Change is inevitable in todays fast paced world. The business world for instance has become highly competitive and more volatile than ever before. Newer technological innovations, deregulation of markets, increasing international competition and the ever-changing demographics of the workforce make it obligatory to have a change leader to help the organisations move ahead along the right path (Kotter, 2001). The question that needs to be asked here is whether it is that easy to find a change leader and moreover whether anyone can be made or emerge as a change leader.
Leadership is a quality by which an individual may have the capability to influence a group of individuals so as to direct them towards achieving a common goal. A leader is someone who should be able to challenge his way through crisis without being turned down by difficulties, turning initial failures into learning grounds, form a strong team that has a wide variety of competencies and be successful at the end. A leader is someone who can guide his team into accomplishing an action in a manner that is different and optimized from the norm followed and revolutionise the practices followed in an organisation.
This paper will briefly introduce the concept of a change leader and later talk about the skills and competencies that are required for one to be an effective change leader. Going forward it will discuss an argument about whether it is possible for any individual to become a change leader or not and what differentiates one from being capable of leading change from a normal team player. The argument would be supported with the help of an example and then a conclusion is made that anyone with the right kind of skills and aptitude can be a successful leader.
A change leader can be defined as someone with a foresight for the organisation and has the capability to put the organisation on the right track so as to move towards that foreseeable future (Plowman et al, 2007). The leader could have different styles of leading; for instance, being supportive, instrumental, action-oriented or merely participative based on the set goals and his expectations of the means by which he aims at reaching the goal. A change leader is often observed as challenging the process that is normally followed and creating a new innovative technique of performing the same task but in a more efficient and effective way. The leader shares his vision that inspires him and accordingly models the path for others to follow and help the organisation reach its set goal. In the process, he enables others to participate and act towards the common goal by constantly motivating his team to move forward in the right direction.
In today's times change leaders are required to take into consideration a number of factors while bringing about a change in an organisation. The entire business needs to be evaluated before taking a change initiative. For instance, a leader may want to create breakthrough performance by increasing the company's market share price by 10 times in a short span of say five years. But this would not be possible without the support of all the stakeholders. The change leader needs to involve the suppliers, distributors and other key employees in the decision making process (Saenz, 2008). Organizations are now becoming emergent and follow self-organisation and so change often occurs in the least expected ways and hence leaders are often observed to encourage innovation and disrupt the existing trends of performance behaviour (Plowman et al, 2007).
It is suggested that while leaders direct their organization towards a challenging dream, they need to be active listeners and at the same time realise the fact that change is not something that they can force upon on the members of the organization but instead it should emerge as members go about redefining their roles and change their perceptions towards the new organizational requirement (Brownell, 2008). Many leaders act as change agents using the 5-P based on which they determine the nature and sequence of initiatives to be taken. Leaders try to immerse themselves in the daily lives of their employees by being good listeners to better understand their perspectives which ultimately facilitates a successful transformation process.
Skills and competencies required:
Leaders need to have good social skills. A good leader should have the right instincts so as to reading the mood of the organisation's employees or having to conduct sensitive negotiations with competitors. This is characterised as a talent of recognising patterns in the behaviour based on the situation faced, that most leaders develop with extensive experience over time (Goleman and Boyatzis, 2008). A good leader needs to consider the opinions of his associates while making decisions but leaders may not always have the time to consult a number of people every time they make valuable decisions. How well can a leader keep all his subordinates happy and lead them towards a successful change process is what distinguishes him from the other less accomplished leaders.
To be an efficient leader in a changing organization may not be as straightforward as it may seem. The leader needs to pay attention to a number of issues. To start with he should have a clear vision and insight into what the organization needs. He must then link this change to key business processes. He needs to identify the main team players such as the sponsors, change agents, and target agents and build teams (Schneider and Goldwasser, 1998). He must develop a strategy in consensus with the team and set a direction for the team to work towards. He constantly needs to define values and beliefs so as to create a working environment that exudes energy. He should be capable of identifying and addressing resistance, inspire commitment amongst the personnel by providing timely visible support, constantly monitor and track the progress made by each member and reward them accordingly when certain targets are achieved.
