Friday 17 June 2016

Leading Yourself through Change: Building Your Confidence

Years ago, I remember walking with a leader to a steering committee meeting for a major technology change. He said, "Tell me what questions I should ask so I look like I know what I am doing." He said it jokingly but he wasn't joking. This was his first big change and he lacked the confidence to lead in his role.

Leaders aren't at their best when they lack confidence. Their fight or flight response overrules their skills and experience, making survival the number one goal. Unproductive behaviours  anger, poor listening, silence, reactive or avoidance of decision-making  emerge, which negatively affect those around them and the progress they are able to make.

Confidence is the most important trait leaders can draw upon when managing new realities. Confident they are positively moving forward by speaking to the right people, making the right decisions, and giving their teams the right support to change how they work.

Here are three ways to build your confidence to help you lead change:

Understand the change (better than most)
Knowledge directly increases your confidence level. If you have done something well in the past, you tend to be confident about doing it again; if it's your first time your confidence tends to be low. As Dan Rockwell says, confident people "know what to do next."

Knowledge builds a framework from which to figure out and manage through a change. Without this foundation, there is little to guide your thinking and actions, and therefore, little validation that the best decisions are being made. 

Leaders who have the best knowledge look beyond their industry. They seek out people and resources from other businesses that have managed similar situations. They also are not afraid to apply innovative approaches and lessons learned from diverse sources. To broaden your knowledge and increase your confidence, look beyond your own environment.

Know the questions to ask
Change leaders often don't know the questions to ask to ensure the organization is going in the right direction and has capacity to make significant changes. Knowing the key questions common to big change projects will keep you well informed and aware of emerging risks.

Here are examples of important questions in the Managing Change phase:

The Plan:                When is the organization ready to make the change?
Resources:             How do I get more resources if I need them?
Communications:  How do I know communications are working?
Getting Results:     How do I keep momentum given other projects in play?

Don't take it personally
After a tense and explosive meeting, I asked a leader how she was feeling. She said, "Fine, it's not personal." This was a consistent behaviour: she separated content from emotions. By doing so, she didn't respond emotionally to the power-up of other leaders and remained focused on the facts and decisions around them.

Putting yourself in other people's shoes can help objectify a tense moment or perceived affront. What pressures are they under, is this a common behaviour expressed to others, what has neutralized situations with them in the past? Emotions reveal characteristics of those who express them. Remembering this in the heat of the moment is a sign of confidence.

Confident leaders believe that their skills and experience will support them through change. Understanding the change, knowing the questions to ask and not taking things personally will help you build your confidence to be your best as you lead change.


Sunday 5 June 2016

Leading Yourself through Change: Assessing Your Strengths

I gave a keynote presentation to a group of leaders who are experiencing disruptive change. Their industry is facing new operating models, multiple technology advances, government regulation changes and new competitors. Nothing appears to be constant. My talk was on how to manage yourself and your team through constant change.

Many years ago, I realized that everyone goes through a personal transition when their company does  it's normal. Leaders must manage their own personal changes before they can effectively help their team members to manage theirs. If they fail to do so, leaders get lost in details around their personal transitions and forget to help their team members get through theirs. They fail to create an environment where people can take on new ways of working, and instead, create uncertainty and confusion that leads to poor performance. 

There are three main practices that leaders employ to manager their own change and prepare themselves to lead others: they assess their strengths; build their confidence and know how to manage the unknown. 

Knowing your strengths is a good starting point. Taking stock of what you do well enables you to lean on demonstrated abilities when things are uncertain. It enables you to focus on how best to contribute to a situation instead of randomly reacting to it.

Being clear on your strengths also helps you identify areas where you need support from others. Identifying these resources in advance allows you to make more fact-based decisions that consider broader perspectives on the business. 

Here are three ways to assess your strengths:

Identify roles you played in past changes
Past changes provide examples of how you support your organization and people as they transitioned to new ways of working. Did you lead a committee, break down silos between teams, recommend an approach or execute a plan flawlessly. These activities moved your organization closer to adopting the change and realizing its benefits.

Identifying a list of these abilities improves the likelihood you will repeat them during new changes. Capabilities that underlie these activities include priority setting, action orientation, focus, influence without power, communication, empathy and personal learning.

Read past performance reviews
Most people file performance reviews after they have been presented. They are a gold mine of data on what you do well and how you have lead change.

In aggregate, they reveal patterns of action and behaviour where you excelled in times of transition. Your Managers' comments provide multiple perspectives and examples of how you drove value.

Ask your network for feedback 
People you work or associate with see you in varied situations over time. They are unconscious cataloguers of how you operate. Ask people for two inputs: what you do well and what are your "watch-out" areas. Most people will give you balanced views. Ask for examples so you have context for their observations.

A leader I worked for asked her team for feedback after every major meeting and presentation. She listened intently, asked a couple of clarifying questions and adjusted her approach. She continually improved her excellent skills. 

These practices may look easy yet most leaders don't do them. When I am coaching leaders, I ask them about their strengths when leading change  most don't know. If they do reply with some capabilities, I ask them how they know  many don't. 

It's worth the effort to know your strengths. They will be your best support through constant change.