I recently participated in a roundtable discussion on the topic of change leadership, and subsequently was interviewed about the Javelin Institute’s new program, “The BEST Leader in 30 Days!” (This program brings you 30 daily activities that’s recognized through research validation to equip you to be the BEST Leader possible… Not a Good Leader, or even a Better Leader… the BEST Leader!) If you’re interested in the program, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. Here’s Part I of the interview, slightly edited for clarity and brevity:
INTERVIEWER: Sam, you’ve not only led change as a leader yourself, but also helped other leaders with change. Tell us a little bit about how in general you think about change leadership, and how you apply that in the businesses you work in/with?
SAM PALAZZOLO: Change leadership can be a complicated component of business success. Do it right, and the change leadership landscape will have plenty claiming stake in the successful outcome. Do change leadership wrong, and you’ll be looked at as sole proprietor responsible for the failure. I see many leaders who enter into situations of change without really having the skills or coaching to know exactly how to successfully change. The biggest component of change leadership to me is rooted in the leader. Specifically, does the leader have the perspective required to gather themselves from an emotional intelligence perspective. It’s very much an EQ moment versus an IQ one!
In my 2018 book, titled “Leading at the Tip of the Spear: The Leader” I examined how you can better lead others by leading yourself. As a matter of fact, my research concludes that if you can’t lead yourself, the likelihood of you successfully leading others ranges from slim to none. One of the insights that allows for successful change leadership is to have insight into where you want to go (Vision) and what change will be required in order to arrive at that destination. It’s easy for leaders to become impatient when leading change because while they can not only see where they want to go, but how they want to get there, they forget to share and lead others at a pace at which they can understand and withstand. In other words, those you’re leading need to not only understand/comprehend where they are going, but perhaps more importantly, what their role will be in getting there across a possible specific time interval.
INTERVIEWER: So, with change leadership in mind, how do you coach people?
SAM PALAZZOLO: At its simplest levels, to have success in change leadership, it’s important for leaders to know where they are, where they are going, and how it is that they are going to get there. Knowing these three aspects allows leaders to architect a plan for change. This architectural blue print will allow leaders to create a plan for change. This blue print is important because it provides stakeholders with a clear understanding of what is being built (Where they are going and how they will get there).
Having specialized in change leadership for the past two-decades, I know that change involves a series of phases that both leader and stakeholders go through. There will be successes, equanimity, and failures along the way. As a student of the J-Curve methodology, I learned that initial failure is typical and with proper corrections success can/will be achieved. Allowing leaders to see this realistic change leadership landscape prior to experiencing change provides the proper perspective. The proper corrections typically, but not always, come from communication gathered from direct-frontline associates affected by the change. Listening to their feedback provides leaders with context from which they can assess situations clearly for proper corrections. With this in mind, and it’s part of the “BEST Leader in 30 Days!” methodology, is conducting a daily reflection of your change leadership efforts/energies. Specifically, there are three questions that you’d want to ask yourself:
- What did I do today to further the (change leadership) initiative?
- What did I not do today to further the (change leadership) initiative?
- What will I do tomorrow to further the (change leadership) initiative?
INTERVIEWER: What are some of the mistakes you see leadership making in their attempts to lead? Specifically, what are the most common mistakes when leading change?
SAM PALAZZOLO: I’ve seen just about every type of mistake be made when it comes to change leadership. Typically, the mistakes cluster around the basic business building blocks of people, processes, technology, and/or financials. All too often leaders will fail to get involved those they expect to go through the change (so that they have input into what will happen on the way towards where the leader desires to go).
I’ve also seen leaders fail in change leadership when they put a “spin” on change. One leader, who’ll remain nameless, used to replace the word change with innovation. His reasoning for doing so was because he had read a study that showed people dislike change. While the study might be correct, changing the namesake doesn’t increase the odds of success. Remember, a duck is still a duck!
At a gym I worked-out in they had a huge sign on the wall that read:
“Until the pain associated with staying the same is greater than the pain associated with change, you will not do anything different.”
Think about that for a moment… If we associate pain with change and pleasure with staying the same, then you’ve got to be in a bad spot to want to change! Afterall, staying the same should be painless. But once staying the same is more painful, you’ll desire relief/change.
INTERVIEWER: You’ve had an impressive career to date (I don’t think you’re done yet by a longshot either!) You’ve worked with a Fortune 1 organization and now you’re working as a venture capitalist, consultant and philanthropist. Are there any differences between leading change at large vs. small organizations and for profit vs. nonprofit ones?
SAM PALAZZOLO: Thank you for the complement… I hope my career continues to grow/change in directions I can’t visualize at the current time. With that said, and to answer your question – Yes, there are differences. While the problem types are very similar (Think people, processes, technology, and/or financials), the scale is simply larger in big companies. This is the same regardless of entity formation (profit vs. nonprofit).
However, there is one key difference that I see play itself out time and again. That difference is that in smaller organizations the leader can make the difference. Whereas in larger organizations, there is less of a leadership impact, but the need to have good leadership in place across the organization exists. Think about it, if the organization is small and the leader is great, successful change leadership is relatively straightforward. In larger organizations, there are many more leaders to coordinate similar future change leadership vision with, and as such each needs to be able to share that vision precisely/similarly with their teams. Same vision and different share lead to unsuccessful change leadership typically (a disaster!)