Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Leading through change - half a dozen thoughts

I think a lot about change and how leaders can successfully manage change in organisations in a stressed situation. One of the (many) bonuses of working alongside the leadership team at Manchester Metropolitan University is the insights we often hear from leaders from outside the Higher Education sector. 

I can't say who it was, but we had a real treat last week with one external visitor talking about a profound turnaround situation, but also drawing on experiences of taking an established institution in a new exciting direction earlier in their career. 

Summing it all up, it's clear that management is about the efficient running of the status quo. Leadership is about change and re-orienting an organisation to a new goal. Here are six key pointers I thought worth sharing.

  1. Create the basis for change, quickly. If an organisation is in a crisis, staying afloat is the priority. Sometimes this isn't grasped fully as it's a hard message to swallow and share. Many leaders wish they’d used the term crisis earlier. When no-one is happy with the status quo, they don’t believe change can succeed and it can take two years to understand the extent of it. Take from Greek philosophy - logos (evidence), pathos (the appeal to emotion) and ethos (trust and credibility).
  2. Have a clear sense of purpose - aspiration and powerful aims. Aspire to be the best.
  3. Surround yourself with great people who share that sense of purpose. Accept that a third of new hires won’t work. Be completely frank. Learn that references count for more than interviews. Many people also struggle with 360 feedback, they find it uncomfortable, but the leadership layer is vital, especially to work together as a team.
  4. Minimise complexity - there is such value in simplicity.
  5. Resilience - single most important attribute for a leader. They don’t teach it at Harvard, but it is so important and it trumps intelligence every time. It is lonely to lead, but creating support networks are really important. People always underestimate how long these things can take. To do so you need to be both patient and impatient. Raise the game, be urgent, but recognise it takes time. Machiavelli said there is nothing more difficult than to create a new order of things, it is the foundation of confidence and determination. Leaders don’t have all the answers - so showing humility is important. Organisations know the truth, it’s up to leaders to ask the questions to find the right answers. Would like to achieve authority and humility. Humour is also important, as is humanity. “Try and be a good bloke” and never underestimate the power of a well delivered and heartfelt thank you.
  6. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Talk less, listen more. Develop an external facing narrative, shift perception, from which other things will flow. Milk the achievements for all they are worth.

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