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This blog is provided by United States Navy Rear Admiral Deborah Haven, Retired. It is a companion to her interview on Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future titled Leading Through Change: A Military Perspective that aired on Tuesday, December 1st, 2020.
Here are my observations and takeaways from my experience navigating change in a wide variety of global logistics organizations supporting the US Military and our allies. Much of my experience has been leading change which ranged from crisis response establishing and maintaining a logistics hub to support the Haiti citizens from their devastating earthquake to contingency operations mobilizing Naval Reservists in support of expeditionary logistics missions in Iraq and Kuwait to operating system upgrade implementing a SAP system which replaced a legacy system. These experiences shaped my approach to leading change in a dynamic environment and provide the foundation for the following article.
How a leader handles change will determine the team’s future. A leader’s attitude toward change will be a key to success. I learned early on that I could spend energy resisting change, or I could embrace the change to keep moving forward. A leader must look at change in a positive and realistic light. The leader needs to be the steady rudder to keep everyone on course. This will require the leader to keep their “resiliency tank” full at all times to stay tough during the challenges ahead. Figure out how to keep your “resiliency tank” full, whether it is meditating, exercising, or playing chess. Your strength will be needed so a resiliency routine will have to be a priority. Encourage your team members to establish a resiliency routine too.
The leader’s job is to clearly articulate the WHY …and repeat the message …over and over. This gives time for the team to catch up. In most cases, the leader has had time to absorb the new information before the idea is introduced to the entire team. When the change is introduced to the team, the team needs time to grasp and embrace the new idea. The leader is going 100 miles an hour down the highway with the new idea and team is just getting to the highway on ramp. As the leader, you may need to slowdown so your team can speed up. I did not say stop. Once the team absorbs the idea, understands the mission, and is empowered to execute, it will accelerate and exceed expectations. One key point is knowing that not everyone engages the change in the same manner. Some individuals struggle with the new idea and may feel threaten by what they see taking place. The employee’s role may change. He or she may go from expert to novice in the new arrangement. Resulting in an unsettling emotional reaction. And will usually get better over time for most individuals. This is something to be aware of during the process. A leader needs to watch out for those struggling and engage through listening and understanding the challenges the workforce is undergoing. Sometimes an empathetic ear from the leader can be the tonic to pull the team member through the rough waters of change. Also, some individuals just take longer to adjust to the new environment, but others soar to the future state.
I have also noticed that the technique that makes teams more successful in new unknown areas is to create an open dialogue about the challenges and work through them collaboratively with the stakeholders. Easily said, not always so easy to do but rewarding in the end. Continual communication about the compelling need for the change is a must do and must be repeated often.
Some best practices when dealing with change:
- Set trust as the foundation for all relationships.
- Identify the key stakeholders and communicate the compelling reason for the change …the WHY.
- Uncover the blind spots as quick as possible through listening and learning.
- Create collaborative teams to develop solutions for the blind spots identified.
- Build coalitions that do not exist and shore up ones that need to be reinforced.
- Stay strong throughout by listening and understanding the barriers or challenges anchoring others.
- Be agile. Do not get defensive when new information is received, and adjustments must be made.
- Establish a routine and regular check-in, set goals, and follow up on progress using accountability metrics.
Have a bias for action…keep moving forward.
The takeaway here is that during a significant period of change is when the leader really earns his or her money. They need to be authentically enthusiastic and fully engaged to ensure the team members are making the transition. This can be exhausting work but extremely rewarding.
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Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, Google Play, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify and iHeartRADIO. Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.
About the Author
United States Navy Rear Admiral Deborah Haven, Retired, has been a successful leader in a wide variety of global logistics organizations, both civilian and military for over 30 years. She is particularly skilled at introducing change in large organizations. She has a keen ability to understand the landscape, identify barriers and develop an actionable plan to improve organizational effectiveness. Deborah is a graduate of the Naval War College, holds an MBA from the LaSalle University in Philadelphia, and a BS from the University of Maryland, College Park. She is an executive coach, independent consultant, and a member of the board of directors for the Flag and General Officer Network.