HR & Management

What leaders can do to embrace the opportunity of change

5 min read

14 March 2018

As any leader knows, it’s not just lonely at the top. At times it’s terrifying. That mental intensity is amplified in times of change.

Change breaks leaders, but it can also make them. It took impending national doom for Churchill to discover his full potential. Sometimes pressure produces diamonds. But why do some thrive in the face of change? Can you learn to adapt?

Leaders come in all shapes and sizes. Luckily not all of us have to be as inspiring as Martin Luther King. There is no single template to becoming a bold leader. It’s true that some are born to lead, but most of us have to learn. Fortunately there are a number of things any leader can do to become better. Simple steps that can help anyone lead with more confidence.

During my career, first as a clinician, including acting as the psychiatrist responsible for the staff and members of the Houses of Parliament, and more recently as an executive coach, I have helped countless leaders overcome challenges. In the process, I have identified five things all leaders can do to embrace the opportunities of change.

(1) Re-frame your personal targets

Inexperienced leaders burst thought the door on a mission to do it all. They get roped into every detail on a crusade for improvement. Every project gets some time, but none get enough. Soon their impact is spread thinner than a water biscuit. The first thing any leader should do is take a step back. Decide which targets will be fundamental for success. Then focus on those goals with the tenacity of a pit bull. To win the war, concentrate energies on the battles that matter most.

(2) Hire people greater than you (and let them get on with it)

Big leaders admit the brilliance of others. Great leaders welcome it. To be a good leader, you don’t have to be the best practitioner. You need to create an environment where others can thrive. Nobody would question Jose Mourinho’s talent as a manager. That doesn’t mean you want him taking penalties. Be honest about your limits, and welcome skills that compliment them. In the words of the great advertising man David Ogilvy: “If each of us hires people who are bigger than we are, we shall become a company of giants.”

(3)  Learn to listen

At the start of his presidency, Donald Trump surrounded himself with brilliant business minds. He then rendered their input obsolete by demonstrating an abject inability to accept criticism. With skin thinner than a pair of paper pants, he blinded himself to opinions that could help him improve and adapt to change. Openly absorbing criticism and advice from employees, no matter how difficult that experience, is the mark of great leadership.

(4) Don’t be afraid to be human

Fragility in a leader can be the kiss of death in times of turmoil. But admitting mistakes, being open to changing your mind and sharing that thinking candidly doesn’t make you look weak. It makes you look like someone who can be trusted. It makes you look human. A little vulnerability invites a sense of shared experience and fosters deep bonds of loyalty.

(5) Be more afraid of doing nothing than of making a mistake

For any soldier who has been under fire, the inability to make a decision is the worst leadership sin. People can forgive a leader who made the wrong decision for honest reasons. People won’t forgive a leader who stood by while the proverbial hit the fan. Brace yourself for tough calls. Place more value on your purpose than your popularity.

(6) Dream big

In the face of change, it’s easy to become swamped with the day-to-day repercussions. Great leaders lift our heads to the sky with a vision so grand we forget the mud on our boots. When Elon Musk’s car was blasted into orbit, even cynics struggled not to be inspired. Like Steve Jobs before him, the scale of his dreaming fuels a company with purpose.

In contrast, our prime minister’s current struggle to articulate a vision leaves the focus on party disputes and national division. To unite our country during a period of unprecedented change, we need more than solid plan. We need bold leadership. We need a dream.

Dr Amy Iversen is founder of the Iversen Practice, which works with companies and individuals to improve leadership skills and performance