A leader needs to be someone who can act as an enquirer. He should spend more time asking questions about the processes or practices followed, identify and create new possibilities, boost the strengths, learn from past failures, and formulate new courses of action rather than solving problems and giving orders (Locander and Leuchauer, 2007). A reward system always encourages employees by using incentives to reinforce and further motivates them to work towards the change (Beer and Nohria, 2001). He must ensure appropriate transfer of knowledge and skills and maintain smooth and active communication along the hierarchy and most importantly be easily approachable to each of the personnel (Schneider and Goldwasser, 1998).
It has widely been observed that leaders across organisations implement practices based on their personal values (Robinson et al., 2007). Robinson and Harvey (2008) have recognised three most basic layers of values that are relevant to successful leadership as surface values, hidden values and deep values. The most basic are the surface values which comprise of the moral and behavioural values. Hidden values are commitment to quality and life-long learning and deep values are the cognitive values. The moral and behavioural values play an important role to bind together or even set apart an organisation, while commitment towards the organisation's vision includes the belief that drives the organisation (Mintzberg et al., 2003). The cognitive values bring out the individual and organisational behavioural systems (Cowan and Todorovic, 2000).
An individual can emerge as an effective change leader only when he is perceived as someone who is capable of influencing the attitudes and actions of his personnel at all levels, and who has a commitment towards quality and service and a life-long learning (Robinson and Harvey, 2008). Before implementing a change a leader must be able to evaluate the dynamics of the change process. He needs to assess the current existing state of the system and weigh the pros and cons of the desired “target” state that will arise after the change process. The transition process is very demanding on the leader as he needs to anticipate his personnel's reactions to the change. The rational way of helping the personnel to cope with this transformation process is to empathize with their expectations and concerns. Any change is inevitably accompanied by resistance from the employees. They are the most important assets of the organisation and so the leader needs to talk them through their concerns so as to avoid them from lapsing back into their comfort zones and resisting change (Schneider and Goldwasser, 1998).
The argument here is whether it is possible for anyone to become a change leader. This has been a debatable issue. Being a change leader is not something one is born with but can be learnt through one's experience. Although, it is possible that one individual may have better leadership skills than another. This does not rule out the fact that anyone can be a leader. Every individual is capable of having a vision; it is just that some are capable of transforming that vision into reality. Some may have it in them to lead and succeed while others try and fail and learn from their mistakes. Even great leaders do make mistakes but the trick is to use each failure as a learning experience and ensuring that you do not repeat the same mistake again.
Bock (2005) suggests that it is not always possible for anyone to learn to become a leader. To be a leader one needs to have an aptitude and some talent. One should be able to talk to people about their work, performance and behaviour at ease, make quick decisions and help others succeed. One needs to have the intellectual capability to foresee the dynamics of one's business or marketplace so as to be able to make accurate strategic decisions. Training may help in this case but it has to be associated with the relevant experience in the particular business.
Kotter (2001) claims, that a successful manager may not necessarily be a good leader and vice-a-versa. Many a times organisations do not recruit leaders and instead seek employees within the organisation with some leadership potential to act as change agents. This has worked when the right selection was made and the employees were nurtured and encouraged to take on leadership roles in the business organisation.
Another aspect of a change leader is that of playing a role of an opinion leader. An opinion leader is an agent who can influence people's behaviour, attitudes, opinions, motivations and beliefs (Valente and Pumpuang, 2007). They are used to basically spread a new idea or concept through the organisation. Opinion leader tend to analyse the situation within the organisation and then put across their views when the likelihood of the new ideas being accepted is high or when it is apparent that people would be willing to go about things in a way different from the norm. Opinion leaders have been proved to serve as promising change agents and have been successful at eliminating resistance to change to a large extent and increased the rate of innovation (Valente & Davis, 1999).
