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7 Ways Leaders Inspire Change (in Challenging Times)

Humans are adaptable. That’s how we’ve survived for a long time!

No surprises, then, that people have quickly responded to COVID-imposed changes, like complying with lockdowns, wearing masks or working from home. However, sustaining these changes for a long time is much more challenging.

The problem gets more complex because we don’t know how long we will live in an ‘altered state’ or if/when that ‘altered state’ may become ‘normal’.

In this environment, leaders are required to encourage changed behaviour… but may face a hostile and divided response. How are some leaders succeeding? Let’s take a look.

Shift the Focus from Compliance to Understanding

A starting point is to focus more on understanding employees. That means learning about their mindset, their motivations and their fears. This knowledge allows change to be presented in a sensitive way, which becomes the foundation for compliance, or people adhering to new (and often unpopular) rules.

Communicate (what seems like) the Obvious

Successful leaders don’t assume things. For example, there is a lot of information around… but do people have the time and skills to analyze and form opinions with confidence? Often, they are left confused, bewildered and nervous and react by ‘digging in the heels’. Taking a stand makes them feel in control, whether or not it’s in their best interests or those of the organization.

An early, transparent, accurate, detailed presentation of information makes it more likely employees will build trust and support change.

One size doesn’t fit all

Tailor your messages to groups that respond differently. For example, some cultures or age groups will have different perspectives on family, the organization, customers, politics or the economy. Some employees may enjoy working from home while others find it a huge and unmanageable imposition. It’s perfectly acceptable to have different rules for these segments to accommodate the differences.

Positive versus Negative Reinforcement

Policies and regulations traditionally drive compliance by prescribing rules and even punishments for doing the wrong thing. It’s more productive, however, to emphasize the advantages of doing the right thing. That’s known as positive reinforcement.

Set out to encourage compliant behaviour and, in some cases, offer rewards. Acknowledge successes and progress that’s been made. Share data that demonstrates the team’s actions have made a positive difference.

Confidence and Skill-Building

People embrace change where they feel confident and knowledgeable. So this is a good time to invest in education, but not necessarily in a top-down way. Encourage team members to reveal gaps in their knowledge. Show that you recognize the unusual situation and are open to a fresh approach. Keep things simple. A small investment in new skills can make a big difference to attitudes, capabilities and motivation. 

Lead by Example

People imitate and learn, consciously and subconsciously, from others around them. Successful leaders set an example and this may involve ‘being in the trenches’ with employees on certain issues. It also helps where influential team members ‘buy in’ and set the right example too.

Sometimes ‘symbolic acts’, such as leaders giving up salaries or donating bonuses, can have good results.

Focus on the Positives

‘Every cloud has a silver lining’. No situation is ever entirely gloom and doom. Many businesses and individuals have found new ways of doing things and will emerge stronger because of current challenges. Successful leaders will identify and share good news to generate a positive atmosphere.

We all look forward to resuming normal lives… whatever that may mean. But successful leaders increasingly view current conditions as a medium-term reality rather than a short-term challenge.

Applying the lessons above will lead to positive outcomes for businesses and their teams.

Need help with business planning? Get in touch with Salisburys’ Business Advisors in Albury on 02 6041 3014.