How to Be the Leader Your Team Needs During Periods of Change

Posted by Sarah Clark on November 22, 2017



There’s been a lot of change in our agency over the past few years. Authenticity and communication were critical every step of the way.


I had to mean it, sincerely, when I said that I believed a new goal or strategy would be the best thing for us. And our team had to discuss the good, the bad, and the ugly in order to arrive at a shared vision.


There are a few truths rooted at the core of every good company, and they're never more apparent than when you’re experiencing growing pains. They’ve helped me guide my team through change — maybe they can guide you, too.



Lead With an Honest Heart


When embarking on a change for Mitchell, I explained what was happening and what the future would look like. I was clear about the reasons why we were changing, and I tried to authentically express both what I was most excited about and what I thought were the likely obstacles.


When you’re leading change, help your team see past not only where you are today, but also past next year’s targets. Together, you need to see the long view. Importantly, take the time to discuss how you’ll get there. The most successful changes at our firm were ones where everyone was part of the process.


Millennials and Generation Xers rate transparency as one of the top two attributes of the perfect boss. These generations comprise more than two-thirds of the workforce, so it’s hard to undervalue the clarity you should build with your team.



Be Available and Humble


Another truth at the core of good companies is that their leaders are accessible. The chances of a change’s success increase proportionally with the amount of time you spend explaining the change. Humbly make yourself available to everyone, not just senior leaders.


“When leaders take the time to explain what they mean, both explicitly (by carefully defining their visions, intentions, and directions) and implicitly (through their behavior), they assert much-needed influence over the vague but powerful notions that otherwise run away with employees’ imaginations,” wrote leadership coach John Hamm in a 2006 issue of Harvard Business Review. Though the article may be 10-plus years old, the advice is timeless.


Remember, you've been planning a change for months before you announce it to the full team. Once you do make the announcement, your team members need time to play catch-up. An open-door policy allows them to reflect on the change, process its implications, and ask questions in their own time.



Ingrain Open Communication in Your Culture


At Mitchell, we endorse three ways to create a powerful workplace culture: Be a storyteller, be a listener, and celebrate success. It’s no accident that all three are centered on communication.


If your company champions openness and honesty every day — up and down the organizational chart — then it will be easy for you to explore new ideas together. If your culture were one of secrecy and machinations behind closed doors, why would employees trust you when you attempted to have an open dialogue?


One survey found that 99 out of 100 people want to work for a company where colleagues discuss issues truthfully and effectively, but fewer than half believe their company does so. Ninety-seven percent of survey respondents believe a task or project is negatively impacted when team members don’t collaborate to align their goals.



Be a Change Agent


When I promote a change at Mitchell, I try to adapt to it quickly and confidently. I don’t espouse a new goal or strategy one day only to express doubts or revert to old ways the next.


Change is tough on everyone. Anyone who tells you otherwise isn't being honest. But you have to help your team embrace the positives and stay focused on the bigger picture to overcome the challenges you’ll inevitably face.


As a change agent, you should also be open minded when team members or customers propose changes of their own. Ask yourself: How does this make us better? How can we make your idea a success?


With an earnest desire to serve your colleagues and your company’s mission, you can lead your team through any change. I bet you’ll find common truths at the core of your company’s greatest successes. Use them as your guideposts.


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Topics: Leadership, change management