A century ago, the most common theory of leadership pointed to “Great Men” (and presumably great women) that utilized their force of will to instigate change. If that was ever true, it’s certainly not in today’s complex world. No leader is able to single-handedly develop the right vision, communicate it well to all the right people, clear away all the major obstacles, and execute a wide array of change initiatives. Most of all, “lone rangers” can’t build organizational culture around positive change.
As you lead your organization through a change initiative, you’re going to want to draw in a lot of participation from all over your organization (for many good reasons). But before you even begin the process, you need to assemble the right people to help you overcome complacency and become the leaders and champions of change.
Why can’t you do it alone?
You need the perspective
“Plans fail for lack of counsel,” says the proverb, “but with many advisors they succeed.” The fact is that you don’t have all the information you need to make good big-picture decisions. The problems we face are too difficult for any one person to navigate on his or her own.
You need the support & prayer
As followers of Christ, we know how important prayer is for instigating positive change. Even academic literature points out that consistent prayer builds organizational morale, resilience, and healthy relationships. You, your board, your other senior leaders, and the change initiative itself need as much prayer as you can mobilize.
You need help building a culture
Your change initiative will only achieve lasting impact if it becomes rooted in your organizational culture (we’ll talk about this more in a few weeks), and culture change only happens when enough people believe in the change to get it past the “tipping point.”
Positive change takes more than a team
Leading successful organizational change means mobilizing people at all levels of your organization. I tend to think about this as three concentric circles:
Mobilizing supporters is closely associated with building a sense of urgency. Supporters don’t need to be intimately connected to the details of the change initiative, but John Kotter estimates that in order for change to be successful, most of an organization’s employees—maybe 75 percent of management along with all of the top executives—need to believe that it is truly essential.
The advisory team is what Kotter calls a “Guiding Coalition.” This group provides collective sponsorship and overall guidance to the change initiative. In large organizations it may be 20 or more people. In smaller ones, this may be just a half dozen of the right people. Who are the right people? They’re the ones with:
- Positional power, who can smooth (or could block) the way for your initiative;
- Expertise relevant to the tasks at hand;
- The credibility of good character and reputation that will be taken seriously by their peers;
- Enough proven leadership to keep the change process moving; to which I’ll add…
- Spiritual maturity to discern what God is doing in and around your organization.
Bottom line—your advisory team needs to represent each of your organization’s departments and levels, with a broad range of skills and good awareness. It must be made up of people whom your board and senior leaders trust, and must include at least a few outstanding leaders and managers. It’s hard to stop the right combination of people with a high level of trust and a common goal.
Finally, you’ll need a team of facilitators. This is the group that will do the nitty-gritty work of designing and pulling off the planning sessions, workshops, and executing a communication plan that keeps the right people in your organization engaged at the right times. Your facilitation team will need to include one or two experienced leaders with good facilitation experience, but membership in this team can also be a great way to invest in the growth (and buy-in) of emerging leaders within your organization.
So there you have it. Along with building a sense of urgency, assembling a team of change leaders is the critical step that lays the foundation for successful positive change. It’s also the one step that I continually see leaders skip entirely. What do you think? Have you seen a leader do this well? Tell us about it in the comments section.