Why embracing change is the number one skill for leaders

By Campbell Macpherson, international change expert, Executive Fellow of Henley Business School and author of the 2018 Leadership and Business Book of the Year. His latest book, The Power to Change, is out now, published by Kogan Page worldwide.

Serious international diverse business team people and african female leader boss discuss financial result review paperwork, being an ally2020 has been the year of change, and it is far from over! If this year has taught us anything, it has taught us that the ability to embrace change is critical – at work and in life.

2020 has also taught us some vital and valuable lessons about change:

We learnt that we can embrace change – even difficult change that is forced upon us, as long as we have a strong emotional reason for doing so; a higher purpose. As one, we adhered to the rules knowing we were saving the NHS and protecting the vulnerable members of our community.

We learnt that working from home – works. It may be less than ideal as it is impossible to replicate crucial interpersonal interactions over Zoom, but remote working is destined to be the norm for many of us post-Covid.

We learnt that mental health matters. We knew this already but 2020 has hammered it home. Anxiety levels have gone through the roof, and they show no sign of abating. The media and the government alike seem to delight in stoking both fear of the virus itself while we are all starting to fear the consequences of the virus. Unemployment queues are lengthening, banks are becoming reluctant to lend and our elderly aren’t sure which they fear more – Covid-19 or isolation.

We all need help to cope with this anxiety – and the best solution is to enhance our ability to embrace change.

Leadership today is all about change. If you are not leading change, you are not leading anything; you are just managing the status quo. However, the status quo no longer exists.

The bad news is that 88% of change initiatives fail. The main reason for such a high and consistent failure rate is that leaders tend to forget that change is all about people. Most change leaders seem to think that logic alone will be enough to convince people to join them on the change journey. It won’t. They forget that they are dealing with people – and people are messy, emotional, irrational beings. And emotions are four times more powerful than logic when it comes to change.

In the ‘Leading Change’ workshops I run for Henley Business School and organisations worldwide, we help to transform leaders into empathetic leaders of change. We help them to give their people the clarity they need, the tools they need and the motivation they need to change. We help leaders to build a culture in which people are encouraged to question the status quo, eager to embrace new ways of working and brave enough to voice their concerns.

Because if your people aren’t ready, willing and able to embrace change, nothing will happen. The key role of a leader is to help their people to want to change.

The critical part of the workshop is when leaders start to understand the emotional rollercoaster that people experience during times of change – and that these emotions are normal.

Successful leaders of change must achieve two things at once – they must embrace change themselves while helping their people to embrace change. They need to help their people to accept the fact that things are changing and to take personal responsibility for embracing the change and looking for the opportunities.

This is why I run ‘Embracing Change’ workshops for employees worldwide, based on my latest book, ‘The Power to Change: how to harness change to make it work for you’. To help people voice their concerns, articulate their fears, observe their emotions, detach from their negative thoughts and overcome their own personal barriers to change.

Change is inevitable. It is not always good and it is not always bad, but resisting change is both exhausting and pointless. We all need the ability to be able to put the change into perspective, learn from it and move on – however difficult that may be.

This is the key life skill. Critical for leaders of people if they wish to succeed, and critical for all of us, because we can all be our own personal leader of change. The power to change lies within every single one of us.

About the author

Campbell Macpherson Campbell Macpherson is an international business advisor, an Executive Fellow of Henley Business School and the award-winning author of The Power to Change: How to Harness Change to Make it Work for You (Kogan Page) and The Change Catalyst (Wiley). For over 25 years Campbell has been leading and enabling strategic change and helping organisations across UK, Europe, US, Asia, Australia & the Middle East to clarify their strategy, build cultures that embrace change and align their people to deliver – as CEO, Strategy Director, HR Director, Marketing Director, eBusiness Director, board member, change leader, business adviser and NED. Campbell offers advice via his consultancy Change & Strategy International.


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