One of the most consistent factors resulting in change management success is the role of the leader. A leader’s ability to inspire members of an organization to adopt change is critical. If a leader expresses doubts or demonstrates a lack of acceptance, team member resistance is almost always the result. It is crucial for a leader to first embrace the change, provide a compelling vision, and demonstrate his or her commitment to the change effort. Listed below are five considerations to help leaders personally commit to change:

  1. Manage Personal Reactions.  Once a “change announcement” is made, it is important for each leader to evaluate how the change impacts them personally. They must determine whether or not they agree with the change and why it is being implemented. A leader may then assess how team members throughout the organization will view his or her reaction. To ensure success, it is crucial for leaders to face and manage their own doubts first. They are then equipped to concentrate on the transition issues of others.
  2. Understand and Commit to the Case for Change. Leaders are expected to understand, commit to, and convincingly communicate the business case for change. It may be difficult for leaders to communicate confidently to their team members if they were not directly involved in making key decisions surrounding the change. Leaders must seek out others who can help further illustrate the core messages of the organization. They can then fill in any gaps for their direct reports. To ensure credibility, it is essential that leaders explain the strategic drivers and rationale in their own words and how the change impacts their team.
  3. Clarify Role Requirements. Often when change implementation is rapid, implications on roles are not fully known at the outset. Leaders must understand the implications of the change to their role. They must identify what competencies will be critical to their success and how they will be measured under the new strategy.
  4. Establish a Personal Learning Plan to Close Gaps. When major change initiatives take place, there is usually a tremendous amount of learning required on the part of all leaders. This may include learning new strategies, customers, processes, or leadership responsibilities.  A leader needs to design a personal learning plan and identify the resources available to close any gaps.
  5. Align Expectations with Manager. Once a leader has identified the implications of the change to their role and has established a personalized learning plan to close any gaps, it is essential for expectations to be aligned with his/her manager. The leader and manager should be on the same page concerning the change initiative, performance standards, personal learning needs, and the team’s transition plan.

The five considerations described above are key issues each leader must personally address once a strategic change announcement is made. The adoption of change starts with the individual. A leader must personally commit to the change before addressing the issues of others. Failure to understand and overcome an individual’s “me” issues impedes the ability to support team members through the process and ultimately achieve success.

Wendy L. Heckelman, Ph.D.

Dr. Wendy Heckelman, president and founder of WLH Consulting, Inc. has over 30 years of experience working with Fortune 100 industry clients. These include pharmaceutical, biotech, health care, animal health medicines, and consumer products, as well as international non-profit organizations and growing entrepreneurial companies.

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