This post is the second of a five-part series on Peak Development’s CLEAR Model of Change©, which encompasses Communication, Leadership, Education, Active Involvement, and Reinforcement. Be sure to read the full series, and become a subscriber to Peak Development’s free, monthly Article Review Service to be notified when future installments are published.
Leadership is the powerhouse of the CLEAR Model, because the number-one way an organization’s behavior gets shaped is by what a leader models. An organization’s behavior ripples out from the people leading it, influencing what the company will become, the values it holds, and the results it can achieve. As such, it’s important that leaders build the awareness needed to know exactly what example they are setting, and have the discipline needed to be intentional in their behavior.
Recently, I worked with the senior leaders of two interrelated functions. While publicly they’d tell their teams how important it was to work with one another and that their results depended on each other’s success, privately they were at war. As discreet as they thought they were being, their dislike manifested itself in their actions and was apparent to those who worked closely with them. Their team members began to internalize the leaders’ behavior and, rather than working together to build a culture of cooperation and shared responsibility, the two teams became increasingly siloed. Only when the CEO stepped in and forced the two leaders to take accountability for their relationship and the impact it was having on the organization could they—and their teams—begin to slowly change their behavior and improve their results.
The example above is a cautionary tale, but the same dynamic plays out in organizations every day, both positively and negatively. I’ve written previously about what I call intentional leadership in action, and the extraordinary impression one senior leader made on me. She flew from Europe to hear presentations by a team who’d been tasked with designing the future of the organization. On top of her normally busy schedule, she was in the midst of a particularly pressing business issue at the time, so it would have been understandable if she’d postponed or curtailed her meeting with the team. Not only did she attend, however, she was fully present, making each person attending feel heard and valued. In my position I’ve seen hundreds of leaders engage with their teams, and rarely have I seen anyone make such an impact. When leaders take the time to consider their behavior and how they can use their interactions to engage and inspire their teams, the difference is remarkable.
While all leaders must model the cultural behaviors needed in the organization, senior leaders have added responsibilities:
- First, they must identify the culture-related leadership behaviors that will drive the business strategy. For a sales or product company, these might be customer-centric thinking and a bias toward action and results. For a medical or pharmaceutical organization, they might be safety and a data-oriented approach. Articulating what is needed and expected of leaders in the organization makes it clear what the company values and how it will deliver on its goals. These behaviors form a roadmap that others in the organization can follow.
- Next, they must build both senior sponsorship and a critical mass of individuals who believe in and are committed to driving the change. Assess leaders’ ability to drive the desired change; determine if they are capable of playing the role needed in the organization. While these are hard decisions, it does no good to announce capabilities to the organization and then leave people in roles who will not be able to attain them, as people listen more to what you do than to what you say. Likewise, when people model the desired skills or behaviors, make sure to celebrate them and employ them as peer leaders. By identifying leaders at all levels who do and do not exemplify the desired culture, leaders can leverage success or coach individual leadership performance.
- Finally, senior leaders must be highly adept at recognizing their impact, understanding the context in which they are operating, and intentionally choosing their behavior, day by day, moment by moment. Because of the highly visible role they play in the organization, the impact of senior leaders’ behavior is magnified. What may seem like a minor interaction or a throwaway comment can take on its own momentum when it is repeated and retold throughout an organization. Especially at this level, leaders must recognize that perceptions are reality, and work hard at shaping perceptions that will reinforce the organization’s strategies.
Changing an organization is about changing behavior. By identifying the new behaviors needed, aligning the organization to them, and having leaders who model them intentionally and consistently, the speed at which a change can take hold is accelerated. All three are important; skip any one of them and you’ll never gain the traction needed to move the organization forward. Do all three symbiotically and sustainable change is assured.
Read the next article in the series:
A CLEAR Model for Change, Part 3: Education