The only thing that is constant is change.” — Heraclitus

At some point, every leader and their respective organization is going to face change driven by factors such as macro-market conditions, competitive pressures, shifting customer demands, liquidity ebbs and flows, ownership evolution, technology disrupters, or employee turnover. Obviously the continuing COVID-19 pandemic further adds to that ponderous list.

As someone who, over the years has firsthand experience of 10 acquisitions, three divestitures, one corporate bankruptcy and one IPO, I can assure you that not every leader successfully moves the organization to a desired future state.

Whether the catalyst is internal or external, big or small, change requires leaders to tap another skill set exemplified by the following attributes.

1. Establish expectations and standards that apply to everyone.

Few things are more disruptive during a change cycle than leadership hypocrisy and double standards. Change agents must enlist input from all affected stakeholders, including the fringes of the organization, to ensure broad consensus and buy-in regarding expectations for all.

Individuals are more receptive to following principles they helped shape. Leaders must make sure those rules apply to everyone, with no exceptions, to unify the group through any upheaval.

2. Show appreciation.

People work for two main rewards: remuneration and recognition.

Establishing a sustainable culture that rewards and celebrates the autonomy, relatedness and competency of employees is a tool that effective leaders apply consistently through modulating circumstances. Perhaps management guru Dale Carnegie said it best, “Be hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise.”

3. Others first.

Treat others the way you want to be treated. It’s so basic and obvious, yet our own self interests and conceit upend this axiom daily.

While everyone knows this inescapable truth, imagine if your own leadership team actually applied this principle.

4. Apologize for the past, chart a new future.

When transformation of a¬†culture requires new leadership, oftentimes it’s because the contract of trust was destroyed by the previous management group.

New leaders need to acknowledge and apologize for the sins of the past, which is a critical first step toward healing, while simultaneously recasting a better future.

5. Embrace empathy.

Change fuels uncertainty for all affected individuals. It’s important to provide a forum where disenfranchised employees can safely air their grievances without retribution. New leaders need to understand and address employee concerns. 

Change happens, but lousy leadership through change doesn’t have to.

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