Inspire And Empower Teams To Tackle Change
As machines become increasingly accurate and intelligent, we humans will need to sharpen our cognitive skills. One of your primary responsibilities as a Learning & Development leader is to ensure that you empower the workforce to develop the four sets of skills that are critical to thriving in 2030. In a series of related articles, “eLearning Skills 2030,” I write and explore these key skills to help you future-proof your career and help others grow. This article explores the skill of leading change, why it is a critical skill, and how to sharpen it.
What Does Leading Change Entail?
Leading change entails a compilation of several skills, many of which we already discussed in the eLearning Skills 2030 series. To lead change effectively, a leader must have a growth mindset to embrace the challenge and define a vision, be able to ask questions, use structured problem solving, exercise agility, listen actively, and importantly, build coalitions and inspire their team to forge ahead to implement the change.
Why Is The Ability To Lead Change Important?
The volume, velocity, and complexity of change require that every leader strengthens their skills to lead change. A critical skill every leader must sharpen is the ability to lead change. As Harvard Business School professor John Kotter discusses in his book Accelerate, leaders must be able to address crises, deal with constant technological changes, and tackle turmoil with agility, creativity, and speed.  Furthermore, Associate Dean at Adelphi University Alan Cooper highlights that leaders must lead change, not simply manage it.  Managing change is about using the right tools and metrics for the organization. In contrast, leading change is about changing the culture and inspiring the people in the organization to embrace and drive the change.
How Do You Sharpen Your Ability To Lead Change?
Research by MIT Sloan asserts that, to lead change, leaders must change the way they show by connecting the dots, being transparent about the challenge, and communicating clearly with their teams on how to tackle the change.  However, these three skills are not enough. A leader must also sharpen their growth mindset, practice asking better questions, listen actively, deploy structured problem solving, practice agility, and inspire and empower teams to tackle change. Below are a few tips on developing each of these vital skills.
Embrace A Growth Mindset
As a leader, you need to embrace a growth mindset to navigate better the journey brought by routine and unprecedented change. As discussed in my related article in this series, in her seminal work Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Stanford professor Carol Dweck highlighted that a growth mindset increases our confidence to trust our abilities, prompts us to embrace challenges, to persist when crises hit, and to keep striving forward.  Dweck compared a growth mindset to a fixed mindset. In her research, kids with a fixed mindset believed that their knowledge and skills were fixed and were apprehensive to tackle challenges they faced. Conversely, kids with a growth mindset were convinced that they could tackle any difficulty and devised new ways to solve these challenges by learning new things and asking for help, and kept plowing forward without giving up. As a leader, you also will need to foster a growth mindset in your teams and empower them to achieve better performance results.
Ask Better Questions
As a leader who can lead change effectively, you must practice asking better questions. As discussed in my earlier article in this eLearning Skills 2030 series, asking better questions is an art that requires you to focus on the type, tone, and framing of the question. Open-ended questions start with “how,” “why,” or “what” and create space for more informative answers, generate follow-up questions, and foster more insightful discussions, which in turn can expand your knowledge and help sharpen your analytical skills.
We live in an era of a myriad of stimuli, and it is easy to be distracted and overwhelmed. As a leader, you must practice active listening so that you can discern critical information from noise. To actively listen, you must focus. As discussed in the related article in this series, this means that you must put down your phone, pen, and, yes, your thoughts. As you focus on the words of the person speaking, think about what they are saying and why; observe how they seem to feel when speaking and what they are trying to convey. Focus and listen for what the speaker would like you to hear, and then process the information and decide whether you will use it for strategy formulation, to solve a problem at hand, or store it for future use.
Deploy Structured Problem-Solving
The foundational and must-do step in structured problem-solving is to answer a basic but essential question: “What problem are you trying to solve?”. To answer the question, you must define the problem. Once you have determined the problem, you can begin implementing structured problem-solving. Several models of structured problem-solving all follow a similar approach, starting with identifying the problem, analyzing why the problem occurred using data, identifying possible solutions, and implementing one of them. Check out the related article in this series to review three structured problem-solving methods: PDCA (plan, do, check, act), DMAIC (define, measure, analyze, improve, control), and the OODA loop (observe, orient, decide, act).
As a leader, you will need to sharpen your agility so that you will be able to guide your team and your organization to navigate crises and constant change. As discussed in the related article in this series, you will need to learn how to practice and apply the agile methodology, you will need to sharpen and concurrently leverage various skills, including deploying ways to outsmart your cognitive biases and tactics to help you connect the dots. The more you practice improving these skills, the more agile you will become in navigating complexity, change, and crises.
Inspire And Empower Teams
While several elements come into play for a leader to successfully inspire and empower others to take action, the two main elements are building trust and leading by example. To build trust, I always say that your values, ideas, words, and actions must be in alignment. This alignment translates to saying and doing what you mean and meaning what you say and do. To lead by example, you need to model the behavior you would like your team to take to implement change. For example, to inspire critical thinking, you will need to ask more questions; to inspire data-driven decisions, you will need to study and use data; to inspire courage, you must stay positive in the face of challenge; to inspire proactive risk management, you need to identify and prioritize risks. Above all, to inspire transparent and timely communication, you must often communicate crisply.
The more you practice these skills and model these behaviors, the stronger the message you send to your team about leading change and the actions they, in turn, will need to take the tackle the change and together achieve the desired business performance results for the organization.