Challenge 22. Leaders fail to lead by example

Nut to crack: How do you get role-model behaviour from all leaders?

Every leader has their method of binding people to them and getting them moving. However, in an organisational change process, you often have a set of behaviours you would like every leader to demonstrate as a role model for others. That role model behaviour makes the change real instead of just an aspiring intention on a piece of paper, particularly role model behaviour at the top. For example, if you want to move to a more cost-conscious organisation, it is conducive for a leader to take a critical look at expenses and not sign them off blindly. Similarly, suppose you want to move to an organisation that achieves economies of scale by centrally managing many processes. In that case, it helps if the leader questions why a process to be managed centrally is being carried out again locally. How do you ensure each leader, with their unique set of behaviours, shows certain exemplary behaviours that set an evident example to others?

Nutcracker: Just-in-time mirroring of behaviour at high-impact moments

No matter how big or small a change is, it helps to first translate the desired impact of the shift into the concrete behaviour you wish to see from leaders and the behaviour you no longer wish to see. This applies to many types of change, from a system implementation to an organisational structure change, or a change in ways of working. For example, when implementing a new computer system, you would want leaders to encourage employees to work according to the latest standards instead of allowing them to develop their own “workarounds”. Or, when introducing a customer-centric way of working, you would like to see leaders take responsibility for putting customers’ needs first rather than pushing products into the market.

First, clarify what leadership behaviours are desired. The shorter the list, the better, as it is easier to remember. Subsequently, it helps to explore what these behaviours look like in what I call the “high-impact moments” – those times when a leader makes the most impact on the success of the organisation, so, for example, during a budget discussion, a negotiation with an important customer, or decision-making in the event of a conflict.

If you have a clear picture of what successful behaviour looks like during these high-impact moments, you can train leaders in this new standard for leadership behaviour and let them practice this. By having them work with a mentor or coach who observes them during the high-impact moments, each leader can receive focused feedback on the behaviour they display, to what extent this corresponds or deviates from the desired role model behaviour and its effect on employees and the success of the organisation. This target- ed form of personal feedback at the high-impact moments makes leaders feel seen as individuals and actively engage with those role model behaviours that make the difference in successful organisational change.

The support tool connects role modelling with personal preferences. The practical example shows how to bring the above to life in practice.

Support tool: Your personal preference and change leadership

Role modelling some behaviours comes natural, whilst role modelling other behaviours cost an enormous amount of energy. These preferences are typ- ically related to your Insights profile10 and MBTI11 profile. Fortunately, you can gather a team of people around you, with different preferences. So be sure to gather a complementary group of people around you. This ensures you jointly will bring the behaviours across that you are naturally inclined to pay insufficient attention to.

Real-life example: Personal confrontation for growth

A ceo of a company in the manufacturing industry is convinced that limited middle man­ agement skills to manage results are one of the causes of underperformance. Middle management hardly speak to employees about performance and seem satisfied with the status quo, so continuous improvement is barely evident, if at all. There is no budget for a leadership programme from an external agency to train the 70 managers, and the ceo wonders deep down whether training would have a good impact in this case. How does he pragmatically, effectively and cost­effectively strengthen his middle management layer? With his management team and a few high potentials, he determines which be­ haviour of each leader is necessary to perform as a company – for example, proactively providing feedback on employee performance, both positive and negative, identifying business risks and proactively sharing these with senior management, and setting goals for continuous improvement.

The ceo then organises work sessions with his middle management and analyses cur­ rent business performance. He explores what it takes to win in the market and what behaviour this requires of them as middle management. He then shares the behaviours as he has identified them with his mt and clarifies them with the middle management based on their input. By defining which behaviours are expected of leaders, including himself, the ceo makes behaviour addressable and tangible.

He subsequently selects ten professionals within his organisation with the best coaching skills. He ensures they are released from other work commitments for two days a week to support middle management in developing their leadership behaviour. They do this by giving middle managers direct feedback on the behaviour shown before and after the meetings in which they make a difference in the business performance, i.e. the high­impact moments, such as before and after the weekly team meeting and before and after the discussion about the fiscal year closing. The feedback is fully tailored to each leader. The effect of this is a direct positive impact on the growth of the individual, and leaders feel they can maintain their individuality while simultaneously improving their performance as a leader.

A year after this leadership intervention started, performance in the business units of the participating managers improved. The employee satisfaction survey shows that em­ ployees who work in the areas of the participating managers score significantly higher on leadership­related questions.

Tip for change leader

Be vulnerable. Ask for periodical feedback from the people who work with you. Which of your behaviours help the organisational change process, and which hinder it?

Tip for change enabler

With the change leaders you support, specify which behaviour they would like to be coached on and how. This builds the emotional contract necessary to provide proactive feedback.

Kernel: Mirror leadership behaviour at high-impact moments

Explicit behavioural norms and one-on-one mirroring of the behaviour of an individual leader is a compelling way to bring about real behavioural change. By doing this before, during and after the moments when the leader makes a difference for their employees and the organisation – the high-impact mo- ments – you can increase the business impact of these conversations.

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