How do you remain authentic when you are responsible for leading change but you do not agree with it, or don’t feel comfortable supporting the change? Every leader will go through times when he or she must maintain authenticity while confidently leading others through a change, even when he or she is not feeling supportive of the change.
Feeling unsupportive of a change is not a leadership travesty unless you communicate your lack of support. Everyone needs time to understand, absorb and adopt a change. However, no matter where a leader is in his or her own transition process, there is an obligation as a leader to be actively and visibly involved in the change, communicate about the change, and get others to support the change. Staying on the sidelines is incongruent with good change leadership.
Tips for authentically leading through change:
- Delineate – Get clear about the roles you play and the responsibilities that are intrinsic to each of them. A critical mistake leaders often make is confusing their private role of employee and their public role of manager or leader within an organization.These are two separate and distinct roles, with differing behaviors appropriate to each. Think about the difference between a person’s interaction with a spouse versus interaction with his or her kids. Spouse and parent are two different roles, just as leader and employee are two different roles.
- Describe – Share the change with employees in their context, not in yours. During change, leaders often hesitate to share anything because they don’t have all the answers. But it is the leader’s responsibility to share only what people need to know, when they need to know it (versus telling employees everything they know!). Describe the connection between the change and the organizational direction (strategy) and values. Or describe the process that is being followed to implement the change. People need to feel certainty, and overwhelming them with unnecessary information will create confusion.
- Designate – You need a confidant such as a coach or trusted colleague (at a peer level or above) that you can talk to and share the “private truth” of your doubts or concerns. A leader’s personal fears or uncertainty is never appropriate to share with employees. On a flight we were on several years ago, the oxygen masks dropped mid-flight and the flight attendant became visibly shaken. She told the passengers how she had never experienced this before, and she did not know what was going on! This inappropriate sharing intensified the fear felt by the passengers. Similarly, leaders should never inflict their own uncertainty on their employees.
Authenticity in leadership is about being trustworthy. Trust is a critical character quality for good leaders, expressed when their words match their actions. Being trustworthy does not mean telling everything you know or sharing everything you feel.
Be a trustworthy, authentic leader through change by taking time to delineate, describe and designate. You will be more effective as you lead others through change.