I have observed that leaders approach their change sponsor roles in three ways: engaged; staged; and disengaged.
Engaged leader are active participants in defining their roles. They:
- View change initiatives as business projects critical to current and future success
- Are engaged in planning and briefing meetings
- Ask questions to gain clarity on their role and test the quality of thinking and rigour behind transition plans
- Get excited by the roles they will play
- Edit their communication
- Say things like "we have to get this right" and "what do you need from me"?
Staged leaders are attentive participants in defining their roles. They:
- View change initiatives as necessary, but not always a priority
- Are good listeners in briefing meetings
- Ask questions to gain clarity on tasks
- Accepts the roles they are given
- Review their communication and make minor adjustments
- Say things like, "just tell me what to do and I will do it"
Disengaged leaders are passive participants in defining their roles. They:
- View change initiatives as necessary, but not priorities
- Are efficient in briefing meetings
- Ask questions to understand commitments and may negotiate lesser roles than the one proposed
- Are resigned of the roles they will play
- Say things like, "other commitments may change my availability" and "we also have a business to run"
When I first meet executives, I watch for clues on what type of change leader they want to be. It is an early indication of how successful the change will be. Engaged leaders usually do well because their skills are fully leveraged and high level of commitment is known by all. They are invested and will do what it takes to ensure success.
Staged leaders are often successful too. As long as they stick to the script and their behaviours reinforce key messages, they usually do well. If not, trust in them evaporates and employees retaliate by not supporting the change.
Disengaged leaders rarely lead change well. Their focus is on other things and people know it. Since people's actions follow those of their leader, they also focus on other things. Project teams have difficulty gaining momentum and execution suffers. Eventually the project fails to deliver benefits or it is shelved.
A change manager's role is to build the skill, behaviour and confidence of leaders so they are at their best during times of change. One way to do so is by shaping how they perceive their sponsor role. Increasing their level of engagement is a good start.