Change has become the new norm for all leaders, and without this ability to evolve yourself and your company, you will be left behind. But how do you get there?
Change was forced upon me quickly when I was discharged as a founding CEO of a publicly traded company, and left a successful consulting practice in the United States to build a coffee growing, collection and export business in the deep rainforest mountains of Papua New Guinea. Working with 2,400 tribal farmers, I had to adapt quickly to a new culture and build trust among the villagers before I could begin to build an organizational process to found the business. It wasn’t until I was accepted by the elders and chief and adopted by a clan that I was able to lead and manage an expanding business.
What I learned there, and through 30 years of executive business coaching in the United States, has led me to help leaders and their companies to embrace change. Here are some tips:
Cultivate Trust: The very first job of a good leader is to cultivate trust. You do not have to be a charismatic leader; you need to be a self-confident and vulnerable one. Vulnerability breeds trust, and without trust, you won’t have credibility, a cohesive team and people who are willing to follow you into the unknown. You must be able to acknowledge your own weaknesses and failures, and recognize the strengths of others, even when their strengths exceed your own. I found myself at my most vulnerable during those early tribal meetings in Papua New Guinea. It was at this point of weakness – when I admitted first to myself and then to the others that I was dependent on them because of a language barrier, being the only white person, and unfamiliar with their mores and business practices – that trust was born.
Lead By Example: Leaders must be comfortable with change beginning with themselves. They must demonstrate the willingness to become vulnerable, to risk being misunderstood and potentially wounded. Core values and best practices will follow. Leaders must be able to adapt and present themselves as malleable and open to learn. This provides a strong model for building trust in the workplace and the boardroom. It takes a strong leader to build a sustainable business. Without leadership, you have nothing. (See the video clip here.)
Abolish Fear: In order to change you have to let go of fear – the fear of becoming vulnerable. You can’t lead effectively and consistently through positional power fortressed by invulnerability. Strong relationships built on trust and affirmation enable people to work together effectively, and your company to thrive. If people are fearful to share their ideas, or are afraid of what the future holds, they won’t be able to give you their all. People trust because they have something they deeply care about. Let them put that energy into your company. If they trust you, they will be more loyal to you and joyful about their work. Productivity, quality and profitability are positively impacted … the results of an effective change agent.
Have a Strategic Vision and Plan: Know what you want and figure out how to get it. Your enthusiasm will reach others, and when you take the lead with an inspirational vision and clear expectations, people will follow. It’s easier to take that first step when you can clearly see the bottom of the staircase. The leader is bound to define reality.
These are some of the practices I use when implementing change, but I always start with building trust. Entrepreneur and author Seth Godin says, “Earn trust, earn trust earn trust, then you can worry about the rest.”
Once you have trust, you are able to move forward. Have a good plan. Ask tough questions. Have patience and realize change doesn’t happen overnight. It is indeed incremental. Lead by purpose (with your heart) and example. Your clan will follow. The thing you want to do is change before you have to.