How to effectively lead through disruption

Lack of courageous leadership is a problem that plagues every modern organization, from building consensus to identifying what needs to change to implementing solutions that bring real improvements. It isn’t easy, and leaders have to invest in themselves and their development to become change-capable leaders.

A successful change agent initiates, facilitates, manages talents and skills to increase organizational effectiveness and take a company through a difficult season – like a global pandemic – and come out the other side a winner. By promoting, champion, and enabling growth opportunities and demonstrating flexibility and resilience are top competencies to look for in a leader.

This article dives into three areas to guide organizational change. Developing an effective change-leadership management, learning the most common mistakes to avoid, and the proven leadership principles you should follow will help you become the person that successfully leads your company into the future – no matter the challenge.

Leadership Style

If you’re honest, the leadership style you used last year is likely not working as well this year, perhaps due to remote team management or a total industry shift. But disruption offers the opportunity for you to transform your business and quickly adapt to change – only if you’re willing to look at your leadership style.

As a leader, you can proactively respond to change when you also have the right tools, developing a company culture that is ready for change, instead of reacting to circumstances. Then, your employees and teams will be equipped to succeed when the business landscape is unstable, unlike your competitors.

To intentionally develop a change-management strategy for your own leadership style, or to prepare your team for change, it’s important that you focus on authenticity and transparency, according to Forbes. The global media company, which focuses on business, investing, technology, entrepreneurship, leadership, and lifestyle, also advises leaders to embrace a transformational leadership style. This way of leading allows you to “see the bigger picture to better understand the extent of the crisis before executing the response.” By seeking input from trusted experts and utilizing that information to create a strategic response, your business will come out on top.

Authenticity will carry you through disruption because it’s a natural response to today’s personalized culture. Customers and clients alike expect a unique experience, and your leadership style should align with that type of strategy. A research paper that investigates transformational and authentic leadership approaches to managing crisis states that “authentic leaders who develop a clear sense of their principles and ethical boundaries before a crisis hits are better prepared to find their way through difficult decisions and dilemmas, even under pressure.” 

The other factor to developing an effective leadership style is transparency. While it may have seemed counterintuitive prior to COVID-19 pandemic, the qualities of being transparent and honest about your situation indeed get a good response from employees, vendors and customers. 

For example, during the quarantine period, the business QA Mentor slashed their quality assurance (QA) service pricing. The company made this move because it saw that QA was one area where software development continued. Many businesses needed to finish application development after the pandemic caused investors to pull their money out, so QA was a hot commodity. Instead of cashing in on the demand, QA Mentor went the other route, being transparent about the challenges all businesses were facing and lowering their prices. Their approach has resulted in a better brand affinity, too.

Combining transformational leadership, authenticity and transparency, you can lead your business through difficult seasons of change and mass disruption, while building a strong, sustainable business.

Leadership mistakes 

When disruption arises, you don’t want to be in the position of reacting to the problem, unprepared for how to respond. There is disruption and chaos now as a result of COVID-19. And as the future unfolds, there will be a new state of being and way of operating a business. The resiliency of your business depends largely on how you lead it through these changes. In order to lead your people and business to the best possible outcome in the future, Harvard Business Review offers excellent advice for avoiding these common change management leadership mistakes:

  1. Taking the narrow view, instead of seeing the broad, holistic view that challenges and opportunities present.
  2. Falling for the trap of managing, instead of leading. Managing often revolves around the “present,” while leading looks into the future.
  3. Over-centralizing your response and trying to control the situation. Controlling the problem will not bring the desired result; finding order will. This also helps your employees to know what’s expected of them.
  4. Overlooking the importance of the human factor. People are your most important asset, but they’re often overlooked during a crisis. 

For example, the NBA commissioner, Adam Silver, suspended the season very early on in the global pandemic, and was one of the first to enact a swift response to protect players and fans. Silver’s actions represented a strong leadership move (not a management one) that took a holistic view of the scenario at hand and took the human factor into consideration.

Reviewing your leadership style and avoiding common leadership mistakes goes a long way toward successfully managing your business through a crisis; however, knowing proven leadership principles that DO work also helps.

Proven Leadership Principles

Learning how to thrive in a crisis – consistently – is the ideal way to harness the power of change management and overcome disruption. The good news, however, is that effective leadership isn’t something you have to make up out of thin air. Change management principles that have proven effective time and time again are strategies you can turn to in today’s ever-changing landscape. 

Gallup outlines seven foundational strategies your business can follow to employ change management successfully. These include:

  1. Clearly articulating the vision for change.
  2. Involving the right people (those with limited investment as well as individuals with broad involvement).
  3. Communicating the right information at the right time.
  4. Always accounting for resistance to change. (Remember, change is hard for everyone.)
  5. Celebrating short-terms wins, without implying a full-fledged victory.
  6. Effectively anchoring the change to your business.
  7. Always planning for change to be a constant factor for your organization.

For example, when the pandemic broke out and states began making stay-in-place orders, the state of Florida took to the beach. Communicating with citizens where they were – hanging out on a crowded beach  – was an effective way to relay the messages of staying safe. In another example of effective communication, Dr. Fauci connected with NBA star Steph Curry. The two recorded a live Q & A conversation about how to stop the spread of the virus. Curry, a powerful influencer, gave Fauci access to a platform he otherwise wouldn’t have had.

No organization can escape disruption. Even businesses with a strategy for tackling change management often don’t achieve their goals, but it doesn’t mean you should abandon proactive change management plans. In today’s quickly changing business climate, companies that learn how to successfully and consistently navigate change will gain a huge advantage.

Leading Your Business Through Change

Take your development as a leader seriously. Adopt a transformational leadership style, avoid common mistakes, and follow proven principles to successfully guide your company through a very difficult season.

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