Another issue that needs to be considered and has long been debated upon is whether women make better change leaders than men. Women have been observed to be better than men when it comes to sensing people's emotions. On the other hand men are better at showing social confidence in work settings (Goleman and Boyatzis, 2008). Research shows that men are superior to women in certain critical areas such as strategic reasoning ability and analysis on the technical front and on the other hand women are observed to be better than men in setting goals, mentoring employees in the team and churning out high quality work (Business Week, 2000).
A very good example of a well known change leader is Jack Welch, CEO of General Electric Company for almost 20 years. He turned it into one of the most admired and largest companies in the world. He believed that great leaders need to possess enormous amounts of energy so as to energise people around them to get them working. He believed in keeping things simple and facing reality as it came across. He was against bureaucracy and identified team members who had the best ideas and put those into practice (Kotelnikov, 2006). His main strategy was to empower employees and get out of their way and let them go ahead and implement their ideas. One may not emerge as a leader by any training process but it is from famous patrons like these that people who do not have an idea of leadership skills can learn and get motivated from their expertise to emerge as change leaders.
Another instance that can be considered is the “Experience Point” change simulation that was conducted in the MBA class. The game was first played individually and then in groups of six. The results varied as while playing individually one did not have to consult others whereas in a team each member had his/her own view that was needed to be considered and acted upon. Some groups did nominate a leader and comparatively performed better than the other groups which did not do so. On the other hand, some teams tried working out by considering each member's opinion and having arguments over what was the right sequence of actions or tactics to be implemented for the company to have a maximum buy in at the earliest. This exercise demonstrated two things: one that each team needed to have a leader to guide them or at least help organise the framework that needed to be followed through the exercise and the other that not everyone can be a leader. For one to be a leader of a team, the team must consent unanimously to his appointment or else there is a threat of having unnecessary disagreements that could lead the team into delineating from its sole purpose.
An additional point to ponder upon is that different people tend to think on different lines given a situation. Each person has his own perspective and so is inclined to behave in a different manner from others. For instance, the class example of the multi product exercise performed where a team of board of directors of a company were given a budget to decide upon which department should get how much of the funds to work on. Each of them worked for the same organization and hence had a common goal. But instead of having a convincing negotiation and allocating funds for the interest of the company each director insisted on getting a larger chunk of the budget for his department stating theirs was the most important unit and made it seem as if the responsibility of the company's success depended on their department and that the other units could manage with a lesser budget. This explains that in this kind of a situation there needs to be a leader who is neutral to all the departments so that he can think from the overall “Big Picture” perspective and not stay isolated to one department. Because of the difference in opinion of each of the directors they could not come to a consensus. Had each of the directors thought from the company's perspective a best suited budget could have been developed.
To sum up, one thing is clear that to be an effective change leader one needs to be an expert in the concerned business or know the particular system well enough to change it. Apart from this, a leader should be a people's man who is out going and open minded. Just having a vague vision for an organisation will not help. I agree to this as I have observed this from my personal experience at my previous workplace where my manager was an effective change leader without any formal training. He had learnt his way up the ladder through experience in the technical sector but moved on to become part of the management of the organisation. This was possible because he had the determination to change the process for the betterment of his fellow employees and moreover he had an aptitude to help people grow in their fields. He focussed on the key issues, inspired his subordinates to think differently and break away from the standard procedures followed so as to improvise the work routine into a faster and smoother working system. At his level of seniority, he could not transform the entire organisation as he was a project manager and so he was adept at bringing together the team and encouraging members to come up with newer tools and techniques to improve the system.
Thus, everyone can think big but putting it into action is something that only a change leader can accomplish. The right attitude, discipline, people skills, intelligence and the forward looking vision will get an individual to reach new heights. All he requires is the competency to get things done the right way with the right people and at the right time.
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