To lead change, start by changing how you lead
What’s in store for the future of work? What will offices look like in 50 years? Will they even exist?
Based on the past we could make a few predictions. But without a crystal ball to hand, it’s impossible to know. One thing we can be sure of though, is it will be radically different from today and the dizzying pace of change we have all been experiencing is set to accelerate.
Recent changes in how we all work have been underpinned by extraordinary and rapid advancements in technology. Automation and artificial intelligence for example are set to liberate us from the ‘less fun’ aspects of our working lives. But alongside the benefits they promise, they are also unleashing fears of a future workplace dominated by job-stealing robots.
So with the nature of our work facing such momentous disruption, is it also time for business leaders to change and adapt to be future-ready?
Here are three ways leaders can prepare themselves for a fast-moving, ever-changing and increasingly uncertain world.
Lead with trust
“The people when rightly and fully trusted will return the trust.” Abraham Lincoln
In organisations where trust is in short supply, you will usually find truckloads of bureaucracy and layers of rigid protocols and controls. I’m not suggesting that as a leader you should dismiss business processes, they still have their place. But trust should always be at the core of any system of rules. As a leader myself, having trust and faith in those around you is the key to everything.
Technology presents so many opportunities for businesses today. But like most other companies, Adaptavist would be nothing without its people. If you learn to accept this and lead with trust you will get the best results from your team, and you will be better equipped to change, to grow, and succeed as an organisation.
Trust is given, not earned
At Adaptavist we trust our people from day one. You may be raising your eyebrows at the prospect of this, or feel like its a step too far, naive even. You may believe it’s inevitable that people will let you down. But let’s look at the alternatives. If people have to earn your trust first, what will happen?
First off, it will take them longer to make an impact. They will start with a fear of failure because they are on a mission to earn your trust and prove their worth. And they are unlikely to try out new ideas, ‘rock the boat’, or take controlled risks.
By giving your people unconditional trust from day one, you can shortcut all of this. And hopefully, your people will feel empowered to do the right thing, without seeking to impress anybody or earn anything.
Of course, giving your immediate trust only works if you have the right culture and values in place to support it. I know other organisations who have tried to adopt a trust-first approach. But without the necessary mechanisms and culture in place, it can fall apart quickly. At Adaptavist, we work hard to keep trust in place and always in focus as we develop and grow as an organisation.
Lead with transparency
"A lack of transparency results in distrust and a deep sense of insecurity." Dalai Lama
Global events like the financial crisis of 2007, Facebook’s privacy scandals during the 2016 US elections and the introduction of GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) have made transparency a hot topic for businesses over the last few years.
When it comes to leading change in any organisation, transparency is the key to success. To get on board with change, people need to know what’s happening and why. No one wants to feel like a small cog in a big wheel, with no idea how their work is contributing to the broader goals of the business.
At Adaptavist we aim to share as much as possible with our people. Enterprise tools like Jira make it easy to present real-time data updates which people can access whenever they want to, while safeguarding highly-sensitive data like salaries and personal information.
No filter, please
Face-to-face transparency is also essential. That’s why I make a point of sharing the same slides I use for our leadership meeting with the rest of our team. It gives them an unfiltered view of how the business is performing, including every line item, profit, loss, growth predictions, the lot! My team knows this information is confidential and I trust them to honor this.
Other leaders might think this a risky approach. What if someone gives a competitor the inside track? The fact is about 90% of the information I share with my team, they probably already know. By telling them, you’re treating them like adults. You’re showing that you value trust. You’re leading by example.
If you have a happier team because you’re demonstrably showing all of the things that you believe in and you’re asking them to believe in, your people will perform better and will be happier. They will want to do more for you. It’s not rocket science, not anything I’ve invented or anything new. Sometimes it just gets forgotten over time, especially as organisations change and grow.
Lead without fear
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.” Nelson Mandela
Most people resist change, at least at first. It’s a natural human instinct in work and life, a reaction to fear of the unknown. Changes in the workplace can be unsettling and worrying when there are bills to pay and people depending on us. So it’s crucial for leaders to acknowledge any anxieties people may have around change and address concerns quickly and thoroughly.
So how can leaders help their people to embrace change and not fear it?
It would be unrealistic to say to your team ‘don’t fear change’ and expect them to believe you. You have to instill that value in your people and your business. For example, if you look at the agile methodology, one of its fundamental principles is being able to fail fast, learn from mistakes and move forward. You have to make sure your people are comfortable following that approach and in my experience, that only happens with time.
You can tell somebody “you can fail, it doesn’t matter,’ but they have to fail and see that you don’t bring them to task before they know you mean it. If you can instill those values, then you create a culture that permeates this and doesn’t fear failure. Without a fear of failure your people will have an appetite to try new things, take calculated risks, and pivot as opportunities arise.
If you’re going to fail, make it fast
It’s crucial when you fail to fail fast and build this into your culture. If you need to have the ability to change direction quickly, you have to be ready to make the tough decisions when something is not working out as expected. As a leader, it's your role to speak up and call it quits on a project when circumstances change, the market moves on, or the assumptions you made at the beginning are no longer relevant.
If you’re leading an organisation, you need to instill the values that allow people to make choices, fail, recognise that that’s not bad in itself, learn from it, change again. Over time following this approach will show your team that you are open to new opportunities and you don’t fear change.
“Be the change you want to see in the world.” Mohandas Gandhi
Some people believe that you’re either born to be a leader or you’re not. You have the right skills or you don’t. I don’t agree. For me it’s about having an openness and willingness to learn and adapt to your environment that makes for a great leader.
Listen, show, and tell
To lead change, you need to inspire the change you want to see and lead by example, even when that means making difficult decisions.
A simple rule of thumb to follow:
- Don’t ask people to exhibit values that you don’t follow yourself.
- Don’t expect people to trust you when you don’t place your trust in them.
- Don’t tell people its ok to fail and then avoid failure yourself.
Change can be tricky to navigate through. But if you bring your people with you on the journey, you can create a culture that is resilient, adaptable and ready for whatever the future holds.
Think you could be a leader at Adaptavist? Check out our opportunities:
What kind of leader do you want to be? Let us know at @Adaptavist on twitter