questions, make connections and generally create energy and momentum around the projects we lead. We also need to ensure our team members become proactive – bringing to the table solutions and initiatives rather than problems and reasons why not.
Proactivity must also be tempered with executive thinking. It is not all about activity and ideas. Internal reflection and regular team forums to gauge progress and direction are just as important. Less can be more.
Great attitude can show up anywhere
I believe that attitude trumps expertise. I’d rather have an inexperienced but teachable employee with a great attitude than someone more experienced who will give a thousand reasons why something will not work. We’re in the Imagination Age now.
Great ideas exist at every level of our business. So do great attitudes. It’s up to us to find and harness these people – and also make sure our own attitude is up to the challenge of change.