Change Leadership and Moving through the Fog…

So far I’ve covered the concepts that change leadership requires a vision and trust:

  • Vision to provide direction
  • Trust so that the team believes in the vision

I mentioned that the leadership begins by defining the “New End” (the vision). During the detailed “defining the new requirements and integrating with the progress to date, so we can figure out what we’re going to do” (or what I call the “Fog” period), change leadership also includes keeping people’s hope alive.   Hope that the team can make it through this difficult period because of being in limbo.

From Flickr 2493s photostream
From Flickr 2493s photostream

Let’s go back to that hike on the trail that became foggy due to a low cloud over the mountain.  Now you and your hiking mates can’t see more than 20 feet ahead and you’re not sure if the trailhead has been moved.  What do you do?

  1. Call the park ranger on your cell phone?
  2. Discuss the situation with your buddies and define a plan?
  3. Walk for 20 feet and see if there is any more information to help your decisions?
  4. All of the above?

Who is the one who drives the discussion about the issue?  Who starts asking for options and drives decision-making?  A leader does, by taking the responsibility to acknowledge the problem and define a solution. And the action that the leader takes depends on the situation – the culture, the problem to be solved.

The period when the new requirements for the NEW END have not been defined specifically enough for the team to continue some of their tasks is a very uncertain time.  There will be more questions than answers.  Team members may start to act out their uneasiness by creating conflicts or starting rumors.   This is when the leader needs to regularly communicate with the team and addresses their concerns.

Decisions will be made on what will and will not meet the new objectives.  This will occur in numerous meetings between customers, managers and team members. Not everyone will know what is being decided at the same time. You may need to set up temporary teams to develop plans and make decisions.  Temporary policies may also be needed to keep focus and clarify roles of authority.  This would also be a good time to break down any “silos” that have been created between teams.

Leadership keeps the team focused on the end and works with the teams to make informed decisions.  The team’s input is critical because they are the experts in what it will take to get the job done.  And being involved in the decision-making also provides some control since they can influence the choices.  People need hope through the uncertainty, in order to develop the optimism that the effort that is being taken will result eventually to the NEW END.

Confucius  said”Leaders are dealers in hope.”  Cold analysis of the facts may suggest that there is no possible way of accomplishing the goal, but leaders are true believers that the goal can be done.

When the environment is uncertain, good leaders are confident that this is a temporary situation and that the efforts being undertaken will get them to the new end.  This is the message that a good leader conveys to his / her team.  Isn’t that you would want while standing on the side of a mountain in the fog?

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1 thought on “Change Leadership and Moving through the Fog…”

  1. Anuradha (Anu) Subramanian

    I love the bit about building trust in the ultimate vision, while still trying to nail down scope and feasability. Too many times, leaders back away from sticky problems and leave their teams to their devices. This is a sign of very bad things to come. This situation fosters uncertainty, lack of faith in the leadership team, and a feeling of complete isolation that gradually eats away at team morale. It also sets the team up for failure because they do not have the tools or support to make the decisions that a leader should be helping them make.

    A true project leader is one who stays with the team during all these changes by pulling up his/her sleeves and working out answers to questions by getting to the nitty-gritty of things. This is where leaders need to be “hands-on”, i.e., try to set your team on as well-defined a course as possible so the team can be truly productuve.

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