The Role of the Change Leader

It’s up to the leader to guide the way, and for that, there must be harmony between what the leaders say and what they do, between speech and actions.

“The true change leader acts as a continuous source of inspiration, capable of becoming the point of reference that influences the engagement of everyone involved.”           

Alejandro Santaella

In our work as consultants, I recall a director from the operations area of an agribusiness organization who constantly complained about the lack of initiative and proactivity in his team. He perceived himself as an open person who consistently requested his team to share ideas for continuous improvement.

We decided to conduct an “open space” exercise with the entire team to solve a problem. Initially, the collaborators seemed uninterested. However, as the session progressed, the group dynamic changed, ending up being an experience with a lot of openness and participation. Very good ideas were shared for solving the problem we were dealing with.

When closing the dynamic, the director ended up rejecting all the ideas and deciding himself what path to take. It was at that moment that I understood why the team was disengaged at the beginning of the session.

Talking to some team members after the session, everyone agreed that this was the normal situation. Any idea or initiative they had was always dismissed. It became clear that there was a gap between what the director said and the actions he took. Worse yet, this leader lived in a state of self-perception distortion. He lacked the real notion that his behavior was the root cause of his team’s behavior.

The example set by the leader is the factor that determines the behavior of their followers. The leader who cultivates transparency, is congruent with their values, and genuinely cares about developing each employee’s skills tends to generate the same behavior in their team members. These people, in turn, tend to have the same behaviors among themselves, strengthening team spirit and commitment to the organization.

Another vital point of the leader’s role is to demonstrate enthusiasm and passion for the challenges of change, repeatedly sharing the vision of the organization’s future state.

Conveying the confidence that success will be achieved through collaborative work and effort, and by applying participatory processes, is necessary to create the common understanding that the desired future is indeed possible. However, the reality is that in many organizations we find leaders who feel so pressured by short-term results and deal with so much stress that they end up in a state of isolation and do not engage with their teams. They lack connection with their people and the project.

To achieve this human connection, the leader must first work on their emotional intelligence and then approach the employees, listen to them to understand what they think, their ideas, concerns, emotions, fears etc.

Inspiring people is one of the noblest tasks of the change leader. An inspiring leader instills confidence and positive outlooks in people regarding the results of change.

When there’s no trust, people feel vulnerable and avoid involvement. There’s fear of conflicts and sometimes anger and frustration. The team spirit is affected. Each person is inclined to defend their own positions, with no ability to accept mistakes and not able to turn failures into learning and creative solutions.

Trust is one of the pillars that supports the development of a sense of belonging. People will trust that they are not alone and that they will have support to face adversities, share responsibilities and triumphs.

It’s very difficult to stimulate engagement and reduce antagonism when trust is lacking. Distrust is one of the factors that most stimulates antagonism.

True leaders trust their teams and generate the trust of employees in themselves.

By Alejandro Santaella

You can explore more about change leadership reading this article: Managing changes isn’t the same as leading them.

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